27-year-old Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) works in the offices of a business that he should have, by rights, inherited from his late father, but his boss, friend of the family Mr Martin (Ernest Borgnine), stole it away from him and now treats him like a slave around the building, hectoring him and ordering him about.
At home, things aren’t much better, as Willard’s mother (Elsa Lanchester) has him at her beck and call, as she’s not getting any younger and relies on him to look after her.
Willard turns the tables on his tormentors by training his two pet rats – Socrates (the white one who is loyal and friendly) and Ben (who does what he is told but has a rebellious streak) – and their sewer pals to attack on command. But when he neglects them after falling in love with Joan (Sondra Locke), hell hath no fury like rodents scorned.
Solid direction by Daniel Mann and Davison’s creepily introverted performance turned this horror revenge tale into a huge box-office hit.
Everybody cheers when bullying boss Mr Martin (Ernest Borgnine) gets it, although the movie’s overall success depends on one’s squeamishness towards the creatures themselves. The sequel Ben (1972) followed.
A 2003 ‘reinterpretation’ starred Crispin Glover and R Lee Ermey.