It’s not uncommon for the behind the scenes story of a film’s production to be more interesting than the actual film itself, and ROGER CORMAN’S FANTASTIC FOUR is a shining example. Made in 1994 on a budget that wouldn’t cover the cost of the crew’s lattes on a modern Marvel film, the people who made it busted their collective asses to deliver a quality product despite the financial limitations. However, there was one small caveat; the film was never meant to be released, and the studio didn’t inform them until after the fact.
The journey to complete the film is documented here in Marty Langford’s DOOMED! THE UNTOLD STORY OF ROGER CORMAN’S THE FANTASTIC FOUR, enlisting the cast and crew to share memories of their experiences, covering pre-production, through to filming and the agnoising post-production period where funds dried up and studio support completely evaporated. This documentary shines a candid light on the seedy, pimpled butt of Hollywood, pulling apart the cheeks and looking at the nasty corporate crack where creative talents are shat on and wiped away without respect.
Sure, the cast and crew were shockingly naive – going into such an ambitious project with only one million dollars should have sounded klaxons so loud you’d think Hitler had been reincarnated and the Nazis were about to enact the Blitzkrieg again. Not to mention the fact that Roger Corman – the king of cinematic treasures like SWAMP WOMEN and TEENAGE CAVE MAN – had his name plastered all over the production. These people seemed surprised that their movie made out of cardboard and dental floss wasn’t meant to be played in major cineplexes… but that’s beside the point.
The point here is that Hollywood abuses its power over creative people. The way the cast and crew were treated was unfair, and it’s clear that the wounds and bruises still smart even a couple of decades on. Director Oley Sassone was particularly hurt, and his stories here are heartfelt. Everyone involved speaks of the film like it’s the one that got away, and that it never received the respect it deserved.
They might have a point. CORMAN’S FANTASTIC FOUR was bootlegged and disseminated through the convention circuit over the years, and has developed somewhat of a cult following of its own. Even though the picture quality is abhorrent, the editing slapshot, the performances questionable, and the effects unfinished at best, some people have argued that this is the best adaptation of Fantastic Four out there. It’s said to capture the spirit of the comics better than the uninspiring 2005 version, and the critically lambasted 2015 reboot. It’s a shame the 1994 version was never released officially, and people would have never been able to see it if it hadn’t been bootlegged. We actually learn the origin story of the bootleg in this documentary, and it’s an interesting one.
All the stories here are worth hearing, and as the documentary goes on, it becomes clear that CORMAN’S FANTASTIC FOUR, while unreleased, is a major part of comic-book-film history. It stands as a relic of that time when comic books were looked upon as inferior entertainment by society as a whole. Who could have foreseen the current film climate, where the highest paid actors are falling over each other to be in the next Marvel or DC film… well, maybe not DC… but you get my point.
Genre aficionados will appreciate the brief presence of both Roger Corman and Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman. It would have been nice to hear a little more of Corman’s side of the story, but at least he made an appearance, unlike some of the other key players whose guilt is reflected by their absence.
This documentary makes a good case to finally get an official release of CORMAN’S FANTASTIC FOUR out of respect to the people who made it, and simply as a cinematic historical artifact of considerable curiosity. If a print exists, it should be scanned for preservation purposes at the very least. After watching DOOMED!, you’ll want to see it for yourself, and I guess that’s the best compliment I can give this documentary!