Character actor Jeffrey Combs endeared himself to legions of B-movie buffs with a prodigious body of work that specialized in portrayals of mad scientists, historical literary figures, and alien beings of all stripes. Combs burst onto the horror movie scene with his career-making portrayal of Dr. Herbert West, a dedicated, but disturbed scientist, intent on reviving dead tissue in "The Re-Animator" (1985). A slew of similar roles and films followed, including "From Beyond" (1986) and "Bride of Re-Animator" (1990). He also managed to play the literary creator of Dr. West, horror author H.P. Lovecraft in "Necronomicon" (1993). On television, Combs found recurring roles as various aliens on the sci-fi franchise spin-offs "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (syndicated, 1992-99) and "Star Trek: Enterprise" (UPN, 2001-05). His virtuoso personification of the father of modern horror, Edgar Allan Poe, in an episode of the cable anthology series "Masters of Horror" (Showtime, 2005-07), proved so successful that it inspired an acclaimed one-man theater show in which Combs expanded upon the role. While other actors might have struggled to break away from the perceived typecasting that defined Combs' career, he instead chose to embrace it, going on to become one of the most revered genre actors in film or television.
Born Jeffrey Alan Combs on Sept. 9, 1954 in Oxnard, CA, he was raised in the town of Lompoc where he graduated from Lompoc High School in 1972. He went on to study for a time at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria before entering the University of Washington's Professional Actor Training Program. Continuing to hone his craft, Combs spent several years performing with various regional theater groups, including the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, the Arizona Theater Company in Tucson, and at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The young actor permanently relocated to Los Angeles in 1980 to pursue a film career, making his feature debut a year later with small roles in two films - the ensemble comedy "Honky Tonk Freeway" (1981), followed by the assisted suicide melodrama "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" (1981), starring Richard Dreyfuss. Two years later, he made his first foray into what would become the metaphorical meat and potatoes of his professional career with an appearance in the low-budget horror movie "Frightmare" (1983). The same year, Combs had another small part in the more widely-seen Steve Martin comedy "The Man with Two Brains" (1983).
Combs' big break came in the role of the brilliant, albeit, ethically challenged Dr. Herbert West in the sci-fi/horror feature "Re-Animator" (1985). Based on a short story by pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft and directed by Stuart Gordon, the film provided Combs with his most recognized performance and began an association with the author's work for the remainder of his career. Violent, gory, depraved, and disarmingly comical, the movie achieved almost immediate cult status among genre fans. Combs followed with another Lovecraft adaptation, "From Beyond" (1986), once again directed by Gordon and placing the actor in the role of a scientist delving into realms better left untouched. As gruesome as "Re-Animator" had been, "From Beyond" went to even further extremes with its gore and sadomasochistic sexual content, barely receiving an R-rating for its initial release. Now in demand, Combs maintained a busy schedule throughout the remainder of the 1980s in various horror and action films. He reprised the role of Dr. West in the sequel "Bride of Re-Animator" (1990) and appeared in his first film based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe in the direct-to-video release, "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1991).
In the horror anthology "H.P. Lovecraft's: Necronomicon" (1993), Combs portrayed the macabre fiction writer himself, in a segment that bookended several tales of terror within the film. Other work include yet another Lovecraft adaptation, "The Lurking Fear" (1994), in addition to the independent crime thriller "Love & A .45" (1994), starring Renée Zellweger in an early role. Combs had made several guest appearances on television series over the years, however, it was a role on a 1994 episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (syndicated, 1992-99) that would begin another long and fruitful professional relationship for the actor. He would go on to appear on the science fiction spin-off series many times, most notably in the recurring role of Weyoun, a commanding officer of the Vorta, a race of clones who served under the Dominion, a war-state aligned against the United Federation of Planets. In a more high-profile project than his usual fare, he landed a supporting role in director Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" (1996), a horror-comedy starring Michael J. Fox as a paranormal investigator who scams his clients with the aid of actual ghosts.
He joined a cast of attractive 20-somethings for the sequel "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998) and revisited the haunted house genre with "House on Haunted Hill" (1999), a loose remake of the 1958 Vincent Price shocker. On television, Combs returned to outer space with a single appearance in 2000 on "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1994-2001), followed by a guest turn in 2001 on "Star Trek: Enterprise" (UPN, 2001-05), as Commander Shran, a mercurial Andorian and conflicted ally of the Enterprise's Captain Archer (Scott Bakula). Combs would reprise the latter role many times over the show's four seasons, up to and including the series finale. He once again donned the lab coat for the second sequel in the cult-franchise, "Beyond Re-Animator" (2003), a ridiculously over-the-top entry which found Dr. West engaging in his usual dubious scientific pursuits behind bars. In 2004, Combs lent his intense, immediately recognizable voice to the animated superhero series "Justice League Unlimited" (Cartoon Network, 2003-06), as the faceless conspiracy theorist The Question.
Remaining in the genre of science fiction, albeit not within the confines of a space ship, Combs joined the cast of "The 4400" (USA Network, 2004-08) during the second season as Dr. Kevin Burkhoff, a neuroscientist mysteriously connected to the eponymous group of people recently returned from places unknown. In other projects, he hammed it up as a Big Foot-hunting yokel in the low-budget romp "Abominable" (2006), took part in the remake of the grindhouse classic "The Wizard of Gore" (2007), and made an ill-advised "Return to House on Haunted Hill" (2007). In "Black Cat," a 2007 episode of the horror anthology series "Masters of Horror" (Showtime, 2005-07), Combs shone darkly in a tour de force performance of Edgar Allan Poe. Directed by "Re-Animator" helmer Stuart Gordon, the story chronicled the troubled author's slow, drunken descent into madness in the face of writer's block, the death of his beloved wife, and the sinister presence of an onyx-furred feline. He returned to the sepulchral world of Lovecraft in an adaptation of "The Dunwich Horror" (2008), as a prematurely aging man intent on finding a missing page from that dreaded tome, The Necronomicon. In 2009, Combs staged a one-man show "Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe" for a lengthy and lauded run at Hollywood's Steve Allen Theater. Directed by friend and frequent collaborator Gordon, the theatrical piece was inspired by their earlier Black Cat cable effort and cover similar biographical territory, ending with a maniacal rendition of Poe's most famous poem "The Raven." Combs picked up more voice work on TV with the recurring role of The Leader - a brilliant, green-skinned, giant-headed enemy of the Hulk - on the animated series "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (Disney XD, 2010- )
By Bryce P. Coleman