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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Dr. Strange (1978)

February 14, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Dr. Strange Doctor Strange 1978

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #449: Dr. Strange (1978)

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been tasked with venturing into another realm to rescue someone because of our “psychic bond,” whatever the hell that is, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and forty-nine, I finally take a look at the low budget 1978 version of the Marvel Comics property Dr. Strange starring Peter Hooten and directed by Philip DeGuere.

Dr. Strange (1978)

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Dr. Strange is a TV movie made for the CBS broadcast network and it first aired in September, 1978. The movie served as a pilot for a potential weekly TV series, as CBS had two Marvel properties as part of its TV line-up at that time, with the generally successful The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, and the not as successful The Amazing Spider-Man starring Nicholas Hammond. The Reb Brown Captain America movies, Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, aired in 1979). Dr. Strange didn’t do well in the ratings that Wednesday night as it apparently ran against a repeat of the mini-seriesRoots and as a result didn’t get to become a TV series or even a series of TV movies. And that’s a damn shame as it would have been interesting to see where an ongoing Dr. Strange TV property could have gone.

So what the heck is the Dr. Strange movie about? The flick stars Peter Hooten as Dr. Stephen Strange, a psychiatrist at a New York City hospital trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with female patient Clea Lake (Anne-Marie Martin, working under the name Eddie Benton at the time for some reason). She came into the hospital not knowing who she is and terrified of falling asleep. Strange is sure he can figure out what’s wrong with her, but his hospital superior, Dr. Taylor (Philip Sterling), wants Clea transferred to Bellevue (Strange can’t treat her and the hospital doesn’t have the room to house her indefinitely, according to Taylor and most of the other doctors in the hospital). Now, Strange isn’t interested in treating Clea solely because he’s her doctor and that’s what doctors do. Strange can’t explain it himself, but he believes he knows Clea from somewhere, that he perhaps saw her in a dream or some such. How could that have happened? Who is she?

While all of that is going on, Strange is visited at the hospital by a mysterious old man named Lindmer (John Mills). Lindmer has a sort of connection to Clea, as Clea pushed him off a bridge to his certain death (obviously Lindmer didn’t die from the fall). Lindmer also has some sort of connection to Strange, as Strange’s ring features the same insignia that’s on the outside of Lindmer’s badass HQ (an old house that looks like it was carved out of stone). That is not a coincidence. So what the heck is going on here?

Well, Lindmer is a sorcerer who has basically been protecting the world from major forces of supernatural evil for centuries. It’s time now for Lindmer to find his replacement, and he believes that Strange is the one that can do what needs to be done to protect the world. At the same time, Lindmer is battling Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter), the recently reappeared evil witch sent to Earth by the mega demon Balzaroth (the voice of Ted Cassidy). It’s a battle Lindmer knows that he can’t win, not in his current state. Strange is the world’s only hope. Strange will need to agree to become a sorcerer, though, something he isn’t too keen on agreeing to.

And you really can’t blame Strange for thinking the whole “sorcerer” thing is bullshit. Magic and demons and mystical what have yous? It’s the 1970’s, not the Middle Ages, and Strange is a man of science. Where’s the evidence for all of this magical supreme evil stuff? It all sounds so out there. And yet, Strange can’t explain the weird Clea dream or Lindmer’s apparent ability to control people’s minds. Just what the hell is going on here?

While all of that is going on, the evil Morgan is stalking Clea and Strange and Lindmer, looking for her best opportunity to strike. If she can take out Lindmer and turn Strange over to the side of pure evil, the world will be easy pickings for Balzaroth and the forces of evil, and then Morgan will be able to live on for eternity as a beautiful woman. If she fails, Balzaroth will turn Morgan into an old hag and that is something Morgan just can’t let happen. She’s an ugly ass old hag. No one, including her, wants to look at that.

Now, you can sort of see why audiences back in 1978 weren’t thrilled with Dr. Strange as very little happens in the first half of the movie. Yes, we do get a pretty cool hell sequence where Morgan talks with Balzaroth, an animated creature of some sort, and the “man-is-pushed-off-a-bridge” sequence is pretty badass, but most of the first half is devoted to setting up who Lindmer is, who Strange is, and what all of this sorcery stuff is about. It’s all interesting, sure, and necessary in order to set up the second half of the movie, but it goes by so slowly. When the second half kicks in and we get to see Strange travel to another dimension, the movie becomes the TV equivalent of a non-stop special effects extravaganza. The movie clearly needed more of that kind of thing.

The movie also needed more of Dr. Strange learning and using his new powers to fight off bad guys (Morgan could have used a few henchmen for Strange to beat up. Yes, that’s all terribly cliché and expensive to film, but it sure would have made the story more exciting). I’m going to assume that the producers were saving that for the TV show, as Lindmer does explain to Strange towards the end of the movie that he needs to find the Ancient One so he can learn absolutely everything one needs to know in order to be a sorcerer. The movie also could have used a little more of Wong, Lindmer’s student and assistant, brilliantly played by the great Clyde Kusatsu. Wong knows his sorcery and isn’t afraid to throw down if someone like Morgan shows up to do Lindmer and the world harm.

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What works in Dr. Strange? The main cast is phenomenal. Hooten does a great job as Dr. Strange. He’s a bit of a rogue at the hospital, making his own hours and flirting like a motherfucker with the nurses, but he also cares deeply about his patients. The man will do anything for them. Hooten also does a great job showing us Strange’s inner struggle when it comes to all of this sorcery stuff. It all just seems so ridiculous. It can’t possibly be true. And yet he can’t readily explain away everything he’s seen and experienced. Hooten’s best scene is when he’s transported to hell and Morgan tries to seduce him. Should he fight back against the evil witch or should he succumb to her advances and become evil? Strange makes the right choice.

John Mills is superb as Lindmer. He’s classy and smart, very knowledgeable, but at the same time he’s trying to deal with his diminishing strength and you can tell that Morgan is taking a major toll on him. Can he stick around long enough to get Strange trained before Morgan takes over the world?

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Jessica Walter is terrifying as Morgan. She’s hot and sexy, but you can also tell that she’s pure evil, a scary combination to be sure. And when she’s arguing with Balzaroth, you actually end up rooting for the devil. How often can you say that happens in any kind of movie? And Eddie Benton/Anne-Marie Martin is sympathetic as hell as Clea. Just what the hell is happening to her?

The special effects are cheesy but effective. The optical effects, to my eyes, are far more interesting to look at than most modern day CGI effects. They just are. And the synth score by Paul Chihara is amazing stuff. The “Dr. Strange theme” will stay in your head for several hours after finishing the movie. It’s what happened to me.

I had no idea that this movie existed until a few years ago. Wikipedia shows that the movie received two different home video releases on VHS, in 1987 and 1995. I never once saw it on the shelves on any of the video stores I frequented back in the day. I also don’t remember seeing it on cable at any point in the past. Does anyone out there remember seeing it on, like, the Sci Fi Channel or maybe USA back when USA showed old movies? The current DVD, released by the fine folks at Shout! Factory, is a bare bones affair with no trailers or documentaries or commentary tracks by those involved in making the movie. That’s a damn shame because I’m sure there are people out there who would love to know more about how the movie was made, etc. I know I would.

Dr. Strange is a fairly decent low budget superhero TV movie from the late 1970’s. It isn’t as exciting as it perhaps should be, but it’s still entertaining and worth checking out. It’s too bad that it didn’t lead to more “Peter Hooten as Dr. Strange” adventures. I bet they would have rocked, or at least have been interesting.

See the 1978 Dr. Strange. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Almost one.

Explosions: A few.

Nudity?: None. It’s a 1970’s TV movie.

Doobage: A bunch of bullshit about a barrier “between the known and unknown, good and evil,” a bunch of astrological symbol stuff, a cool looking animated devil creature, a nighttime montage of New York City, old books, a hospital, a doctor seeing patients, multiple instances of an evil entity briefly taking over the mind of unsuspecting innocent people, an old man is deliberately pushed off a bridge, a total lack of dying, a glowing hand that can fix everything, boiling water, off screen sketching, a total lack of TV remotes, trash can destruction, feet touching, sweet looking windows, breakfast, locking a door with glowing hand power, more mind manipulation, a weird looking ring, a glowing handshake, doctors arguing, a coma, some funky as hell optical effects, a scary guy on horseback, a potential date, an evil cat, multiple hand bolt battles, a major fire, a magic off, a winged demon guy, beer drinking, going to hell, attempted sex, vine attack, power transfer, making a dove appear out of nowhere, and the prospect of a TV show that never happened.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Clyde Kusatsu, an obvious stunt double, a used books cart, a black and white TV, Abbott and Costello on TV, a woman sleeping with her shoes on, mind manipulation, a cat cleaning itself, a doctors meeting, mind manipulation, random names announced over the intercom in the background, a clear mind and a love of humanity, choosing between ignorance and the truth, talk of alchemy, sorcery, magic, and science, hand power bolts, ignorance, offspring, and an easy death, the three things you must give up in order to protect the world and become a sorcerer, “the transmutation,” the universe is love, and a terrible street magician.

Best lines: “Master?,” “It’s an ancient art to use an enemy’s strength against him,” “None of us is ever alone,” “How are you, Stephen? Good,” “Your ulcers will go away if you stay off the juice,” “You shall not pass by me, Morgan,” “What happened to the girl?,” “Are you all right? I’m several hundred years too old to be all right,” “No! No!,” “Don’t make me go to sleep. I’ll die if I go to sleep again,” “Can you feel this?,” “I hope your cooking’s improved,” “Would you like some coffee?,” “Refused medication?,” “Where have you seen me before?,” “Doctor, do you know what a psychic bond is?,” “Doctor, do you believe in evil?,” “A tranquilizer is not a sedative, doctor!,” “Oh. Come in, Doctor Strange,” “In the name of Riall, scourge of demons, I command you to be gone!,” “Why do you call him master?,” “The choice is yours,” “Hello, kitty,” “I have come for you, old man. You shall not have me, Morgan,” “You look beautiful You look wet,” “Stephen, look at me. Am I pleasing to you?,” “Take off the ring,” “Witch!,” “You have failed! You have let me be defeated!,” “What have I become? More than a man,” and “Clea? This is really dumb.”

Rating: 8.0/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

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24 Hours to Live: The great Ethan Hawke stars in this action flick with a sort of supernatural or science fiction bent to it, as Hawke’s character is a dead assassin who is brought back for one more job and is given twenty-four hours to complete it. I’m shocked that this didn’t get a wide release as it has a star in Hawke and is apparently chock full of badass action. I know I would have checked it out if it had played in a movie theatre near me. Now that it’s on home video, hell yes I’m going to check it out. It looks pretty damn cool.

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Hellraiser: Judgment: Judgment is the tenth movie in the Hellraiser franchise, and the sixth direct-to-video sequel. I haven’t seen all of them, but the ones I have seen have either been pretty good or just awful. I’m not sure which way Judgment will go. Some of the early reviews I’ve seen for it have been shockingly positive, or more positive than I expected. The great Heather Langenkamp is in it, and Paul T. Taylor is playing Pinhead. Very rentable.

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Brotherhood of Blades II: The Imperial Battlefield: I don’t know what to make of this particular sequel. It’s a period set kung fu drama and looks to have some serious action stuff in it. And the title is cool as hell. How could you not want to watch a movie called Brotherhood of Blades? But does it really live up to its potential? I’m going to assume that the movie was a big hit in China as I doubt that anyone would want to bankroll a sequel if it wasn’t a box office success of some sort. Will kung fu nerds want to check it out on home video? I want to see it, obviously, but, at the same time, I think I should rent it, just to see if it’s any good. I’m pulling for it, though. Again, the title is just so awesome.

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V.I. Warshawski: This home video release is via the fine folks at Kino Lorber. I watched this movie quite a bit when it was on cable back in the day. Kathleen Turner is terrific in the lead role as the private detective Warshawski, and the supporting cast is damn good. Charles Durning is great as the sort of father figure cop to Turner’s Warshawski, Jay O. Sanders is hilarious as Murray, and Wayne Knight is a piece of shit as mobster Smeissen (the great Mike Hagerty, bad Billy Pratt hisself, shows up as a henchman). The thing I remember most about the movie, though, is the soundtrack, especially the opening theme. Composer Randy Edelman outdid himself with it. This Kino Lorber edition has a commentary track by director Jeff Kanew, which should be a fascinating listen. Anyone else out there a fan of this particular movie?

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B-Movie News

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A Chucky TV series is apparently being developed: According to this article over at Bloody Disgusting, Chucky franchise creator Don Mancini and producer David Kirschner are looking into making a TV show featuring the killer doll. And it sounds like the proposed series wouldn’t be a franchise reboot, it would be a continuation of the movies, and the great Brad Dourif would be back to voice Chucky. So what the hell would that show be about?

Damned if I know. I still haven’t seen the last two Chucky movies, Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky, and according to the BD article the potential TV show would somehow come out of Cult. Man, if this TV series ends up actually happening, I really need to find the time to check out Curse and Cult.

I do wonder, though, how this potential TV show would be embraced by people who aren’t necessarily fans of the Child’s Play/Chucky franchise. Would those people give the show a chance, since a TV show is not a movie and a movie is not a TV show? Would the show have a chance at attracting a mainstream audience that may have heard of the Chucky killer doll but doesn’t really know anything about the movies the killer doll appears in? I bet network executives would want to know.

We don’t know where the potential show would air. Would it be a streaming show, or would it go to basic cable, like an AMC, or would someone like Showtime be interested in it?

I’d love to see this happen, but at the same time I have a feeling that if anyone bites at supporting this potential show they’re going to want to reboot the whole thing. Chucky would likely stay, obviously, but the rest of the property would change. Because, you know, it’s a new generation and all that. Or maybe the show will be an actual continuation of the movies. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Man. Critters is about to become a TV show. Chucky wants his own show. Who will be next? Jason? Leatherface? Why not a Pinhead show? Personally, I’d love to see a Max Jenke show, or maybe a TV version of The First Power, but then no one asked me. I bet Jeff Kober would be all about it. Lou Diamond Phillips, too.

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: Moontrap!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Dr. Strange (1978)

Peter Hooten– Doctor Stephen Strange
John Mills– Lindmer
Jessica Walter– Morgan LeFay
Anne-Marie Martin– Clea Lake (as Eddie Benton)
Clyde Kusatsu– Wong
Philip Sterling– Dr. Frank Taylor
June Barrett– Sarah
Ted Cassidy– Balzaroth (voice)

Directed by Philip DeGuere
Screenplay by Philip DeGuere, based on a comic book created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

Distributed by CBS, MCA, and Shout! Factory

Not Rated
Runtime– 93 minutes

Buy it here

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