In 1994, Roger Corman produced a $2 million adaptation of The Fantastic Four that never hit theaters. This deranged lost film introduced novel twists to the Four's origin story...like an evil hobo jeweler.
Why wasn't Corman's version ever released in theaters? Here's the text from the back of a bootleg DVD readily available at comic conventions (it's cribbed from Wired):
German producer Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantin Films, which purchased the movie rights from Marvel, sublicensed the rights to producer and B-movie king Corman in 1992. Shortly after the film was completed, Eichinger then paid Corman $1 million to repossess the rights. This extended his original 10 year contract, which had been about to expire, This had been his plan right from the beginning.
Thus the $2 million version was shelved so that 20th Century Fox and Home Alone director Chris Columbus could make a much flashier $50 million-plus version with celebrity actors.
"They showed a total disregard for the people involved," said director [Oley] Sassone. "We had a good film, for what we had to work with."
For the most part, the film follows the familiar Fantastic Four origin tale. Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm receive superpowers from a cosmic anomaly ("the Colossus") after Reed invites the Storms on his rocket for a barely explained reason (Reed mutters "they're good at science" or something).
Victor von Doom is the villain, but he's a total weisenheimer. And that's the not only change to F4 mythos — the Mole Man (I think) appears as the "The Jeweler," a hobo dictator who resembles Ron Perlman in Beauty and the Beast, if Ron Perlman was a pseudonym for Warwick Davis. In truth, the whole affair has more in common with your average episode of Bibleman than anything Jack Kirby ever did.
But hey, Jack Kirby and Frank Zappa were good mates, so maybe he'd get a kick out of Corman's surrealist camp. Here are 10 idiosyncratic scenes from Corman and Sassone's version. FYI: The DVD broke 20 minutes into watching it (I'm pretty sure it died of shame), so I had to switch to the nigh impressionistic YouTube version. Apologies.
1.) The erotic tension between Reed and Victor
Victor Von Doom appears unmasked for maybe 8 minutes, but his unscarred scenes simmer like fresh Manwich. In this clip, university students Vic and Reed debate turning on their device that will harness the power of the Colossus. What should be a boring scientific conversation comes off as a lovers' spat, replete with heavy breathing and significant pauses. Also, Victor is a monarch, but we hear zip about this until 45 minutes in.
2.) Victor's "death"
In the next scene, Doom and Richards turn on their energy harnesser. The movie never explains what Reed and Vic are studying at college — all we know is that they're two smart undergrads(?) who are really good at science. Maybe they're BFA students who are satisfying their science requirement. In fact, the movie sorta makes sense if you just imagine Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom as warring concept artists.
But I digress. In the comic, Doom tried to contact the underworld using hair salon equipment. Here, he dies by cosmic laser rash.
3.) The Fantastic Four's mutation is caused by a ninja vagabond, Part I
10 years after Victor's accident, Reed tries to study Colossus again, but this time he's using a spaceship. Unfortunately, the giant crystal necessary to harness the Colossus is stolen by The Jeweler, a hobo gang boss. The Jeweler replaces the crystal with a totally indistinguishable pound of quartz or rock candy or drifter eye boogers. Doom finds this shit hilarious.
4.) The Fantastic Four's mutation is caused by a ninja vagabond, Part II
Of course, nobody thinks to inspect the crystal until they're in the vacuum of space. Doom still finds this shit hilarious.
5.) Johnny discovers his powers by sneezing.
The Human Torch can fire heat beams, but he isn't pyrokinetic. So when this bush bursts into flames, Johnny's flammable sputum must have spewed forth from his mouth. I bet Frenching Johnny Storm is like drinking a pint glass of kerosene.
6.) Johnny discovers how to "flame on" almost immediately.
He also shares a barber with Conan O'Brien.
7.) Doom forgot to install a microphone in his faceplate.
This is actually a plus, as now we can't hear his Borscht Belt comic stylings.
8.) When the Thing escapes from Doom's castle, he goes tomcatting.
In truth, he's in love with blind sculptor Alicia Masters (who was kidnapped by The Jeweler). Knowing this makes this scene all the much weirder. Also, I apologize for the graininess of the footage, but 90% of The Fantastic Four was filmed in unlit warehouses or during new moons and solar eclipses. At first I thought the cosmic radiation turned them into vampires.
9.) Alicia's love transforms the Thing into a human.
I mentioned that The Thing is enamored of Alicia Masters — what I forgot to mention is that he's spent maybe 15 minutes in her presence. So I'm not sure what's more ludicrous: A.) the fact that she loves him back; or B.) that his rocky exterior melts off when she says she loves him. In any case, neither of these subplots are ever mentioned again.
10.) When Johnny Storm uses his powers, the world becomes a German synthpop video.
And I'm 100% okay with that.
In conclusion, The Fantastic Four is one of those films that's just barely so bad it's bad. Any self-respecting comic book fan should watch it — it'll make you appreciate every other Fantastic Four tale ever told, even the half-baked ones where Reed pulls plot resolution invention upon plot resolution invention out of his ass. You'll realize how good you have it once you witness Sue Storm accidentally kill two henchmen.