I’m sure most of you will be going to see Marvel’s Doctor Strange this weekend (our review here!) and sit in slack-jawed wonderment at the universe-folding visuals and overt mysticism–both things that the MCU hasn’t done before. But, as you might know from a recent Dan Cave, or just from your own wizardly knowledge, attempts for Dr. Stephen Strange to join the live action realm have been going for many years. There was a failed pilot movie in the ’70s, for example, and in 1992, a feature film was nearly made. Well, it was made, it was just called Doctor Mordrid instead.
Of all the odd studio choices to get a chance at a Marvel property, the confirmed straight-to-video horror/fantasy-sci-fi company Full Moon Entertainment–formed by the brothers Charles and Albert Band–might be the weirdest. But in the early 1990s, with the prospect of a big-budget, well-respected Marvel movie still at least a decade off, Full Moon was as good a choice as any. Having made their money on movies like the Demonic Toys franchise and a number of other softcore horror titles, Full Moon was nearly as low-brow a choice as was Roger Corman’s New World Pictures for making the rights-retaining Fantastic Four movie.
But Full Moon did have the ability to do interesting and sometimes innovative things on their meager budgets. I recently wrote about another Charles Band-directed effort, the supremely weird and painfully slow Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, which nevertheless had some impressive effects and a good use of 3D for the time. So when the Brothers Band got the rights to make a Doctor Strange movie, it seemed like it might be a worthy effort. Except, they lost the rights agonizingly close to production starting. So, not being the sort to lick their wounds, they changed the script enough to make it different and gave the world the 74-minute Doctor Mordrid.
The story is incredibly simple: Dr. Anton Mordrid (Jeffrey Combs, who is a boss) is a good wizard/sorcerer from another realm who has spent the last century and a half waiting for his childhood friend and arch nemesis, Kabal (Brian Thompson), to finally return to the land of the living to try to enslave and destroy Earth, which, of course, he attempts. Meanwhile, Mordrid and his trusty pet raven, named Edgar Allan, live in a huge apartment building, where he’s also the landlord, and spends his days as a criminal psychologist, occult historian, and chronicler of the dark arts. Naturally and conveniently, also in his building lives Sam (Yvette Nipar), a consultant for the police department. Probably there’ll be sparks, or whatever. The cops soon arrest Mordrid because of his knowledge of a murder Kabal committed and he’s got to use his wits and Sam’s help to get out and stop Kabal’s evil schemes.
Much to my shock and surprise, Doctor Mordrid is actually a pretty enjoyable movie. I was expecting, if I’m honest, a festering pile of dumb. But, I’ll gladly admit that I was wrong. Combs is an excellent mystical hero and while he has a tendency to be too serious, I’d have loved to see more adventures of Combs as Mordrid. Nipar and Thompson are fine, too, though they seem to be in totally different movies, and way too much of the movie takes place in the police station for my liking. It’s a short movie, so it feels like we need to get going a bit more and not have this lengthy middle section in the least mystical land ever.
The final battle more than makes up for the lingering in the station, however. Kabal has taken over the Cosmopolitan Museum, using it as the center for the destruction of Earth. Mordrid, having just escaped the station, knows he can’t make it there in time and instead astral projects. The two magical beings have a magical fight and end with making a T-Rex skeleton and a woolly mammoth skeleton fight each other. It’s incredibly cool, with stop-motion effects being used for the two ambulatory bone piles. I really enjoyed this, and it was especially impressive given the only $2 million budget.
That said, there is one aspect of the movie that flatly doesn’t work, and that’s when it tries to earn its R-rating. Initially, when it was going to be a Marvel Doctor Strange movie, it was going to be a solid PG, and most of the finished film, especially those featuring Mordrid himself, reflect that. However, the Bands must have figured, since they weren’t beholden to any rating limit, why not toss in out-of-place grown up stuff, all involving Kabal’s human minions. They both swear a TON, like to the point where it seems like 9-year-olds who just discovered the F word. There’s also a scene where the female minion is “chosen” for a special ritual by Kabal and is completely naked for it. These scenes begin about 20 minutes in and are incredibly jarring. But hey, gotta get in that boob and swear quota in an exploitation movie, I guess.
Overall, though, Doctor Mordrid is a solid if slight entry into the almost-a-superhero-franchise subgenre, and will definitely entertain those seeking a bit more sorcerer supremacy after or before you see Benny C and his red cape hit the screen. Don’t expect the best movie you’ll ever see, but you’ll definitely *ahem* Marvel at what could have been.
Images: Full Moon Entertainment