GUEST COLUMN: Doctor Mordrid (1992 film)

Posted: January 22, 2015 in Baer, Doctor Mordrid, Doctor Strange, Full Moon, Guest Column, Marvel
**The following was written by Brian Baer. While technically not a Comic Book Movie…come on, it totally is. Enjoy this look at a forgotten film from a strange time known as “The Early 90’s.”**

Don’t get me wrong, I know everyone is excited for Benedict “Cheekbones” Cumberbatch to play Marvel’s Doctor Strange on the big screen. Dr. Stephen Strange has already appeared in his own 1978 TV movie, along with an animated film and guest spots on various cartoons, all of which I’m sure will be covered on this site soon. But there’s an important also-ran appearance of the character, something which may as well count.

“Also-ran? I don’t know what you’re-“

The opening credits of the 1992 straight-to-video film Doctor Mordrid: Master of the Unknown state “Based on an original idea by Charles Band,” but don’t let that fool you. Band’s studio, Full Moon Entertainment, is best known for the B-movie Puppet Master franchise, but they once held the rights to Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts. Those rights lapsed at some point before production apparently, and very little was changed before filming began.
Names were altered (“The Ancient One” becomes “The Monitor,” etc.) and the costume is slightly different, but that’s about it. There’s still the astral projection, he still uses something that’s clearly intended to be the Eye of Agamotto. Nearly everything is in place, and the things that aren’t would’ve likely been changed anyway, given the way comics were adapted in the early 90s. You don’t have to squint too hard to see Doctor Strange.

Dr. Anton Mordrid is an immortal (not a brash surgeon) placed on Earth to guard mankind from a malevolent magician named Kabal (not Baron Mordo). He passes the centuries by scanning the planet’s news for suspicious stories, working as the landlord of a classy New York apartment building (not The Sanctum Sanctorum), and giving the occasional speech on the supernatural in criminology. When Kabal comes to Earth to use the Philosopher’s Stone to bring forth a bunch of demons, or something, only Dr. Mordrid and a cute police consultant (not Wong) can save us all.

If that plot sounds vague and undercooked to you, you’re correct. However, the main cast is fantastic. Given the era this film was produced, there is literally no better option for Dr. Strange/Mordrid than Jeffrey Combs. The cult favorite star of Re-Animator plays the role with surprising charm. He has the innate ability to deliver absurd dialogue while still sounding like a genius, which comes in handy as a sorcerer. Kabal is played by veteran character actor Brian Thompson, best remembered from roles in The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even sleepwalking through a film, as he likely did here, he’s creepy and intimidating. Yvette Nipar plays the police consultant/love interest with a natural sense of sweetness and sincerity. Nipar has appeared regularly on TV over the past two decades, notably as Det. Lisa Madigan in the live action Robocop: The Series.

I’m pretty sure Brian Baer knows Yvette Nipar’s
filmography better than she does.

These great actors struggle to overcome Full Moon’s traditional rock-bottom budget. Production values aren’t great. The score is cheesy, effects are sparse and unconvincing, and outside of Strange/Mordrid’s impressive Sanctum Sanctorum/apartment, the sets are lazy at best. Another Full Moon hallmark, the explanation-free nudity, feels even more out of place than usual. By the time the stop-motion dinosaur skeleton battle finale comes around, Doctor Mordrid has devolved into complete camp.

Stagnant? What ever do you mean?

The real failure of the film lies in the static nature of its protagonist. Dr. Strange has a fantastic origin story, as an arrogant man is humbled and forced to rebuild himself. It’s a man of science willing himself to become a master of magic. Doctor Mordrid isn’t an origin story. The character doesn’t really have an origin. Not only does this steal away every opportunity for organic exposition, Strange/Mordid is so stagnant he’s barely motivated. Our hero isn’t allowed to be sexy or sweary or to show any personality whatsoever. As perfect as Combs’ casting was, it’s a shame he didn’t have more to work with.

Even with the movie’s flaws, it’s still a shame Doctor Mordrid couldn’t have been Doctor Strange. Strange has always been an A-list character trapped in the B-list. He deserves more attention than he gets, and even a straight-to-video movie would have nudged him further into the public eye. Keeping the name intact likely wouldn’t have made the movie any better, but it certainly would’ve been more successful. Comic fans would’ve sought it out. It could’ve gotten a sequel.

But Full Moon didn’t make the wrong movie; they made the movie wrong. I’m sure there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Marvel Studios has the budget, the vision, and the cast to finally pull the character off. I’d rather get a good, big-budget, Cumberbatchy Doctor Strange than a cheap, tenuously adapted, Combsian version. It just would’ve been nice to get both.

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