You know who he is. Everyone knows who he is. He’s David freaking Warner for God’s sake! Warner’s in at least one of your top ten movies of all time because he’s been in everything and been doing so since 1962.
There is a dangerous magnetism to the way David Warner approaches every role. Even when he’s playing a lighter character, there’s something bubbling just underneath the surface that makes the audience wary. Very few actors can pull off that particular blend of charm and threat; Malcolm McDowell, the late Alan Rickman, Ian McShane, but no one pulls it off as well as David Warner.
His horror credentials are solid but his body of work encompasses melodrama, comedy, thrillers, classic theatre and sci-fi. Not only did Warner fill in at the last minute in a two-part episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation but he was in 2 of the classic Trek films; The Final Frontier and Undiscovered Country. He played Jor-El in Lois and Clark and voiced Ras Al Ghul in the Superman animated series.
As for Horror, his credits include Scream 2 (1997), a turn as Frankenstein’s Monster in a made for TV movie (1984), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984), recently Warner played Van Helsing in Penny Dreadful (2014), and he was the villain in Waxwork (1988) which you might remember as the other film starring Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame.
Then there was Titanic (1997), possibly the most unintentionally horrific film of all time.
This list could go on forever, David Warner has over 200 credits on IMDB, but I’m going to focus on just a few movies. I am, quite possibly, the most unhip writer at Psycho Drive-In and my horror knowledge just isn’t as extensive as my brilliant brethren. But what I know, I KNOW. What follows below is how I know David Warner.
The Omen (1976)
David Warner was in his ‘70s glory in this movie, all swagger and neckerchiefs. He starred as photographer Keith Jennings, opposite Gregory Peck. If you’re reading this, you already know The Omen. Jennings discovers clues about Damien in his photographs and begins a journey with Thorn (Peck) that leads to the revelation that Damien is the Antichrist. Warner is just plain sultry in this role, again, he’s got that hidden danger in his personality although his character is completely benign. As a bonus, Keith Jennings is decapitated in the most spectacular fashion in this film. (Do we need spoilers for a movie released 40 years ago?)
Time Bandits (1981)
Ok, Time Bandits isn’t horror but David Warner portrayed the personification of Evil. That counts, right? Time Bandits is one of my all-time favorite movies not just for its tongue-in-cheek dialogue or its absolutely incredible production design that pulls from writer/director Terry Gilliam’s intense imagination but because of David Warner’s embodiment of Evil. Sure, he’s sinister but, dammit, he’s just so charming! Evil wants nothing more than to escape The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and makes plans for how he’ll alter creation once he does. Warner plays it completely straight though he has the best lines in the movie. For most of the film, he plays opposite a gaggle of underlings who crave torture. My favorite exchange:
(After proclaiming himself all powerful)
Underling 1: But why, if that’s the case, are you unable to escape from this fortress?
[Evil blows him up with the flip of a hand]
Evil: (as if he were responding to a question in a boardroom) That’s a good question.
The Man with Two Brains (1983)
It’s the rare actor that could keep up with 1980s Steve Martin but Warner did so with aplomb. In this ridiculous, over the top, sci-fi comedy, Warner plays Dr. Necessiter a “mad” scientist who is spearheading research into brain transplants. The Man with Two Brains was Martin’s last, true slapstick comedy and, I think, his best, in part because of Warner’s completely straight-laced Necessiter. He lets the dialogue create the laughs without overpowering the lines. He approaches the character as an eager scholar, excited to share his knowledge with a like mind. Again, his charm and underlying danger shines through as one of the only un-ridiculous characters in the movie. God help me, when I think of Warner, the first thing that comes to mind is this:
Time After Time (1979)
Warner plays John Leslie Stevenson, the charming, intellectual friend of H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) and, in secret, Jack the Ripper. Yes, this movie has a time travel conceit and spends some serious time with McDowell looking confused and horrified by New York in 1979 but the interplay between he and Warner is delicious. McDowell’s innocent and trusting Wells opposite Warner’s confident, electric Ripper is the reason to watch this film. The two are incredible together and it’s sad that the love story that runs counter to their relationship takes up most of the movie.
So, David Warner. Again, he’s been in everything and you know him. Check out the films mentioned above if you haven’t seen them. If you are feeling brave, dive into David Warner’s filmography. Just skip over Titanic. That movie is awful.