Ben [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (23rd July 2017).
The Film

“Where “Willard” ended… BEN begins. And this time, he’s not alone!”

This is true. “Ben” (1972) picks up during the final moments of “Willard” (1971), with our leading man about to be consumed by Ben and his buddies after turning his back on former friends. Eventually, the cops show up and survey the gruesome scene. The big to-do draws the attention of some locals, including young loner Danny (Lee Montgomery). The hubbub dies down and everyone leaves, but not long after an investigating cop comes across Ben and his rat army and they eat him alive. Watch how easily he dies and then remind yourself this man was trained to protect the streets. Ben is a smart rat but he enjoys the company of a human host, apparently, so he befriends Danny one afternoon. The young child with no actual human friends whatsoever gleefully picks up street rat after street rat, allowing them access to his room and bed without a single thought giving to disease. Ah, the mind of a child.

The rat army still acts on its own accord, striking at a grocery store one night and cleaning out the shelves. The cops do some investigating – yes, really – and Danny, seeing an officer in his yard, hides Ben in his room so… that… the cop can’t question him? Again, kids. Ben, now seen as some kind of fun-time fugitive by Danny, gives the kid some assistance by sending his rat compatriots to swarm a bully who was picking on Danny. Later, the same rat army does some surveillance work on a downtown cheese store, clearly determined to strike when the time is right. Can anything stop these rats?!? Yes, people, and when a couple of sewer workers are killed by rats – again with relative ease – a squadron of cops and workers is formed to e-rat-icate the city’s latest infestation.

There isn’t a character here who adds the panache of Ernest Borgnine in the first film, but “Ben” bests its predecessor by leaning into the exploitation angle and having a bit more fun with the ridiculous premise. The attack on the grocery store and the scoping out of the cheese palace are absurd, though not so much as when the rats become Danny’s protectors during an altercation. But, why not? Revel in that kitschy 70's camp as these completely normal sewer rats are suddenly trainable to the point that it’s like we’re watching “Rise of the Planet of the Rats”.

Unlike the last film, where Willard was a lazy social idiot with no life prospects outside of training rats to eat stuff, Danny can be forgiven for his naïveté because he’s, like, ten years old. He thinks the rats are cute and cuddly and, again, being a loner with no friends he’ll clearly take anything that shows him attention. Danny doesn’t even have to train up Ben and his Black Plague buddies because they are shown to take direction and act autonomously. Instead, he just subjects them to his lame puppet shows, with one of the corniest little jingles that is repeated too many times (“too many” being more than once).

The greatest enjoyment viewers will find in this film is the deaths. People don’t die from rat bites, they die of overreaction. A guy driving his work truck finds a rat on his arm and sensibly plows into oncoming traffic, killing himself and at least one other driver. A sewer worker later on is eaten alive when rats jump on his person – at least 15 of them! – and he is apparently so paralyzed with fear that he simply holds his arms up and wails long enough for the minute munchers to gnaw away enough flesh for death.

If you’ve made it this far, be sure to stick around through the end credits to hear Michael Jackson’s rendition of “Ben”. It’s a classic track that has deservedly earned more praise than the film itself.

Video

As explained via an opening text card, “Ben” comes via an archival print, as the negatives and interpositive are believed lost, so expectations are to be tempered accordingly. The 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture definitely leaves much to be desired, with soft focus frequently, heavy grain, blown-out white levels, and poor shadow delineation – but this aesthetic feels fitting for a 70's animalsploitation feature, and so it never bothered me much. The closest the image gets to HD is during closeups, and even then the picture struggles to look truly defined. Black levels are consistent and dark, so there’s that. Contrast varies between scenes, sometimes handling well while at other times looking too drained.

Audio

Equally unimpressive is the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track. This is a weak, thin offering with low tones and wholly lacking in punch. Dialogue registers too soft, often leaving characters sounding like they’re speaking in a whisper. Ben’s ratty squeaks come dangerously close to hissing on the high end. And Danny’s terrible child singing sounds grating. That isn’t the fault of the audio track, just something viewers should know to expect. Again, the best part of the audio here is Michael Jackson’s closing number. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

Extras

There are a few extras, an audio commentary, an interview, theatrical trailers, a TV spots, a radio spot, a gallery, and a second disc with a DVD version of the film.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

There is an audio commentary with actor Lee Montgomery.

“The Kid with the Rat” (1080p) is an interview that runs for 9 minutes and 19 seconds. Montgomery sits down for a breezy chat about his time as a child actor and what it was like working on the follow-up to a well-received film.

Two theatrical trailers (1080p) run for 3 minutes and 31 seconds.

There are also two TV spots (1080p), running for 43 seconds.

A couple of “Ben/Willard” double feature TV spots (1080p) are included, running for 1 minute and 32 seconds.

A radio spot runs for 29 seconds.

There is a still gallery (1080p) of promotional materials, posters, etc. that runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds, featuring 30 images.

DISC ONE: DVD

This is a standard definition DVD copy version of the film.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

Better than “Willard”, “Ben” has more fun with its ridiculous premise and turns some of the rat action up to 11. This is still a bad movie, full of preposterous scenarios and a so-so lead in Danny, but if I had to watch one of Ben’s adventures it would be this one all day long.

The Film: C Video: C+ Audio: B- Extras: C+ Overall: C

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.