With TV movie Strange and straight to video Mordrid both based on a common inspiration, these two largely forgotten superhero quickies share more than ham-fisted mysticism.
Dr. Strange (1978)
Country: USA | Runtime: 93mins | Director: Philip DeGuere Jr.
Starring: Peter Hooten, Jessica Walter, John Mills, Anne-Marie Martin, Clyde Kusatsu
JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS: An unidentified demon sends space-witch Morgan LeFay (Walter) to Earth so she can kill Lindmer (Mills), a magician who protects mankind from evil. LeFay's initial attack on Lindmer fails, but a beautiful young student she briefly possessed, Clea Lake (Martin), is left almost catatonic by her ordeal. Lindmer taps arrogant psychiatrist Stephen Strange (Hooten) to replace him as Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. Coincidentally, Lake is sent to the hospital where Strange works and, because she's beautiful and he's a sleaze, he takes a special interest in her case. Lindmer explains that Lake has been left on the 'higher astral plains' by LeFay's possession, and teaches Strange how to rescue her. LeFay attracts the ire of the unidentified demon when she falls in love with Strange, but she manages to kill Lindmer and then takes Strange to the astral plains to show off her powers and try to pull him. He resists her advances, which somehow means all is well again and Lindmer comes back to life. Lindmer's abilities are then transferred to Strange, but in the coda we see LeFay is still on Earth and gathering her power once more.
"All right?! I'm several hundred years too old to be all right!"
The late 1970s saw Marvel's first serious attempt to render some of its more popular superheroes in live action. First to the screen was The Amazing Spider-Man, a 1977 CBS series, which garnered great ratings but proved too expensive to maintain. Shortly after Spidey's debut, The Incredible Hulk hit screens in an origins TV movie and later a series which would become a CBS staple. Those early successes lead to a brace of Captain America TV movies in 1979, but before they disappointed audiences and critics alike, CBS took a punt on Dr Strange with a 1978 TV movie. In spite of Stan Lee's affection for the thing viewers failed to tune in. In droves. With hindsight there's just no way it could ever have worked. The characters are too ambiguous, the mythology too vague, and the adaptation too slow. There's very little going on for much of the runtime, and Strange doesn't don the outfit or take centre stage until the confusing finale. Instead we spend our time going around in circles with John Mills, which was never going to satisfy TV audiences, whether fans of the comic books or not
"The girl has been... touched by evil."
It is oddly likeable, though. Walter and Mills are both very good actors who take the material completely seriously, while the pacing and lack of action draw you in, to a degree. The result is an unusual superhero movie with more integrity than you might expect, but it's ultimately not good enough to work sincerely or bad enough to work ironically. A bit like the more recent movie.
Doctor Mordrid (1992)
Country: USA | Runtime: 74mins | Directors: Albert Band, Charles Band
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Yvette Nipar, Brian Thompson, Tony Gaudio, Keith Coulouris
JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS: An unidentified god sends space-wizard Mordrid (Combs) to Earth so he can await the arrival of his evil stepbrother Kabal (Thompson), who has pledged to destroy mankind. Mordrid monitors the theft of various alchemical elements, thefts which he believes signal Kabal's arrival. Samantha Hunt (Nipar), a forensic expert working with the police, befriends Mordrid and helps him escape from prison when an overzealous detective arrests him for a murder committed by Kabal. Mordrid eventually faces Kabal, triumphing over him with better magic.
"It would have been kinder to kill me, but instead he melted my eyes and left me here as an example to what a cosmic son of a bitch he is."
Conceived and written as a Dr Strange adaptation by Full Moon regular C. Courtney Joiner, director/producer Charles Band's rights to the Marvel character unfortunately expired on the eve of production, forcing a 'comprehensive rewrite' (name change). In many ways it's exactly what you would expect from a Full Moon Doctor Strange movie, but Mordrid brings a little extra to the table thanks to its endearing straight-faced silliness.
The universe created for the movie involves ill-explained alternate dimensions, powerful magic, mysterious monsters, gods, prophecies and stop-motion dinosaurs; all of which are rendered with the pleasing, brightly coloured incoherence of a kids TV movie. Combs is brilliant as the eponymous sorcerer, giving us both barrels of Herbert West's sincerity even when wearing day-glo wizard jammies and a tiny cape. Without him the movie wouldn't work. At one point he's required to stand on a stage denouncing 'experts' and rambling about supernatural absurdities like a more severe David Icke. Few actors could strike the right tone and keep their tongue out of their cheek when delivering such a monologue.
It's very much a paint-by-numbers affair. Scene one leads to scene two in just the way you expect, and then we're on to scene three without any nasty surprises. As a result there's not much to say about a movie that, although formulaic, is quite a lot of fun.
Video: A Minute of Mordrid
Full Moon Entertainment/Wizard Entertainment