Happy ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ Day: The Original Horror Classic Now Streaming on SCREAMBOX

Happy ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ Day: The Original Horror Classic Now Streaming on SCREAMBOX

The late Robin Williams had the incredible and unmatched ability to make people laugh. His volcanic energy, genius delivery, and rapid impressions made him a household name. Williams’ immense success in the 1990s eventually opened the door for more serious films, including the tender Good Will Hunting and the fantastical What Dreams May Come. Not everything that came after was as well received or recognized, but Williams continued to pursue other genres outside of comedy. The actor had his fair share of dramatic performances to complement his comedic ones, but it was Williams’ sinister turn in 2002’s One Hour Photo that caught everyone off guard. No one was expecting Mrs. Doubtfire or Aladdin’s genie to star in such an unsettling psychological-thriller. 

Sy the Photo Guy remains a defining character in Williams’ career, even after playing another villain in Insomnia that same year. However, to outright label the chronically lonely and dejected photo developer as a total bad guy is an oversimplification. Director and writer Mark Romanek disentangled the profoundly layered Sy — who serves as both the film’s protagonist and antagonist — and submitted an unnerving, not to mention sympathetic character study. 

Once it came “time to add some dark colors to the palette,” Williams was excited. He was not always offered roles like Seymour “Sy” Parrish (no relation to Jumanji’s Alan Parrish). And never sure he would get another chance to portray someone so disturbed and complex, Williams played the part to the fullest. A character such as Sy demanded more physical restraint than Williams was used to at the time; this long-serving employee in a store’s photo department is a deeply repressed man who tended to color inside the lines. Anyone familiar with Williams’ previous work was accustomed to seeing him animated, over the top, and passionate. Mr. Parrish, on the other hand, is an emotional time-bomb just waiting to explode.

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For most of his life, Sy kept himself in check for reasons not known until One Hour Photo’s startling conclusion. Before reaching that bleak dead end, Sy looked forward to only one thing in life: developing the photos for one particular family he had come to see as the pinnacle of perfection over the years. The Yorkins are indeed picturesque, but those hundreds of snapshots only captured the best moments in their lives. They did not show the cracks in Will (Michael Vartan) and Nina Yorkin’s (Connie Nielsen) dwindling marriage, nor did they show Will’s neglectful behavior with his nine-year-old son (Dylan Smith). Sy may have nurtured this impractical fantasy of the Yorkins, yet the idea did not appear out of nowhere. The Yorkins presented a specific image of themselves to the world, and Sy did not only take that false impression to heart, he built his whole life around it.

One Hour Photo benefits from Mark Romanek’s experience as a music-video director. The film’s immaculate and thoughtfully designed aesthetic punctuates Sy’s story from start to finish. In contrast with the warm and saturated palette that gives off a quality comparable to old photos and darkrooms is the film’s centerpiece. SavMart is a hyper-stylized big-box store where the fluorescent lights are brighter than normal, and the shelves are stocked in the most eerily uniform manner. Sy’s everyday environment borders on the surreal, which only adds to his increasing delusions. This sterile setting possesses an almost purifying and celestial light. SavMart runs on monotony, whereas the world outside the store is cluttered and generally uncomfortable to be in. So when Sy is fired from his job, his devastation is to be expected. Banished from his own personal heaven, Williams’ distraught character is forced to live full-time in the ugly reality beyond SavMart’s exit. 

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While it seemed like One Hour Photo did not go as far as it could have, there is no denying the effect that Williams’ staggering performance had on viewers. No one back then was prepared to see the comic combust in such an agonizing and cheerless way. This was no one-man show, but it was definitely a showcase for Williams’ flair for chilling drama.

The same year that One Hour Photo was released, Robin Williams starred in Insomnia and Death to Smoochy. The latter was another of the actor’s disruptive genre pieces, but the general response to this pitch-black comedy, as well as the 2004 sci-fi thriller The Final Cut, was not especially kind. With his series of atypical roles generating mixed reception, it was only understandable when Williams returned to comedy.

Of all the films that Williams starred in in 2006, The Night Listener stands out as the most aberrant. This adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s novel of the same name — and based on true events — is more conventional than One Hour Photo. And unlike that film, Williams was not playing the role of a villain. On the contrary, Gabriel Noone is a flawed yet accessible radio-show host who falls under the spell of a young memoirist (Rory Culkin). Patrick Stettner’s final directorial feature offers fairly straightforward suspense, however, those thrills are not exactly gentle either.

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Williams was not portraying another sociopath, and he was by no means the center attraction in The Night Listener. No, this was closer to an ensemble pic with Toni Collette ultimately stealing the show — as she usually does — as the nuanced Donna Logand. Even so, Williams did not fade into the background when pitted against Collette’s intimidating character. He was simply placed on the receiving end of things for once; Williams was the one responding to a substantial and often unpredictable personality. Of course, it was not an entirely compliant role for Williams, seeing as Gabriel was investigating the validity of an ailing boy’s trauma-fueled memoir.

With The Night Listener, Williams turned in one of his most subtle performances. His character was snarky and enjoyed provoking shock in certain company, but Williams did it all in the most disciplined fashion. Even Gabriel’s spats with ex-boyfriend Jesse (Bobby Cannavale) are fleeting and frank rather than prolonged and theatrical. Naturally some viewers would have tuned in to see Williams and anticipated something a bit more distinctive from the always expressive actor. Even though his understated approach was certainly unexpected, it fits this type of film. This quietly creepy thriller demonstrated catfishing before the term became more common, and it is best enjoyed on a late, lonely night in a dark room.

After seeing films like One Hour Photo and The Night Listener, it was obvious that Robin Williams was fully capable of being more than just a funnyman. He was hilarious, however, he could just as easily make your skin crawl if given the opportunity. Undoubtedly, this beloved actor is best remembered for his many comedies, but his occasional detours into other genres are also worth celebrating.

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