EXCLUSIVE: Vern’s review of Marvel’s first ever supernatural movie, DR. STRANGE
(p.s. the 1978 tv movie)
DR. STRANGE is the story of a supernatural battle going on in New York. The world you live in is a sugar-coated topping, etc. Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten from ORCA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) is a mustachioed lady’s man doctor at a psychiatric hospital who goes about his normal hospital business for half of the movie before meeting an old sorcerer dude (John Mills, GANDHI) who tells him that he has known since Stephen was a kid that he had a talent for magical voodoo type business shooting beams and saying magic words and flying in space and all that type of shit that you would have to do if you chose that sort of alternative lifestyle which so far he has not because he’s a normal person, he doesn’t believe in that shit or ever heard of it. Also Stephen’s dad knew it and that’s why the tacky ring he wears that his dad gave him matches the “ancient symbol of light” on the old man’s attic window, apparently.
Anyway, you’re not gonna believe this but fuckin Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter from PLAY MISTY FOR ME and Arrested Development [the sitcom, not the rap group]) is in town. See, this cool stop motion demon guy with glowing eyes named Balzaroth (voiced by Ted Cassidy, aka Lurch from The Addams Family) told her that the old wizard man is dying and gonna give his powers to his successor, and he gives her three days on earth to stop him.
She takes to the job with passion. Sometimes he turns her into an old hag with poofy white hair to show her how he could punish her if she blows it again like she did 500 years ago. She prefers looking hot.
She rides around in a taxi and terrifies a little kid just by looking at him. She’s following the old man and she sees this pretty gal Clea (Anne-Marie Martin from PROM NIGHT and Sledge Hammer!, and also she wrote TWISTER [!]) and figures what the hell, I will use magic to make her push the old fucker off a bridge. He falls into the street and gets hit by a car and there are a whole bunch of witnesses but none of them seem to have seen the pushed off the bridge part, they think he was just in the street. Anyway he gets up and walks away.
By the way, if you are not a wizard don’t do that. I know a dude that got hit by a car and he thought he was okay but his scraped-up leg ended up getting a horrible infection a week later and he didn’t have the driver’s information. And he had no magic glowing hands to heal it with.
Clea freaks out about the pushing-an-old-man-off-a-bridge-into-traffic incident, but she doesn’t remember even who she is and gets sent to the hospital, where Dr. Strange has both professional and completely unprofessional, unethical interest in her case/boobs. They both have dreams about the various characters involved in this business. Eventually the old man shows up at the hospital and tries to convince Dr. Strange that Clea cannot be healed using real science and medical techniques, she can only be saved by ancient hogwash and super power beams. Dr. Strange is like “whatever old man” but then goes to the weirdo’s house anyway and hangs out with him and his servant Wong (Clyde Kusatsu) who calls the old man “Master” all the time, which makes the doctor uncomfortable. But the old man convinces him it’s real and teaches him exactly one magic thing to say if he gets in trouble.
So he travels the astral plane…
…(floats around Peter Pan style in front of kaleidoscopes while Space Mountain type music plays) and finds Clea and saves her even though an evil knight on a horse tries to stop him. So he’s now a successful wizard doctor.
Clea gets discharged from the hospital, and the doctor plans to make a discharge into her. Or at least he goes to her apartment. But then Morgan LeFay appears out of the mirror and puts Clea to sleep, so Strange goes into a magic dimensional plane of existence realms with LeFay and then lands on a small, fake looking (but cool) outer space set with her and it’s kinda weird because he was on the date with the one girl and now all the sudden he’s gonna fuck a notorious magic lady from the King Arthur days. Not to slut shame him but come on Dr. Strange. Etiquette.
She’s all over him and then she’s like “hey by the way, no reason I mention this but take off the magic power ring that you just found out gives you the magic and everything” and he’s like “nah, the old man has to take it off” and she’s all “the guy is dead, just take it off” and he goes “you take it off” and she goes “no, I can’t take it off, you gotta take it off though” and suddenly he’s like oh shit, I think possibly she is trying to trick me and next thing you know they’re shooting lasers out of hands at faces, starting fires and glowing yellow, red, etc.
Basically, this is a pretty slow, boring TV pilot that wasn’t good enough to continue with as a series, so voila, it counts as a movie. Stan Lee is quoted as saying it could’ve done well but had the bad luck of playing at the same time as Roots. I think this is false because I can’t find any evidence that Roots really played the same day, and if it did it was a re-run, having originally aired nearly 2 years before DR. STRANGE. At any rate, this didn’t become a series like the other Marvel creations such as The Incredible Hulk, Spider-man or The Astonishing Love Boat.
There is no way I can claim this is good, but it does have a bunch of cool things in it that I would like to see them build off if in the actual theatrical motion picture extravaganza they are currently making. I have to admit, I have never been a fan of magic battles and beam shooting, but this did make me think “well, maybe it could be cool in the new one.” There’s a weird appeal to this, maybe because being made in the late ’70s means it has alot of psychedelic style. There’s a reoccurring keyboard theme that’s kinda Goblin-esque, plus an orchestra that gets all freaked out and some fuzzy guitar solos and stuff. The composer, Paul Chihara, got his start on DEATH RACE 2000.
Here’s the demon guy I liked:
You never really see him clearer than that, he’s always in a haze and doesn’t move much, but he definitely appears to be an animated character, and every once in a while he has nostrils that also light up, or extra eyes on the top of his head. I don’t know how much this looks like the drawings in the comics, but it sure looks cool. I hope they get some good designers and make some great monster guys like this for the new movie. I think they would translate really well to modern effects. I think the director, Scott Derrickson, will do a good job with the creepy atmosphere, but judging by the monster he has in the SINISTER series, who recently played one of the smaller stages at the Gathering of the Juggalos, I don’t consider it a done deal yet.
The opening of this one sets the tone well. It’s a big chunk of red text over black, beginning with “THERE IS A BARRIER THAT SEPARATES THE KNOWN FROM THE UNKNOWN. BEYOND THIS THRESHOLD LIES A BATTLEGROUND WHERE FORCES OF GOOD AND EVIL ARE IN ETERNAL CONFLICT,” with a creepy orchestral drone. Real bombastic shit. Throw you right into the satanic underbelly of the Marvel universe.
Also I like this disco-era lothario being the hero. And Morgan gives him a crazy cape and necklace straight out of the comic book. He changes into a still tacky, but sadly more tasteful and super hero-y version at the end. But that’s okay because the adventures never continued anyway. I can imagine that if they had he would’ve been in the more pimped out version.
At the end he has alot of magic shit to learn, he’s “like a baby with a loaded gun,” but he agrees to choose humanity over himself. That’s partly because he doesn’t have to give up love, because “the universe is love.” That’s almost some BARBARELLA shit right there. Then a glowing white cube grows up out of the floor. “Let the transmutation begin.” You know how it is when the transmutation begins. You get a cube and a different costume.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.