The Legendary Horror Actor Who Played A Doctor Strange Rip-Off

We can't always get what we want. You might have the next amazing idea for "Spider-Man," "Batman," or "Star Wars," but those brands are tightly controlled by their owners. Unless they come to you, you're probably not getting a chance to play in that pond.

There are alternatives, however. You can take your concept, file off the serial numbers, and present it as a wholly-original story that you and you alone own. The biggest novel of the 2010s, "Fifty Shades of Grey," began as "Twilight" fanfiction. Zack Snyder dusted off an old "Star Wars" pitch for the upcoming "Rebel Moon." Even old George Lucas himself created "Star Wars" after he couldn't get the rights to the old "Flash Gordon" sci-fi serials.

When faced with the chance to adapt Marvel's "Doctor Strange," film producer and director Charles Band summoned the eldritch forces to make it happen. Unfortunately, the summoning didn't go quite right, leading to the creation of "Doctor Mordrid" instead. And this Doctor would be played by a B-movie and television legend.

The Doctor is not quite in

In the early 1990s, Band was leading the charge in B-grade horror and science-fiction at Full Moon Pictures, his third production company. His earlier studio, Empire Pictures, had made a name for itself with cult classics like "Ghoulies," "Robot Jox," and "Re-Animator." Full Moon also landed some hits like "Puppet Master" and "Dollman."

This gave Band a bit of clout, which he used to option the rights to Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts. He had been working on an earlier concept called "Doctor Mortalis," which even featured concept art from Jack Kirby, a veteran Marvel creator and contemporary of "Doctor Strange" co-creators Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. With the actual rights, it looked like the stars were in alignment for a great horror film featuring Doctor Strange.

Except that by time production began on the picture, Full Moon had lost the rights to Strange. Faced with the loss of a key part of the project, Band decided to keep charging ahead. He had C. Courtney Joyner, writer of the earlier "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge," craft a script that would avoid the specter of any legal proceedings. Wiping away anything that was too "Doctor Strange," the team was left with "Doctor Mordrid."

Side-stepping into another dimension

When it came time to cast the good Doctor, Band turned to a frequent collaborator. Actor Jeffrey Combs had become a cult favorite actor for his portrayal of Herbert West in 1985's "Re-Animator." Combs also starred in other Empire and Full Moon productions, including "Bride of Re-Animator," "Robot Jox," and "Trancers II." To fans of schlock cinema, Combs is nothing short of a legend. When the spirit of filmmaking called upon him to play the Master of the Unknown, Combs answered.

"Doctor Mordrid" features Anton Mordrid, a wizard sent to protect humanity from Kabal, another wizard looking to obtain the Philosopher's Stone and open the gates of Hell. Unfortunately, he lands on Earth a bit early, forcing him to assume the role of a criminal psychologist while he waits for his foe to appear. Once Kabal appears, Mordrid uses his magical powers and connection to the Magic Dimension to face his foe.

The resulting film is a legally-distinct work, but you can see the fingerprints of "Doctor Strange" all over it. Mordrid wears a blue suit similar to Strange, and draws his power from a neck-bound amulet that looks a lot like the Eye of Agamotto. He even has a mystical headquarters that feels oddly similar to Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. (This one has TV monitors though!) The film is camp, leaning away from the shock tactics and gore of some other Full Moon films. It'd be almost family-friendly if not for the inclusion of a wholly-nude scene featuring Kabal and a young woman.

Summon the courage to go your own way

Combs does his best with the film, keeping his strong charisma onscreen throughout. "I hope that they don't expect over-and-over reprises of Herbert West. I hope that they see me as an actor who embraces that character, but also wants to branch out. I hope with this project that they'll see another angle, another aspect," he said in an early interview about the film.

Combs would go on to do other films like "Fortress," "Necronomicon," "The Frighteners," and 1999's "House on Haunted Hill." More importantly, he'd find a home on television as a consistent guest star in several genre projects. Combs would portray three characters on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," including the antagonist Weyoun. He's also played roles on "Stark Trek: Voyager," "Star Trek: Enterprise," "The New Batman Adventures," "Transformers: Prime," and more. For his part, Charles Band also continued to find success as a producer and director of B-level genre films. 

With Doctor Strange taking a central role in the Marvel Universe however, it's great to look back on this errant bit of the character's history. The moment when a cult-favorite actor almost portrayed the Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts, only to end up being a sorcerer and Master of the Unknown. And hey, "Doctor Mordrid" at least ended up slightly better than the 1978 "Dr. Strange" television film.