Who's Who in Horror: Treat Williams

With an unmistakable smirk and smarmy attitude, Richard Treat Williams has established himself on the stage and screen as a unique and recognizable performer. Born December 1st, 1951, Williams began his career in small theater performances through Franklin and Marshall College, Pennsylvania, after which he graduated into larger roles as John Travolta's understudy in the Broadway musical Grease. After landing his first supporting role in the film DEADLY HERO (1976), he returned to his roots in theater, this time earning the lead role of Danny Zuko for himself. It was this starring performance that truly opened the doors to his future career in film, directly resulting in his casting in the hit screen adaptation of the musical HAIR (1979).

Since the start of his career, Williams has worked along side such names as Steven Spielberg, Robert De Niro, and Harrison Ford, but he is most memorable to Horror fans for his lead in the zombie Comedy DEAD HEAT (1988). DEAD HEAT finds two struggling cops fighting an army of undead bank robbers in a sinister plot to take over the world, which is only made all the more complicated when Roger Mortis (Williams) is resurrected as a vengeful zombie after falling in action. This wacky twist on the buddy cop scenario that was prevalent in the 80s was welcomed by a decent reception, grossing approx $1.67M opening weekend. Though it was received with less than stellar reviews critically, the film continues to have a shelf life due to its goofy, lighthearted nature and heavy use of special make-up effects.

1988 was a big year for Williams, as he top-lined four feature films, often playing the same sharp, cynical role used in DEAD HEAT. In his fourth Italian venture NIGHT OF THE SHARKS (1988), Williams plays a vengeful shark hunter out to bring down the crime syndicate that killed his brother. With an uneven blend of Action, Crime Drama, and very little Horror, the film did not receive much recognition when sold overseas, though it has been brought back to life for Williams fans through DVD.

Williams would then go on to do extensive television work, both on screen as well as behind the camera voicing numerous animated series. In what may be his crowning achievement in Horror, Treat was offered the opportunity to top an episode of HBO's hit series Tales from the Crypt, in an episode entitled "None but the Lonely Heart" (1992). Here, he was able to explore a much darker, more brooding side of his personality. The character called for an emotionless con that would seduce rich widows through his charming personality, then off them once they had signed over their fortunes. Williams easily wins over each of his victims as well as the audience with a stunning performance that plays a duality between the endearing lover and merciless killer. The episode is regarded by many to be among the very best in the series, and is easily an example of Williams finest work.

Following another continued stint in television, Williams returned to the realm of Sci-Fi and Horror in 1998's DEEP RISING, after starring alongside Harrison Ford in the Suspense / Thriller THE DEVIL'S OWN (1997). DEEP RISING is throwback to the classic giant monster movies where a shifty hijacker and his crew must face off with a killer squid-like creature on the luxury liner they intended to rob. For Williams, it is a return to form recalling his previous performance in DEAD HEAT. Though commonly overlooked by genre fans and critics alike, DEEP RISING implores a great deal of gory practical and visual effects, and contributes better than average performances by the remaining cast. One critic that the film did not escape, however, was Roger Ebert, who places this "ALIEN clone with a fresh paint job" at the top of his most hated films list.

From here, Williams was considered for several Suspense / Thrillers and additional work in television, with notable performances in THE SUBSTITUTE film series. His next venture into the genre would be under the wing of notorious director Fred Olen Ray, best known for his micro-budget B-Movies like HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988) or SCALPS (1983). The two had collaborated previously on CRITICAL MASS (2000), but Ray now tapped Williams as a medical examiner pitted against a den of deadly mutant rattlesnakes in the straight-to-video entry VENOMOUS. The film, though rife with cheesy dialogue and acting, has been well-received by genre fans, and marks another noteworthy performance by Williams that is stripped of his usual wit and charm in place of a serious and commanding lead.

In most recent years, Williams has taken the role of the surgeon in two separate medical dramas throughout the early- to late-2000s: Everwood (2002) and Heartland (2007). His heart-felt performances were critcally-acclaimed, earning him nominations in both 2003 and 2004 by the Screen Actors Guild under the category of "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series."

Whether Treat is showing off his vocal range on stage, offering patients the chance for a renewed life in his medical dramas, or battling the forces of evil in one of his many genre entries, he has certainly left his mark on the entertainment world.

-Carl Manes

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  1. nice report! and a cool idea for a new feature. look forward to yer next one.

    dead heat was a cool one but i haven't seen it in ages. Joe Piscipo was pretty good in it if i remember right.

  2. Loved him since HAIR. Nice to see Treat getting some respect!

  3. Glad you guys enjoyed the article, it would have been much easier starting with someone more recognizable, but I love Treat and wanted to kick this thing off with a personal favorite and someone I figured many fans would not have known as much about.

  4. Dead Heat is a firm favourite. There is apparently a longer version by about six minutes. If this ever gets a DVD release I hope that the extra footage is still available & able to be put back into the main feature. Carl, do you recall ever hearing about an extended version ?. One of Vincent Price's last movies of course, sadly, as well. Paul

  5. I do remember hearing something along those lines, but as to what the extra footage entails, I really have no idea. always hard to tell if its footage that desperately needed cutting to fix pacing issues or the sweet stuff that maybe have been removed for ratings purposes!

    Good to see you Paul, thanks for stopping by!

  6. Always good times stopping by Carl,a Fun place to hang. Thank you !.
    Seems Dead Heat was rejected by the MPAA several times until cuts were made & then an R rating was given. The movie otherwise would have had an X slapped on it. A great shame it was not released a few years later as I'm sure both R & X rated versions would have found a home on the then new format of DVD.
    There is quiet word of Anchor Bay acquiring the edited out material & working with the Director to get an Uncut version out. Here's hoping.

  7. Glad you had the chance to look into it, was going to do some snooping when I got home from work but that solves the mystery =D

    I wonder if Bill Lustig is going to steal the flick from under AB's feet and offer the extended version through Blue Underground?