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Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie is notoriously terrible – do we really want it resuscitated?

<span>So bad it’s good? … Roger Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four.</span><span>Photograph: New Horizons/Allstar</span>
So bad it’s good? … Roger Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four.Photograph: New Horizons/Allstar

Why exactly are we so fascinated with bad movies? Perhaps it is simple schadenfreude, the delicious mental backwards engineering required to work out just exactly how somebody somewhere decided that the John Travolta-led, Scientology-infused Battlefield Earth, or Ed Wood’s frightful Glen or Glenda were anything approaching a good idea. It cannot be that we actually want to watch these things, for where is the thrill in experiencing completely inept film-making unless it really is about taking pleasure in other people’s creative failure?

The situation becomes even more preposterous when we consider those movies that have always been so terrible that nobody should ever be able to witness them on the big or small screen. Jerry Lewis’s The Day the Crown Cried; the Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire-led Don’s Plum. And then of course there is the Roger Corman-produced 1994 version of The Fantastic Four, a largely unseen comic book B-movie (Z-movie?) reputedly so awful that, according to Corman, Marvel Studio founder Avi Arad bought it from the rights owners to avoid the film cheapening his brand.

Corman’s take on Marvel’s first family was only made because German producer Bernd Eichinger needed to get a movie out prior to the sun coming up on New Year’s Day, 1993, to avoid the rights lapsing on a deal he had made with the comic book publisher seven years earlier. You can watch it, in incredibly lo-fi format, on YouTube, though I recommend you don’t. Reportedly made for just $1m, the acting is pitiful and the special effects are cheaper than a night in on White Lightning. Carl Ciarfalio portrays the Thing in a rubbish rubber suit but does say “It’s clobbering time” at least twice.

And yet reports in the geekosphere this week suggest that people really want to see it, which shouldn’t be too surprising. When Zack Snyder stepped away from DC superhero epic Justice League in May 2017, for personal reasons – and after replacement Joss Whedon royally messed up a knockabout comedy-infused alternate cut – fans were desperate to see what the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice film-maker had originally been working on, going so far as to campaign successfully for its eventual release on the newly launched HBO Max service.

The same studio’s Batgirl might have been just another middling straight-to-stream DC effort if it had actually been released, as planned, in 2022. After Warner Bros’ decision to take a tax write-off rather than ever putting the movie out, it has taken on near-legendary status. People just love what they can’t get their hands on.

A belated release for The Fantastic Four might not be too hard to pull off. If Arad really did buy up the negatives, and provided he didn’t have them all destroyed, there’s surely a place for the movie on Disney+, right down at the bottom of the Marvel section next to 1981 animated trifle Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. It’s surely better that we see it there, in its full low-budget “glory”, than in a dilapidated state on YouTube. According to reports Joseph Culp, who played the Fantastic Four’s nemesis Dr Doom, has joined the campaign to release the movie.

And yet you have to wonder if this is a case of fans needing to be careful what they wish for. As we await the release of the first Fantastic Four movie to be officially released under the auspices of Marvel studios (following a torrent of famously terrible predecessors) do we really need to look back at how disrespectfully comic book rights were given away in the 1980s? Is this really a cineastic miscarriage of justice, audiences deprived of the chance to see a perfectly decent film by the evil machinations of Hollywood execs? Or could it be that somebody once made a really crap Fantastic Four movie and that it’s just best left forgotten?