From left to right, Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Carl Ciarfalio and Jay Underwood star in the notorious cheapie movie version of "The Fantastic Four." Credit: Provided From left to right, Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Carl Ciarfalio and Jay Underwood star in the notorious cheapie movie version of "The Fantastic Four."
Credit: Provided

Last decade, when comic book movies were officially getting dark and realistic — or as realistic as movies about billionaire crime-fighters dressed as winged mammals could be — Marvel Comics had the nerve to let their "Fantastic Four" property get turned into a silly, slight, poppy and frankly stupid pair of movies. The 2005 origin tale and its 2007 sequel (with Liam Neeson voicing a very CGI Silver Surfer) were critical bombs but made enough money that we couldn't completely ignore them.

Now Marvel's trying again, this time with a cast that doesn't include the likes of Jessica Alba. (Though don't forget that Michael Chiklis was The Thing, and that current Captain America, Chris Evans, did a frattish twist on The Human Torch.) Cast in the reboot are such esteemed thespians as Miles Teller ("The Spectacular Now") as the elastic Mr. Fantastic, Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station") as the Human Torch, Kate Mara ("House of Cards") as the Invisible Woman and Jamie Bell ("The Adventures of Tintin") as The Thing. (Teller and Jordan recently teamed up for "That Awkward Moment." Sorry, Zac Efron, but you're out.)

This is great and all, but let's not forget that it won't be first reboot of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's signature comic. Before the 2005 version came one made in 1994. Never heard of it? You were never supposed to. In the 1980s, the late German producer Bernd Eichinger, who had helped make films like "The Neverending Story" and "The Name of the Rose," bought the rights for very, very cheap. (Rumor is it was as low as $250,000.) For whatever reason, Eichinger never got around to making his film. The rights were set to lapse in 1992. So to raise the price, he crafted a cunning plan: He would make a film, but do it with the bare minimum of cash. A "Fantastic Four" movie would exist, but only technically.

 

Naturally he turned to Roger Corman, the legendary grade-Z producer and filmmaker, who claims to this day to have never lost a buck (basically by never spending more than the bare minimum on any project). Together, they decided to crank out a movie adaptation for the low, low price of $1 million. (By contrast, the 2005 film cost $100 million.) There was no apparent intention of ever releasing it into the world; despite all the hard work — with almost no resources — of the cast and crew, it was to exist solely to inflate the price tag of the rights.

All the money's on screen, too. There are only two names in the cast. One is George Gaynes, the serious Finnish-born actor who became best known for playing the bumbling, oblivious Commandant Lassard in the "Police Academy" cycle, plays the professor. The Human Torch is essayed by Jay Underwood, who children of the 1980s may remember from the inspirational movie "The Boy Who Could Fly." (He played the boy who could fly.) The Thing is laughably cheap to the extent that prose could never do it justice. Here he is:

This is what The Thing looks like on the cheap. Credit: Provided This is what The Thing looks like on the cheap.
Credit: Provided

Poor Carl Ciarfolio, a stuntman and sometime actor, drew the short straw that put him inside the no doubt uncomfortable Thing costume. He's no master thespian, but he tries; the scene where his character discovers that he has been transformed into a rock monster is pure acting class sadness — as camp a moment as Ronald Reagan's "Where's the rest of me?!" moment from the 1940 film "King's Row." Then again, this "Fantastic Four" is only marginally more slapdash than other comic book movie cheapies, such as the Dolph Lundgren "The Punisher" from the 1980s and the 1990 "Captain America," starring J.D. Salinger's son.

If this sounds familiar, then you watched the last, Netflix season of "Arrested Development," which stretched a parody of this over several episodes. Truth is stranger than fiction, even the fictions the writing staff of "Arrested Development" could ever dream up.

But you can judge for yourself. Once a popular bootleg, it has now been uploaded to YouTube for the delectation of all:

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge

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