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Roger Corman’s 1994 Fantastic Four movie is as bad as you hoped it would be
“Hi, Mrs. Storm! Can Johnny and Susan go to outer space with us?”
In 1994, Fox called upon Roger Corman, legendary director of decades of forgettable B movies, to produce a Fantastic Four movie. The finished product was never released—but lucky for all of us, it’s now online.
Fascinated fans have flocked to watch the film after Reddit spotted it at Dailymotion. Here it is, in all its B-movie glory—and it’s still probably not as bad as Fox’s latest attempt to revive the franchise.
Though Corman is notorious as a “bad” movie director, with no less than four of his films getting the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, he also produced plenty of classics like Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Crab Monsters. He had a long and profitable career in Hollywood because of his workhorse approach to filmmaking and his success at delivering films on time and on budget, again and again.
So in the early ’90s, when Fox needed to quickly churn out a film to retain their claim on the rights to Marvel‘s Fantastic Four, Corman was their best, low-budget bet to executive produce. Corman didn’t actually direct the film; that dubious honor goes to Oley Sassone, the son of Vidal Sassoon. Seriously. But it’s still commonly referred to as “Corman’s Fantastic Four.”
“Corman’s Fantastic Four” was never released, because making a major action movie with a blockbuster marketing budget was never the point to begin with. But given the utter disaster that has been Fox’s latest attempt to make a (real) Fantastic Four film, interest in Corman’s version has resurfaced.
Could it be that the director commonly hailed as one of the best of the worst actually made the best Fantastic Four film?
Let’s find out! Settle in for lots of love, hate, and continuity errors!
From the beginning it’s clear no one told Corman he was supposed to make a throwaway movie. The opening credits feature a sweeping score over endearingly earnest shots of outer space. The special effects are done by a company called “Mr. Film.” I’m excited already.
The plot kicks off with a haggard college science professor scribbling a cloud of chalk on a board and calling it “Colossus,” a radio-active “comet-like” energy ball that’s passing by Earth right now. That’s good news for class whiz Reed, who’s building an energy harnessing device with his pal Victor, a guy who radiates evil so clearly you can tell his last name is Doom long before you actually know it.
Reed and Victor have hung their giant claw machine from the ceiling in a spare computer lab the university had lying around. Victor wastes no time playing his villain cards, like lying to Reed and refusing to listen to anyone but himself. But affable Reed continues to bond with him anyway, maybe because he looks a little like Benedict Cumberbatch on a hair gel bender. They have a series of the kind of classic B-movie conversations that you aren’t sure are weirdly homoerotic or just weirdly stilted.
Naturally Victor’s refusal to listen to Reed means their experiment fails, but Reed’s friend Ben is on hand to save them from the ensuing electrical storm. Unfortunately Victor “dies” anyway, leading Johnny to offer a mourning Reed a giant manly hug and a line about how Victor was a good guy that he bravely gets through without snorting even a little.
Ten years later in New York—yes, folks, all that was just the prologue—Reed has designed a rocket he wants Ben to pilot. It has futuristic features like voice-activated commands, “computerization,” and “telepathic override.”
But of course Ben needs a crew, so instead of going to NASA and recruiting highly trained astronauts, he and Reed walk down the street to a local boarding house to pick up the landlord’s two kids.
“Hi, Mrs. Storm! Can Johnny and Susan go to outer space with us?” Ben asks.
Reed quite reasonably asks what Mrs. Storm’s kids—who judging by their ages in the prologue should both be away at college—know about astrophysics. Even though Ben only found out about this project two minutes ago, he somehow knows, and tells Reed, that these two kids know more about Reed’s project than anyone else , presumably even Reed himself.
Despite this unbeatable logic, Reed is still going to say no to this completely absurd scheme until he sees that the landlord’s daughter, Susan, is now a hot 20-something. They gaze into each other’s eyes in a way that’s totally not creepy or awkward while Ben establishes himself as comic relief.
And that’s it for recruitment; one look at Susan and Reed’s all ready to go to outer space. On their way out the door, their mom says admiringly, “Look at you! The fantastic four!” and they all turn and pose for the movie poster shot.
If anyone ever asks you at a cocktail party to describe the best superhero team origin story, you can say, “Clearly the moment billionaire genius Reed Richards got some college kids still living at home to go on a high-profile space expedition because he wanted to get laid.”
Inside it’s 19th-century London, outside it’s Pulp Fiction. Why did we ever leave the Nineties?
In what’s suddenly a totally different movie, a pair of Cockney Dickensian thieves are following Reed and Ben around a building downtown. Ben bumps into a hot blind sculptor lady, so that’s his love interest sorted out. Reed’s reaction to Ben’s declaration that he’s in love is practically a snarl of jealous rage. Right after this he makes a speech about how much he still loves and misses Victor. (I’m starting to lean towards the “homoerotic” side of the “homoerotic or just weirdly directed?” side of the male bonding scenes in this movie.)
Meanwhile, another pair of cringeworthy stereotypes, this time a pair of Russian mafia henchmen working for Dr. Doom, are following them. So inside it’s 19th-century London, outside it’s Pulp Fiction. Why did we ever leave the Nineties?
A series of wacky henchmen-and-thief-related shenanigans lead to the sabotaging of Richards’ spaceship launch, which leads to the famous moment when the spaceship explodes and the Fantastic Four inadvertently receive their superpowers. We get a glimpse of Dr. Doom laughing because he thinks he’s killed Reed. Nice threads there, bud.
I didn’t know Tomorrowland had an Ancient Mayan Temple section, but Doom has apparently invaded, conquered, and installed a Stargate above the throne, I guess so he can watch pay-per-view.
Back in crash land, the gang discovers that they’re not only totally unharmed, but they have powers. Johnny can start fires, Sue can turn invisible, and Reed is now elastic. No one gives a shit what Ben can do.
Everyone else is freaked, but since Susan is still hot, Reed is still in a great mood. They’re totally off the grid in in a day park in Yorkshire—er, I mean a vast wilderness far away from civilization. Even so, Dr. Doom’s hapless henchmen have apparently discovered their whereabouts before the U.S. government.
Sculptor lady has apparently never before encountered a human male despite living in Manhattan, so she’s fallen in love at first bump with Ben. Suddenly she’s kidnapped by the Cockney thief’s gang of henchmen to serve as his love slave. Seriously. Since we don’t know her name or anything about her other than “blind artist” and Ben didn’t stop to get her phone number, I’m sure we’ll never hear from her again.
Meanwhile, Ben has discovered his superpower: transforming into the Thing. Corman did a great job of recreating the look of the comic character here, but Ben is upset anyway.
Illustration by Andrea Di Vito | Screengrab via Dailymotion
Doom has apparently got a “fake military medical center” wing of his retrofuturist Central American space temple, because when his henchmen dress as army guys and transport the Four back to their hospital, no one suspects a thing. After getting their superhero bloodwork in a cringeworthy sequence that’s supposed to be funny, the head doc reports to Doom, who pets his face a lot and tells him to take all their powers and find a way to inject them into Doom himself.
Also have to hand it to Dr. Doom here—he doesn’t have a beard or hands yet still manages to stroke his chin evilly.
The Fantastic Four crew have finally twigged that they’re in an Evil Hospital, but since the Thing still looks like a slab of petrified wood he doesn’t want to leave just yet. Still, they break into some office and discover a way out. Apparently Johnny has hacker skills that are put to use once in this scene and then never mentioned again. But Sue also gets to punch a guy unconscious so, uh, girl power, I guess. Doom finally reveals himself to the Four, but the Four easily escape and return to Reed’s lab in the city, where Susan sews them all Fantastic Four uniforms while Reed and Johnny do important nerd things on computers. Uh… girl… power… oy.
Ben freaks and leaves because spending a night on the streets of Manhattan while transformed into a walking fossil is preferable to staying in Reed’s posh penthouse. Of course he runs into the Cockney thief’s gang. They invite him home to their layabout lair, where the artist (whose name, we finally learn, is Alicia) is still held captive as a sex slave.
Dr. Doom has decided to personally eliminate the Cockney thief so he can have the diamond reactor the thief stole in the first act (don’t ask, it’s stupid). He shows up to the lair just as the Thing arrives. Cockney thief tries to use Alicia as a hostage to keep Doom from getting the diamond, but Doom is all, “bro I don’t even know who this is,” so that doesn’t work. Ben recognizes her, but before he can do his Thing with the grunting and clobbering, Alicia calls him by name and cries out that she loves him. How she knows his name is anyone’s guess, since he never actually told her. Her love briefly turns him into a regular man again, so he leaves and heads back to Reed’s place.
Reed has finally figured out that Doom is Victor, but they’re all just sitting around doing nothing when Doom rings them up on some kind of mobile TV and tells them they have 12 hours to surrender before he blows up New York City with his shiny new diamond reactor-powered giant laser beam. He actually spells out “12” when he says this, look.
With the Four all united again, they head back to Doom’s evil lab, where they find the laser suspiciously unattended. Doom traps them all in Star Trek teleport beams. “Victor?” Reed asks, to which Victor responds haughtily, “You may call me Doctor Doom!” Ya’ll, check out this swag.
You gotta love a villain who combines drama, fashion, and a well-placed cape toss.
Doom says he hates Reed for giving him his disfigurement. There’s a nice contrast here between Victor’s long-held resentment and the way Ben quickly gets over blaming Reed for his own physical transformation. But the nuances of friendship are sort of lost because of how mesmerizingly theatrical actor Joseph Culp—son of ’70s TV star Robert Culp—is in this sequence as Doom. (Culp later played Don Draper’s father on Mad Men, which I think might actually be a backwards career step.)
Naturally, Doom is using Alicia as a damsel to invoke sympathy for our heroes, which is sadly about the only way we can care for this crew. Johnny’s “Flame on!” catchphrase and Thing’s “It’s clobberin’ time!” are both overused and ineffective, and Reed’s actor Alex Hyde-White looks generally irritated by the fact he’s in this movie whenever he’s on screen. Sue is… there. But at least we have amazing special effects like… this…
Sue suddenly has a force field power that’s never explained or brought up again. Johnny flames out to destroy the laser beam while Reed goes to have his standoff against Victor. Ben rescues Alicia, who somehow “recognizes” him even though his voice is totally different and his face contours are totally distorted, and then he actually pants at her for a few seconds in what is supposed to be sexy “I want you” heavy breathing. Like, that’s how he introduces himself: Hi, I’m Ben, cue heavy breathing. On second thought, I know exactly why we left the Nineties.
Wait, did I say Reed went to have a standoff against Victor? It’s actually just one blustering line of dialogue from Doom, who then stands there and lets Reed do this.
So basically, despite all his cape-waggling and bluster, Doom is the kind of “super” villain who could be taken out by some kid blowing air through a straw. Only three elastic punches and Doom goes down, cackling evilly about their friendship all the way.
Johnny saves New York from the laser beam.
And suddenly… Reed and Sue are getting married, so I guess that’s the whole plot all nice and wrapped up. The Thing is still untransformed, but I guess they’re all heroes now so no one cares? What about Doom, who’s clearly still alive? What about finding the cause of their powers? Reuniting with mom? No?
Oh, geez, don’t tell me this is the last shot of the film.
And that’s Fantastic Four, ladies and gentlemen. Now we can all go wash the Vidal Sassoon goop out of our hair.
Screengrab via Dailymotion
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.