Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four (2015) — It’s (heart and soul) clobberin’ time!

“I don’t think Roger really knew from the beginning. I think he was duped just as much as we were, which is really sinister.”

Sitting Duck’s rating: Flame on! Or not.

Sitting Duck’s review: We all know and love The Producers, a story of a sketchy Broadway producer and a high-strung accountant who attempt to profit by overselling shares for a highly offensive musical intended as a flop. Once done, they can run off with the unspent capital to Rio and live the good life. But to their chagrin, Springtime for Hitler is mistaken for a satire and ends up being a smash hit. Being unable to pay off the investors, our two shnooks get tried and found guilty of fraud and are send off to Sing Sing.

In the final act, we saw the effect on the little old ladies Max Bialystock hustled as part of the scheme. But have you ever wondered how the actors in the production felt about it? Some may have been like the audience and thought it was a satire. Others might have been pragmatic, figuring a role in such a production was still better than waiting tables. Whatever the motive, it had to be disheartening to learn that you were window dressing for a massive scam. And for those involved in the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie produced by Roger Corman, the experience was a similar morale-crippling blow, which is recounted in this Indiegogo-funded documentary.

The structure of Doomed! is fairly basic, consisting of a series of interviews with an occasional clip from the movie being used to set up or punctuate the theme of a particular set, with the sordid mess covered in chronological order. The interviewees consist of a wide range of people. This includes the principal actors, the director, the stuntman in the Thing suit, the editor, the casting assistant, the makeup guy, the publicity people, and even Corman himself. Hearing Corman get interviewed is always weird. You expect a man with his reputation to be loud and abrasive. So it can be jarring to find that his voice is very quiet and soothing.

Like most infamous events, it started innocently enough when producer Bernd Eichinger met with Corman on the possibility of working together to make a Fantastic Four movie, the rights to which Eichinger possessed. It wouldn’t be some half-baked direct-to-video effort either, but rather a proper theatrical release. And they would combine the resources of their production companies so that they could manage the extravagant budget of…

Now you might consider this to be a rather paltry amount, even for the 1990s. And granted, this would barely cover the costs of a Season 1 episode of Babylon 5. But with Corman being such a master of couch change film production, it was more than adequate.

At this point I imagine some of you snot-nosed punks out there (at least among the ones not currently saying, “Who’s Roger Corman?“) would perceive this as an obvious con that should have fooled no one. After all, Marvel would surely never allow the likes of Corman within fifty klicks of a beloved property like the Fantastic Four! This thinking fails to take into account the circumstances prior to the current superhero movie boom.

For back in the 20th Century, the situation for live action adaptations of comic books was largely a bleak wasteland — especially for Marvel properties. The general consensus is that the Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was the high point for Marvel outside animation at the time. Otherwise, you had duds like The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and Captain America with Reb Brown.

If anything, it could be argued that Corman would have been a step up.

Little did anyone working on the movie realize that something foul was afoot. For you see, Eichinger’s rights to making the movie were close to expiring. To avoid having to go through tedious and expensive negotiations to extend those rights, he took advantage of a clause in the contract that provided an extension so long as a movie was in production, however halfhearted the effort. But this scheme did not take into account Corman’s renowned efficiency in production scheduling, and it got along much further than such a thing would normally be allowed to go.

While Eichinger’s motives were hardly ethical (though his death in 2011 prevented him from offering a justification in the documentary), he appears to have been subject to a double-dog-dare-cross. As it happens, the contract for the movie rights had a surprise clause, presumably in the teeny tiny super-fine print. It stated to the effect that Marvel reserved the right to shut down any production in progress should they receive a better offer, and anyone in said production who took issue could go pound sand.

That better offer came around when Marvel media honcho Avi Arad went into negotiations with Fox over the possibility of a live action X-Men movie. During this time, the possibility of Fox also handling a Fantastic Four live action movie was considered. The last thing any of them wanted was some jumped-up direct-to-video production company muddying up the brand. So cease-and-desists were issued, prints were confiscated, and all the effort was for naught.

This was especially hard for the principal actors. While many actors would see a role in a movie like this as just another job, these guys truly committed to it. Not only did they go out on the con circuit to promote the movie, but they did it on their own dime. So the abrupt cease-and-desist was twice as much a bitter pill for them to swallow as for anyone else involved with the project.

And that was that, until copies started showing up on Ebay and were screened in the seedier con video rooms. In the wake of the disappointment engendered by the dour big budget movies, the joyful and exuberant tone of this nickel-and-dime production was a breath of fresh air. Even if it might not strictly be a good film by most standards. Arguably this allowed the movie to gain greater love and renown than if it had received a proper release in 1993.

While all the actors involved got a warm fuzzy feeling of finally getting a chance to see their efforts as a finished product, it had a profound effect on Joseph Culp. For his performance as Dr. Doom entranced his son to a degree that he regarded his father as the definitive Dr. Doom instead of those clowns Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell. And for any father, gaining that sort of respect from your offspring is worth far more than any residuals.

Didja notice?

  • Troma never struck me as the sort of place where the bow tie-wearing set was employed.
  • When there’s no backup creature suit, you know it’s a Corman production.
  • That guy was born to play Dr. Doom.
  • Patrick Walburton could have been Ben Grimm.
  • When the studio facilities have been condemned by the fire marshal, you know it’s a Corman production.
  • If the waving arm doesn’t provoke at least a titter, a piece of your soul may be missing.
  • This is before IMDB was the resource it is today, so you could just lie about having special effects experience.
  • The brutality of a film credit Catch-22.


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