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Jeffrey Combs: An Unsung and Underrated Hollywood Performer



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One of the most recognizable, and yet criminally underrated actors in horror and science fiction is Jeffrey Combs. With an impressive 143 acting credits to his name, he’s one of those actors you might recognize, but can’t quite place from where. Perhaps from horror movies, such as Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners or the Re-Animator franchise. But, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you might not immediately know him without all the makeup, though he’s played ten different roles in four series (and one video game) within the Star Trek universe. Combs is as versatile as he is unique, always seeking out odd and bizarre roles, into which he throws himself with zeal and passion.

He was born and raised in California, and started acting in high school. But his interest in the study of human emotion began as a child, when he started drawing. As he said in an interview with SlashFilm, “Now that I look back, I realize that it was this unformed fascination that all actors have with human behavior, with character, with what a face says.” That interest carried him into acting.

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His breakout role was in the horror movie Frightmare. Since then, Combs has continued to explore horror and science fiction, favoring movies and TV shows with bold imagination and lots of room for unique exploration with the acting. Combs likes to “add color” to his roles, making them theatrical and memorable years or even decades later. In that same interview, he explained why most of his characters are a bit darker:

He has honed his acting style in horror and science fiction, ranging from live action to voice-over animation, and even recently, a stage play. Combs’ influence and prevalence in acting is often underappreciated, but fans of the weird and the fantastical surely recognize him and his influence.

Related: Re-Animator Filming Locations Get Re-Visited in New 2021 Horror’s Hallowed Grounds Episode

Perhaps the genre Combs is best known for is horror. He has become a master of the style, and the best iteration of his many roles in horror is as some kind of doctor or mad scientist. Combs has played more than a dozen different “Doctors”, from the signature Herbert West in Re-Animator, bringing the dead back to life, to the desperate scientist Dr. Crawford Tillinghast in From Beyond, transformed in a horrific way and shrouded with a kind of melancholic doom as he marches towards his fate. Both of these roles are based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft – and both were directed by Stuart Gordon, who Combs had a career-long partnership with.

Another doctor he played was the creepy neuroscientist Dr. Kevin Burkhoff, with peeling skin and missing fingernails, from the series The 4400. Beyond that, he has performed as a whole host of other scientists, inventors, and computer nerds. One of the most fun was in Doctor Mordrid, where Combs played the titular Dr. Anton Mordrid, a Dr. Strange-like wizard who is called to Earth to prevent an evil sorcerer from opening a gate to Hell. It’s a bit surprising Combs hasn’t played more evil wizards, because he fits the casting perfectly. Whether it’s an Irish terrorist trying to spread a deadly virus, or the inventor of a laser-shooting, rocket-launcher-carrying motorcycle, his eclectic and exuberant style of acting has served the movies he’s in wonderfully, making them all the more wild and entertaining to watch.