As a child “The Willies” was pretty much as horrifying as it got. As an eleven year old it was a disgusting, creepy, and horrifying little anthology horror film with some gruesome special effects. And it was also a childhood favorite, a film I saw over and over further feeding my lust for horror. And almost twenty five years later… it still has great sentimental value, it’s still a movie I’ll always appreciate as a favorite of a simpler time but… yeah, it pretty much sucks. Badly. It’s about as stripped down and derivative as you can get with a plot that really just relies on chestnuts of horror to do the work for writers that can’t really be creative.
With anthology films you either get a great story with some lame ones to follow (Campfire Tales), or many great stories with one flop (Creepshow); often times there aren’t very many anthology flicks that follow the middle ground. “The Willies” proves the exception. It’s a rare horror film and one that’s pretty hard to find. It’s on DVD finally in an awful VHS transfer but you’ll be hard pressed and out of luck if you expect a special edition with restored picture and sound, that’s for sure. Maybe somewhere down the line Synapse will take a crack at it. Or Anchor Bay? It could happen, look at “Monster Squad.” 1990’s straight to video anthology horror film “The Willies” is sadly a film that will live on for a little while longer and probably just fade off with not many people wanting to bring it back. And that’s for good reason.
It takes a bit of urban legends, a bit of campfire story atmosphere, and provides only ONE really interesting horror tale that’s pretty much just a rip off of “The Crate” from “Creepshow.” And it features an ending that’s as cheesy as it gets, with a “The End?” capper, and a “big” cast of names including Sean Astin, Michael Bower, and James Karen who are about as dazzling as it gets, really. And just to jog your memory, it’s the hobbit, the heavy kid from “Salute your Shorts,” and the Pathmark dude who also starred in “Return of the Living Dead.” “The Willies” can provide some bonafide gaffs and giggles, and if you sit a kid down to check it out, they may gain the same pure horror out of it that I did, but the entire film feels like nothing more than an extended episode of “Tales from the Darkside,” and revolves around the promise of that one story that is the height of the film.
And of course we have a small group of kids outside their house camping out for the night until they’re interrupted by their brother Michael enters to tell them some spooky stories that is unlike anything they’ve ever heard. For a while, “The Willies” drifts along from segment to segment to cheesy dialogue (There’s even a reference to “The Goonies,” hyuk, hyuk!), with some padding that’s just outright blatant. There’s the tale of the evil carnival ride, there’s the obese lady who went to eat at a chicken place and didn’t realize she was eating fried rat, and there’s that oldie, but goody, the old woman who tried to dry her small dog in a microwave.
I love, love, love urban legends and at one point I was just addicted to them, but “The Willies” doesn’t stage these as well as films like “Urban Legend,” did. While it’s creative, the little cut away’s seem like hackneyed attempts to let the film run its course before we wind down to the only two stories in the whole film, and when we do, they’re hit or miss.
Little Danny is constantly picked on by three kids who are bonafide bullies, but… yeah, they’re not so bad compared to the bullies I’ve dealt with, and the first story about the Monster in the Bathroom is a lot of fun, but poorly executed. Why does this monster have a fascination for poor geeky Danny? What sets him apart from everyone else? Is he there to help or just grab a new pet? And were the writers ever clear if the janitor (Kramer) was the monster, or just knew how to control the monster. Nonetheless, the story here is very simple. Danny is bullied, Danny meets the monster who proceeds to feed on his bitchy teacher.
It all comes to an end when the bullies are lured into the bathroom and get eaten themselves, thanks to Danny who barricades the bathroom. Surely, it’s a twisted tale, but one that’s really not as good as it could be since the whole concept of the monster is incredibly fuzzy, and Danny is so comical you eventually want to beat the snot out of him. Most importantly, wouldn’t anyone notice that his teacher and three kids are missing? The monster himself is such a horrible rip off of the Crate monster it’s rather embarrassing. He growls the same, he’s as mysterious, and his carnage is pretty similar, especially when the teacher is pulled up into the ceiling and ripped to shreds as her legs dangle wildly. The puppeteering is admirable, but still it’s tough to believe what we’re seeing, especially since the monster may or may not be the friendly janitor.
The second tale involves Gordy Belcher a disgusting, greedy, and grotesque obese lad who has a fascination with ants and flies to the point where he builds miniature diorama’s comprised of dead flies. His fun comes to an end when he buys a growth formula from a cantankerous old farmer, and inevitable the flies grow to ginormous proportions and revolt, murdering the boy. This is a segment that’s slightly more structured but not as fun since the gross out attempts work too well, to the point where it’s just difficult to finish. Bower has always had a knack for playing the disgusting fat kid, which is a compliment, no doubt, but this character is also too similar to what he’s already played in past work. “The Willies” is a horrible movie, and one that you may either love or hate, and watching it again after buying it online really makes me think that the only reason why I want to keep it is because of nostalgia. If I’d approached this as a new viewer, it’d have suffered my scorn.
It all ends with a cheesy and confusing capper as Bowen ends up *gasp* as Astin’s father, and he enters the tent showing the kids his TRUE face (the bathroom monster) which then fades out leaving the children’s fates unresolved and my eyes rolling. “The Willies has a lot of potential, but it’s sadly just another form of proof that good anthology movies are tough to create, and if you’ve seen “Creepshow 3″ you learn that they’re not only difficult, but when they’re bad, they’re really bad. My brother and I technically owned it on VHS for a number of years until it was stolen by a neighbor, but we still fondly remember the title and everything that it had to offer us for shits and giggles, and bits of frights here and there. Back then “The Willies” was about as scary as it got, but then… back then we loved “Howard the Duck,” so you can never tell.