The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Attack of the inoffensive woodland creatures

March 27, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Judging by its dismal opening weekend and rapid fall down the box-office chart, it is a safe bet that there was no pent-up demand for "Willard," the remake of the 1971 horror flick about a boy and his rats.

Not everything from the '70s can be recycled.

The new "Willard" isn't quite a bad movie. It doesn't work as horror, but it almost works as dark comedy. Think of it as an exercise in role reversal. The rats are all cute and cuddly, while the human characters are all (with one exception) repulsive.

It's probably worth a video rental just to see Crispin Glover ("Back to the Future") in the title role and behaving even more strangely than usual.

The original "Willard," with Bruce Davison in the lead, was a movie of its time — a time when humanity's very existence was threatened by inoffensive woodland creatures.

It started in the 1950s. Moviemakers used atomic explosions and chemical spills to cause insects to grow to gigantic proportions.

Soon, swarms to king-size locusts beset theaters and drive-ins across America.

This was mostly the fault of producer Bert I. Gordon, who gave us such cinematic schlock as "The Beginning of the End" (Peter Graves vs. giant grasshoppers), "Earth vs. the Spider," and "The Amazing Colossal Man."

By the 1970s, however, giant insects weren't enough, although that didn't stop Gordon from producing "Empire of the Ants," a piece of fluff featuring Joan Collins and a cast of horse-sized ants with hypnotic powers.

And who can forget William Shatner's tour de force performance in "Kingdom of the Spiders"?

Audiences needed to face new threats. First came "Willard," followed quickly by its sequel, "Ben," which featured a theme song by Michael Jackson.

But the scariest monsters were yet to come.

In 1972, producer A.C. Lyles (better known for his westerns) and director William F. Claxton (he directed episodes of "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza" and "Little House on the Prairie") unleashed — wait for it — giant, killer bunnies upon the unsuspecting citizens of Arizona.

I mean, if you lived in Arizona (or anywhere else), would you be expecting giant, killer bunny rabbits? I think not.

"Night of the Lepus" starred several actors who should have known better, including Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh. I assume their co-star, the late DeForest Kelly, needed the money, because "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was still seven years away.

Now, as Tim the Enchanter would say (in an outrageous Scottish accent, of course), "Oh, but they're no ordinary rabbits, now are they? They've got big, pointy teeth!"

And they were the size of men in rabbit costumes because, well, they were men in rabbit costumes.

But the most terrible horror lay ahead.

If you went by the movie poster, which depicted a gargantuan bullfrog with a tiny human hand sticking out of its mouth, you would think that the frogs in "Frogs" were really something to be feared.

The frogs in the movie, however, are a bit tamer. Don't get me wrong. They're big, but not unnaturally so. So, when they terrorize Ray Milland, Joan Van Ark and Sam Elliott in George McCowan's 1972 American International Pictures horror flick, they don't really do much. I've seen the movie half a dozen times, and I'm still not sure how the frogs kill some of their victims.

Perhaps they croak them.

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