You're already a fan of Jeffrey Combs. Maybe you've seen him play a slew of all-too-human aliens on Star Trek, maybe you've watched him go too far in Re-Animator. But we bet you haven't seen all his great genre roles.
Welcome to "actors we love," an irregular series where we pay tribute to the performers who've brought not just one moment of awesomeness, but multiple great roles, to the genre. These are the actors whose versatility and agility make the Great Repertory Company of Science Fiction such a compulsively watchable group of people. Feel free to suggest future subjects for this feature in the comments!
So, let's start with the obvious one first: Weyoun. Combs played several versions of the cloned alien lackey to the Founders, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and in the episode "Treachery, Faith and the Great River," he managed to play two Weyouns at once and make them remarkably different. Weyoun was crafty, fawning, and capable of immense melancholy. Witness the virtuosity:
But Combs played a bunch of other incredible aliens on Star Trek, including a Ferengi, Brunt, and an Andorian, Shran. (There is a surprisingly high number of Archer/Shran slash videos on YouTube.) Not to mention his role as PsyCorps member Harriman Gray on Babylon 5. Here's an intense scene where Shran tortures the Vulcan official, Soval:
But then there's Combs' other iconic role, that of Herbert West in Re-Animator and its sequels. (We're still holding out hope that one day we'll get to see House Of Re-Animator, in which the Vice President of the United States dies, and Herbert has to bring him back from the dead.) The whole film is on YouTube (although I don't know if they include the bizarre NSFW moments) — just check out this incredible sequence with Herbert West and a bone saw:
Fans of The 4400 will also remember his awesome stint as Dr. Kevin Burkhoff, a neuroscientist so out-there, we first meet him in a mental institution, where he's best friends with a mind-controller played by Summer Glau! Dr. Burkhoff pioneers the promycin inhibitor therapy that enables other people to gain superpowers (or kills them — but details, details.) And he uses a version of it on himself, becoming a skin-peeling, fingernail-less monster with the ability to regenerate from any damage. And then he gets better. Sort of.
Here's the episode "The Ballad Of Kevin and Tess," in which Combs and Glau go on the run together and open a garage. Romantic!
But Combs has played a whole host of mad doctors. As he's said himself, if there really was a Miskatonic University, he'd be the head of the medical school by now. Here's a fantastic video round-up created by Combs Corner on YouTube, including a lot of his best "doctor" roles. Herbert West is in there, of course. But there's also a first-year intern in The Man With Two Brains, who decides to shave a woman's pubic hair into a heart shape for Valentine's Day before her brain surgery, much to Steve Martin's dismay. There's the horror-stricken Dr. Crawford Tillinghast in From Beyond, describing an oral decapitation: "It bit off his head... like... a gingerbread man!" (Check out a NSFW clip from that film here.) The mad, cackling Doctor East in The Guyver. (Has he also played a mad Dr. North and Dr. South?) And the sorcerous Dr. Pyle in Trancers II, Dr. Haggis in Lurking Fear, Dr. Carrington in Time Tracers, Dr. Vannacutt in The House on the Haunted Hill, Dr. Ek in The Arctic Expeditions, and many more. Oh, and the mustachioed doctor in Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is also incredible.
This whole video is well worth watching, for the full range of Combs' insanity. Especially at around 6:00, when he says the great line, "You have not been thorougly disillusioned yet!"
But Combs also played a number of memorable supervillains and mad scientists in several animated series and video games, including Dr. Zellner in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Captain Cold in The Flash, and the Scarecrow in The New Batman Adventures and the video game Batman: Rise Of Sin-Tzu. Here he is as the Scarecrow, who's just invented a new gas that makes people fearless, for a change:
He's not just a supervillain, however — he's also The Question, the mysterious crime-fighter with the blank mask, in several episodes of the animated Justice League series. This character was the inspiration for Rorschach in Alan Moore's Watchmen, and Combs brings a lot of Rorschach's loony intensity and obsessiveness to his portrayal of the character — the man who sees a conspiracy lurking everywhere, and goes through everybody's trash. You can easily imagine Combs spitting out those lines about "And then I'll whisper... no."
(And he also provides the voice of Ratchet in the new cartoon Transformers Prime.)
He plays an Irish terrorist who helps to inject the President of the United States with a deadly virus, in Contagion. Here he is, discovering that the virus might actually become airborn and kill everyone. He gets the great line, "You're the scientist," talking to the mad doctor who invented the virus. (Nobody should ever try to out-mad-scientist Jeffrey Combs.)
But honestly, we're just scratching the surface of Combs' great roles at this point, even with the exhaustive compilation of his "mad doctor" appearances we included above. One of our all-time favorites is Cyclone, the 1987 movie in which Combs invents a super-motorcycle. In this scene, Combs and his unthinkably hot girlfriend (Heather Thomas) go out dancing at a "haunted" nightclub, but Combs gets murdered by someone who's after the motorcycle. More amazing Cyclone scenes here.
Combs also has a pivotal role as a nutty FBI agent in Peter Jackson's classic The Frighteners. Here's a featurette where Jackson gushes about his love for all things Combs, and especially Re-Animator.
And he had a pivotal early role in 1983's Frightmare, about a group of wacky corpse-stealing kids.
But there's also Fortress, in which Combs plays D-Day, a computer geek and demolitions expert who got turned in by his partners after his explosives accidentally destroyed a bank's money along with its safe. And in one memorable scene, Combs has to probe his fellow inmates' intestines to get an explosive device out of them, or it'll explode when they try to escape. ("The Intestinator.") And then the bit where evil cyborgs are going to slice open Christopher Lambert's pregnant wife, unless Combs can hack into the computer first. He giggles as he types "Install D-Day's Revenge Virus." Somebody has edited together all the "intestination" clips, in which you can glimpse Combs' shaggy-haired nerd character:
Speaking of prison movies, Combs also plays a sadistic guard in 1998's Spoiler, about a man who gets imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to years in suspended animation.
Combs actually plays the innocent good guy in 1995's Castle Freak, yet another Lovecraftian horror film from director Stuart Gordon. (He's in almost all of Gordon's films, including the awesome Robot Jox.) In this one, his family inherits a castle which turns out to have a monstrous creature chained up in the basement, and Combs has to save his family from the rampaging son of a dead Duchess.
If you've ever wanted to see Combs play a Doctor Strange-style heroic master of sorcery, you owe it to yourself to check out Doctor Mordrid, which is apparently easy to find cheap on DVD. Plus the whole thing is on YouTube. Combs makes for a remarkably suave sorcerer supreme, lounging around in a bathrobe and putting his moves on Yvette Nipar. Here's an unspeakably awesome scene where Dr. Mordrid confronts the evil Kabal:
But Combs also has specialized in playing Edgar Allan Poe in recent years, graduating from playing your average mad doctors to recreating the ultimate master of the macabre. He plays Poe in one episode of the TV anthology Masters Of Horror, and then he and longtime collaborator Stuart Gordon put together a one-man show called Nevermore in which Combs plays Poe. Check out a sizzle reel:
So now you have your Netflix want-list cut out for you. Jeffrey Combs isn't just one of our all-time favorite actors — he's one of the faces, and voices, that brings the weirdness and wonder of science fiction and fantasy to life on our screens. Where would we be without him?