It’s been a while since I’ve been compelled to comment on the passing of cinemas’ greats, but upon learning of David Warner’s departure from this world, I was moved to write a few words about this great icon of the celluloid screen.
For me, my first encounter with the actor would be on the small screen, possibly on a copied VHS, for the film TRON in his triple credited performance as Ed Dillinger / Sark/ Master Control Programmer. The latter’s monotonous and sinister tones still resonate today such was the impact of Warner’s vocal performance.
Of course, as my movie experience enveloped, and with it my fascination with the horror genre, I grew to learn of his more infamous roles that took place beforehand. This is not to forget his involvement in the controversial Sam Peckinpah flick Straw Dogs which saw him take on the role of ‘a mentally deficient man’, Henry Niles and the shaky-yet-morally integral platform that Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner chooses to stand upon to defend his cause.
With a couple of years away from the role that would cement his place in horror history though came a notable turn for Amicus Productions’ anthology film, From Beyond The Grave in the segment called The Gatecrasher. Here, Warner plays Edward Charlton, a man who buys an antique mirror, holds a seance, and then goes on a killing frenzy… as you do, before succumbing to the true horror.
It is of course in 1976 when Warner made his mark as the doomed photographer, Jennings in The Omen. His captured images foretelling the deaths of characters including his own now iconic one, The death scene may be the most memorable part to his character, but the role of Jennings was a grounded and necessary part of the revelations in juxtaposition to Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn. It is Warner’s ability to instill a sense of integrity that makes the shock of his demise all the more harrowing.
There would be some notable non-horror roles in the mix, but once again he would show another side to his on-screen presence as Dr. Alfred Necessiter in The Man With Two Brains to show his knack for maniacal comedy.
Warner would even don one of horror’s most iconic characters in the Creature from a tv adaptation of Frankenstein, before appearing as the father character in Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. By the late 80s’ he would appear alongside Zach Galligan (who was hot following Gremlins) in Waxwork.
Such was Warner’s presence on screen that it wouldn’t take to long for him to be called upon in successful franchises such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze, Tales From The Crypt, Star Trek: Next Generation, and Twin Peaks,
It would be in the mid 90s when he would work for the first time with John Carpenter in Body Bags that would lead on to his cameo as Dr. Wrenn in In the Mouth of Madness, one of Carpenter’s lesser known masterpieces. He would also cameo for Craven as drama teacher Gus Gold in Scream 2; the same year he would play villainous character, Spicer Lovejoy for a certain James Cameron movie about a doomed cruise ship. You may have heard of it.
There would be further notable twists and turns through his career, and I’m a doing a disservice to his talents here to skip through them with ease, but will address that his turn as Professor Abraham Van Helsing in Penny Dreadful and Professor Cavanaugh were worthy additions to the genre.
It is without doubt that David Warner had an immense impact on film and tv across all mediums. For this writer, he will be always remembered. A true performer in every sense of the word who brought all his characters to life with great rectitude and credibility.
R.I.P. David Warner
- Saul Muerte