John Hurt Left an Indelible Mark on Cinema, Including Horror

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After a career that spanned six decades replete with memorable performances, including a pair of Oscar nominations, John Hurt succumbed to cancer yesterday aged 77,

From a heartbreaking turn as John Merrick in The Elephant Man that earned him a Best Actor nomination to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to An Englishman in New York, Hurt demonstrated time and again that he was one of the most gifted and versatile actors audiences have had the pleasure of witnessing.

Whether a film delved into drama, humor or even horror, Hurt was always up to the task.

In 1979, a year after Hurt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Midnight Express, he appeared in one of science fiction and horror’s most revered pictures, Ridley Scott’s Alien. As a crew member aboard the ill-fated Nostromo, Hurt’s Kane was the first in a litany of actors to fall prey to a facehugger, and left audiences frozen with fear in a scene that has not lost an ounce of its intended effect nearly forty years after it was seared into our collective memory.

For horror fans, none will ever forget where they were or how they felt the first time they laid eyes on the chestburster scene. The look of disbelief and terror on the faces of Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto and the helpless scream of Veronica Cartwright mirrored our own emotions. The word indelible comes to mind, and special effects aside, we have John Hurt to thank for that.

It didn’t end there, however. Hurt was magnificent as High Chancellor Adam Sutler in the Wachowski sisters’ V for Vendetta, a dystopian tale of corruption and oppression that was horrifyingly fascinating on one hand, but possesses a chill that runs much deeper in our present world.

Hurt demonstrated range that offered equal humanity to a character considered a side show attraction and authenticity to a paranoid tyrant. To say nothing of his father-like turn as Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm in Guillermo de Toro’s Hellboy, a film that found the English actor portray a scientist who raises an infant demon conjured by Nazis with gentleness, affection and understanding.

For all the love and adoration that has poured out from colleagues and fans since news of Hurt’s passing, perhaps none said it better than Hellboy’s writer and director, del Toro.

Hurt himself once said “We are all racing towards death. No matter how many great, intellectual conclusions we draw during our lives, we know they’re all only man-made, like God. I begin to wonder where it all leads. What can you do, except do what you can do as best you know how.”

Hurt’s best was something to behold, and all genre of film, including horror, are forever in his debt.

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