Director – Phil Karlson, Screenplay – Gilbert A. Ralston, Producer – Mort Briskin, Photography – Russell Metty, Music – Walter Scharf, Theme Song – Michael Jackson, Photographic Effects – Howard A. Anderson Co, Special Effects – Bud David, Makeup – Jack H. Young, Marionettes – Rene, Art Direction – Rolland M. Brooks. Production Company – Bing Crosby Productions.
Lee Harcourt Montgomery (Danny Garrison), Joseph Campanella (Lieutenant Cliff Kirtland), Meredith Baxter (Eve Garrison), Rosemary Murphy (Beth Garrison), Arthur O’Connell (Billy Hatfield)
Following Willard Stiles’ death, the police search his house but are unable to find the rats, which have escaped into the sewers. The lead rat Ben befriends Danny Garrison, a lonely young boy with a weak heart who soon comes to regard Ben as his best friend. Meanwhile, the rest of the rats are conducting increasingly daring raids on the neighbourhood in search of food. The police begin a massive campaign to rid the city of them. When it is discovered that Danny is hiding the ringleader, pressure is placed on him to divulge the whereabouts of the rats’ hiding place.
Willard (1971), the story of a peculiar relationship between an anti-social young man and a rat and how the man trains the rats to kill for him, was a big success. After that point, a sequel seemed inevitable.(It would have been mandatory had Willard been made in the 1980s and beyond). This came about with Ben.
Willard was a likeable and unassuming horror film, not brilliant, but suitably creepy and given a great deal of conviction by Bruce Davison’s intense, nervous performance. The sequel however is an astounding exercise in miscalculation. Brought back is Ben, the rodent scene-stealer from the first film – fair enough – but in place of Bruce Davison, the film brings in Lee Harcourt Montgomery and turns itself into an appallingly mawkish lonely young boy and his rat friend story.
Montgomery plays to the gallery with an ingratiatingly cute smirk, but Ben is the wrong sort of film to have a pukishly cute kid at the centre of it. The scenes with Lee Harcourt Montgomery befriending Ben, making cute faces, talking to it, composing appallingly mushy songs to their friendship, giving Ben and friends rides on his model train and even making a Ben marionette, are so astoundingly awful that they become bizarrely watchable with that unique fascination that all bad films have.
The best scenes in the film are those of the rats marauding through the city – particularly a wide-scale attack on a supermarket, followed by scenes of the rats carrying food down into the sewers. The climax with the rats being hosed with high-pressure water and torched with flamethrowers in hordes as the police move through the sewers holds some strong imagery. However, most of the scenes are not particularly well directed and by now any scare-power that rats on their own might have have had the edge taken off them by the first film.
The film also features the distinction of a theme song sung by a young Michael Jackson.