There aren’t many movies out there that offer audiences a sequel that is so drastically different in tone. The biggest comparison I can draw is the original horror thriller “Cat People” and dramatic “The Curse of the Cat People.” While “Willard” was basically a twisted thriller involving a dysfunctional young man’s self destructive relationship with rats, “Ben” is a more dramatic family film with elements of horror thrown in. It’s a very tonally confused and muddled melodrama that doesn’t do much to make Ben in to an interesting horror villain. To prove how utterly confused the movie is in terms of intentions, watch the final scene in which Ben stares in to the camera menacingly in the vein of the climax of “Willard” while the sappy “Ben’s Song” from Michael Jackson plays as the credits roll. So—what are we supposed to feel by this?
“Ben” begins with a recollection of downfall of Willard Stiles, and then segues in to a film in which the head rat, Ben, decides to survive with his massive horde of rats. After Willard betrayed him, Ben barely escapes and manages to go out in to the wilderness with his surviving army. There, he discovers a very sick boy named Danny who lives alone with his mother and big sister. Danny and Ben begin to bond, as Ben and his army of rats begin wreaking havoc around the community, and Danny soon has to decide if he wants to remain loyal to his new friend or his family. “Ben” isn’t a totally remarkable sequel, as it’s only memorable by virtue of Michael Jackson who famously sang the theme song “Ben.” The movie itself is kind of goofy at times spending way too much screen time on Ben as he roams around neighborhoods watching people, and unleashing his army of rats upon unsuspecting victims.
Not to mention he’s evading a detective who is trying to track the source of the rats that killed Willard. Ben is pretty much the main character of the film and I’m frankly surprised he’s not given an inner monologue, or subtitles whenever he’s communicating with his army. You can often sense the director zooming in on the stunt rats that play Ben in hopes of trying to convey to the audience what he’s probably feeling or thinking. Zoom in on Ben: He’s pondering about raiding the local supermarket with his army. Cut to Ben looking at Danny play with his marionettes: He is so compelled by his puppetry. “Ben” compared to “Willard” doesn’t have much of a storyline and reaches for a lot of material and filler during its ninety minute run time.
The writers seem to struggle to build an interesting narrative for Danny, and depend too much on the detective sub-plot and Ben’s own point of view. “Ben” tries to be many things from a family drama, a disaster film, and a nature run amok film, and neither of them is ever very good or entertaining. “Ben” is an awkward, sometimes dull follow up with at least some camp value and a memorable theme song.
There’s a warning in the opening of the disc that explains that Shout! did everything they could to restore and upgrade the best print of “Ben” that they could find, since the original negatives for “Ben” are gone. The Scream Factory release comes with a DVD edition of “Ben” and the blu-ray comes packed with an audio commentary with lead actor Lee Montgomery who plays young Danny. “The Kid With The Rat” is a nine minute interview with actor Lee Montgomery who discusses his role in the film, being star struck with original star Bruce Davison, and much more. It’s a fine conversation. Finally there are three minutes of theatrical trailers, TV Spots, Ben/Willard Double Feature TV Spots, a radio spot, and an HD Still Gallery from the film.