Literature / Ratman's Notebooks

"Tear him up!"

Ratman's Notebooks is a 1969 horror novel by Stephen Gilbert. Written as a series of diary entries, it tells the story of a reclusive man who discovers he can train rats to do his bidding. Initially, he uses this for some innocent, yet creepy fun. Then he graduates to using them for thievery and finally murder.

Much like Robert Bloch's Psycho, the book seems to have been influenced by real-life murderer, Ed Gein.

It is perhaps best remembered for its two movie adaptations, both called Willard. The first was made in 1971 and starred Bruce Davison. The second one was in 2003 and had Crispin Glover cast in the lead role.

The 1971 movie also had a sequel, Ben, released in 1972. The Michael Jackson song of the same name was written for this movie and plays over the end credits.

Another thing that may or may not be worthy of note is that the novel is set in England while all three movies are set in the USA.

This work contains examples of:

  • Apocalyptic Log: Ultimately ends up as this.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • A good number of the people that Ratman plays tricks on or robs, or kills are either known to be this or revealed to be this after the fact
    • The Ratman himself can come across as this, due to his rather anti-social, arrogant and narcissistic inner monologues.
  • Award Bait Song: "Ben". Who knew such a successful and heartfelt ballad could be written out of a movie about killer rats.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sort of. Ratman eventually becomes bored with his criminal activities, but he's proud enough of his exploits to keep a diary in the hope that his grandchildren will find it after he's dead.
  • A Boy And His Rat: Especially in the sequel.
  • The Cast Show Off: Crispin Glover sings over the end credits of the 2003 movie.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: This book is actually more like a dark comedy in the first half.
  • Character Title: The movies.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mr. Stiles's knife from the 2003 movie (but only after Executive Meddling altered the ending).
  • Clingy Jealous Mouse: Ben is jealous of Willard's love for Socrates.
  • Composite Character: In the 1971 film, Mr. Martin fills the function of at least one other character from the novel.
  • Dead Man Writing: The entire novel is heavily implied to fall under this trope.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The main character. He often comes across as a satirist or an observational comedian rather than the Ed Gein-inspired criminal that he really is.
  • Death by Adaptation: Ben in the 2003 movie.
  • Diary: The notebooks of the title.
  • Does Not Like Women: Ratman. He gets better.
  • Downer Ending: The 1971 movie.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Ben.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: By the end of the 2003 movie, all we know for sure is that the main character is in an insane asylum and has bite marks on his face. Whether anything else in the movie actually happened or if it was his damaged mind creating a fictional history for his wounds, we'll never know.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Averted in the book, but played straight in the movies.
  • Focus Group Ending: The 2003 movie, which removed the title character's death.
  • From Bad to Worse: From the POV of the townspeople.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: With Mister Martin (but only in the book; a certain deleted scene from the 2003 movie should NOT be watched by the faint of heart), very much not the case with Socrates
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The general public believes Ratman to be one of these (in no small part due to his disguise)
  • Happy Ending: Ben (the movie, not the song of the same name).
  • The Hero Dies: Probably in the original book. Definitely in the 1971 movie. Not at all in the 2003 movie.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The end of the book, although the "killed" bit is open for debate.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Mr. Martin, when he kills Socrates. Up until this point, the novel reads something like a dark satire about various human foibles. Only from this point onward does it truly feel like a horror story.
  • Kubrick Stare: One of the elevator scenes in the 2003 movie.
  • Large Ham:
    • Anytime R. Lee Ermey is in front of the camera.
    • Crispin Glover really has his moments.
  • Le Film Artistique: Parodied in Crisper Glover's music video "Ben", complete with women getting sexually aroused by mice, a lesbian headmistress and various German dictators, including Adolf Hitler.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • Ben tones down the horror, and is to some degree rather sentimental.
    • The character of Willard from the movies when compared to how Ratman acts in the novel.
  • Meganekko: Eve in Ben.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the 2003 remake, a television is turned on to a radio station, and the song Ben by Michael Jackson is played. This is especially interesting, because the song, Ben was written for the sequel of the same name to the original 1971 Willard, but it would stand to reason that in the world of the 2003 remake, there has been no movie Willard and thus no sequel. So in the 2003 film, the song exists out of nowhere.
    • Also, Bruce Davison (Willard in the 1971 film) portrays Willard's deceased father in the new film (via photographs and a painting) and even provided voice-over narration for one of the new film's promotional documentaries.
  • No Name Given: In the novel, everybody except Martin, Ben, and Socrates. Averted in both film adaptations.
  • Oh Crap!: Ratman, upon realizing that Ben has read his notebook. Wait, what?
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In the book, the main character is only known by the name of his criminal alter-ego, The Ratman. The other characters know his real name, but they sure don't tell us. The films name him, obviously, Willard.
  • Pet the Dog: In the 1971 movie, Mr. Martin sends Willard home early when he gets a frantic call regarding his mother.
  • Posthumous Character: Mr. Stiles in the 2003 movie due to a subplot about his having committed suicide long ago.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • Even after Socrates dies, Ratman is still largely concerned with using the rats to make end's meet and puts his plan for vengeance on the backburner for a while
    • Ratman suddenly takes pity on Mr. Martin at the last second, but leaves him for dead anyway for the sole reason that he saw Ratman without his mask.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Ben's role in the 2003 remake is played by a Gambian pouched rat, a species about five times the mass of a normal rat.
  • Scrapbook Story: The notebook of the title providing the "scrapbook" telling the story.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Willard in the 2003 movie.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Ratman's Notebooks or Ratman's Notebook?
  • Swarm of Rats: Once the rats start multiplying due to Willard feeding and taking care of them all, swarms of them take over the entire house.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The book is told entirely through Ratman's thoughts so it's possible his sanity can be called into question. If taken as full fact Ben is a really impressive rodent. But some things are up for debate within the narrative as uncertain just because Ratman himself wasn't there to witness it so he's only guessing. The 1971 movie seems to go with the narrative being full on right. The 2003 movie however uses a twist ending and was actually advertised as "an unforgettable journey into the mind of a madman".
  • The Unfavorite: Ben to Willard. Subverted with Danny in the sequel.
  • Unusual Pets For Unusual People: A weird social misfit, and his rats.

Alternative Title(s): Willard, Ptitleqii0sgwl