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Doctor Stranger Things: The Tale of Cinema’s Lost Marvel Ripoff

By  · Published on November 4th, 2016

Starring Jeffrey Combs as (allegedly) not Doctor Strange.

What’s in a name? Despite The Bard’s noble intentions for that query, if you’re a shady filmmaker in the early 90s, it turns out what is contained within a name is insulation against copyright infringement.

This weekend, Marvel’s Doctor Strange will be released in theaters. The Junkfood Cinema podcast is proud to claim Doc Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill as a host. Cargill is also the person who introduced this writer to the concept that the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring blockbuster both is and is not the first filmic adaptation of the Marvel comic.

In the late 80s/early 90s, Charles Band, formerly of Empire Pictures, formed Full Moon Features, which would become the dominant force in direct-to-VHS schlock for the next decade. Franchies like Trancers, Puppet Master, and Subspecies brought Full Moon a level of low-rent notoriety, which happened to occur at the tail end of one of the darkest eras of Marvel’s existence.

A series of bad junk bond investments lead to Marvel scrambling to stay afloat. In desperation, their Marvel Entertainment Group offshoot began a fire sale of film rights to some of their most popular characters. This is the origin of many memorably disastrous superhero movies such as Howard the Duck, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher, and the creme de la crap…Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, which was merely a dodge to maintain the rights and never even intended to see the light of day.

If only Charles Band had been possessed of Corman’s huckster foresight. Full Moon managed to get their tentacles on the rights to Marvel’s Doctor Strange and planned a filmic version starring studio fixture Jeffrey Combs as the sorcerer supreme. However, before production could be finished, Band allowed the option on the rights to expire. Instead of ditching the project all together, Band decided to merely change a few names and details and release the film as Doctor Mordrid.

The real “marvel” of Doctor Mordrid is its blatant tiptoeing around intellectual property rights. Combs’ Mordrid wears a familiar cape and amulet, delves into astral projection and bending the laws of space and time, and battles other sorcerers with lightning-finger magic. In fact, there are several iconic elements of the Marvel comic whose antecedents appear in Mordrid. One need only view the Doctor Mordrid poster, with the titular character brandishing massive ‐ and terribly familiar ‐ triangular sleeves, to understand what it was once intended to be. Band did make the inexplicable decision to house his Doctor Strange facsimile within a police procedural. So, you know…there’s that.

Doctor Mordrid is a hilariously misguided turkey, but given Junkfood Cinema’s longstanding fascination with knockoff films, and Cargill’s involvement with a slight more sanctioned Doctor Strange adaption, there was no way we couldn’t discuss this magically plagiaristic spectacle. To help us in this endeavor, we are joined by special guest Jeremy Stomberg (announcer for the Minnesota Roller Girls). Roll up your magic sleeves and follow us into the unknown!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episodes covering an additional cult movie, a new movie in theaters, or a mailbag episode devoted to your submitted questions! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.