One film that holds the imagination of comic book fans is the version of the Fantastic Four produced back in the early 1990s. Made for the bargain basement sum of approximately $1 million in order to take advantage of a loophole in a rights contract (out own William Gatevackes has told that story here in his ongoing History Of The Comic Book Film series), the film was shelved by producer Roger Corman and never officially released. Somehow, it did find its way out into the world via bootleg VHS, and soon dealers rooms at every comic book and science-fiction convention across the country were swarming with fans looking to buy a copy to see if it was as bad as it was presumed to be.
In those pre-internet days, lots of rumors circulated among fandom as to the circumstances surrounding the making of the film and what became of it after it was stuck on a shelf, to the point that they have become accepted as gospel. But soon, fact from urban legend will be revealed thanks to filmmakers Marty Langford and Mark Sikes, who are prepping to shoot the documentary Doomed!: The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four later this summer for release next year.
Speaking with Langford recently, the director explained that the documentary actually has its origins in a book he started writing two years ago.
“I was just fascinated by [the movie] and I needed to know as much as I could about it,” he said. “Like you, I had probably four VHS copies – one was a ninth generation, one was a seventh, one was a sixth. And then came DVDs and I probably bought maybe three of those, but that pristine copy still eludes me. If anything else, hopefully this documentary will net me that first generation layoff that I know is out there.
One persistent rumor is that all prints of the film and possibly even its original negative were destroyed on the order of Marvel executive Avi Arad rather than jeopardize any deal for a possible big-budget version they may be able to make in the future.
“We don’t know,” Langford admitted on the question about the original negative’s continued existence. “We’re assuming it does. Next year is the 20th anniversary and just in terms of what we know photochemically about filmstocks, if it exists, it is still a viable negative.
“We do want to take an investigative bent on this and try and figure out not only what happened and who knew what when, and when the word came down and what the fallout was in terms of the determination to shelf the movie, but we want to know what deals were made. We want to know where the movie is now. Who indeed has the rights (to distribute the actual film)? Does Neue Constantin maintain it? Did they sell it to Marvel as some people have theorized? “
Langford did reveal that they may already have an answer to some of those questions. “I suspect I know who has it and who leaked it. We’re working on that story.”
“We actually just found out some really interesting news as to who found out what when,” he continued. “We have determined that one of the principals found out before they even finished shooting and it affected his performance and his ambitions for the movie. “
Langford explained that he and partner Sikes are the right people to tell this story, thanks to one of them actually living through it. The pair grew up in Western Massachusetts, with Langford working at Sikes’s father’s sports memorabilia and comic book store. When Sikes headed to LA in the early 1990s, his first job was interning for Roger Corman at the producer’s Concorde Productions, serving as a receptionist and as an assistant casting director. That put Sikes into a unique position to observe the rush to get the film into production.
“He worked closely with Laura Schiff who cast the movie during that kind of really quick process of pre-production into production,“ explained Langford. “They had to start rolling cameras by December 31, 1992 for New Constantine to maintain the option for another ten years. They had been negotiating with Fox and they had some progress but there was no way that they were going to make their deal for a tens-of-millions-of-dollars production. Batman Returns had come out and superheroes were starting to raise their profile. So Corman went into production on December 28 and shot for I think 28 days and Mark was either on location, in the studio or in the office for all 28 days. And since he was the comic book guy, he became the defacto PR guy who reached out to Comic Buyers Guide and Film Threat.”
It is through Sikes that the pair have secured promises from all of the major cast members and several key crew personnel including screenwriter Craig Nevius and director Oley Sassone to talk about their experiences in making the film.
“I would say without exception all of these people have been waiting to talk, definitively and formally, “ Langford said. “They’re proud of the work and for all its faults it is not without its charms. “
As of right now, despite the participation of so many people from the film, the documentary is still only an unauthorized telling of this story, leaving Langford and Sikes in a spot as to what material they can show.
“We have Carl [Ciarfalio who played The Thing] and Rebecca [Staab, who played Sue Richards, the Invisible Girl] and a couple of the other cast members who shot video behind the scenes and who took lots of set photos, “ Langford explained. “ We’re going to need visual help. We’re going to be a talking heads documentary because we can’t show a frame of the movie or else we’ll be sued.”
“We’re dealing with ‘Can we show the trailer? Can we show the photographic material that weren’t part of the marketing push back then?’” he continued. “Can we shoot a computer playing the video [on YouTube] rather than ripping it and using? For all we know, Marvel is going to come down us and say ‘You can’t use the name “Fantastic Four”.’ We suspect that won’t happen, but we’re kind of prepared for, not controversy, but resistance from the people who represent or own the movie.”
And while he doubts that there is any interest in releasing the film by whomever holds the rights to do so, Langford does believe that there is an audience out there waiting to discover it.
“[Director Oley] Sassone’s movie is just such a charming film,” he said. “It’s a movie I’ve shown my kids and they’ve become familiar with and enjoy. It’s not a Nemo or a Toy Story but they dig it.”
“I still think it’s an exploitable property. The fact that [1990’s direct-to-video] Captain America is out on blu-ray isn’t hurting [Marvel Studio’s upcoming] Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is not as though there is market place confusion.”