Mark Sikes was deep in the trenches at Roger Corman's studio during production of the ill-fated "Fantastic Four" film. Over 20 years later, Mark remains intimately involved with that movie as producer of the documentary "Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four." Mark tells Culture Crypt about his time with Corman, making the documentary, and what it would take for the infamous film to finally see the light of day.
Culture Crypt: You were the casting assistant on Roger Corman’s “Fantastic Four” and you also played The Thing in pickup shots.
Mark Sikes: One night on Hollywood Boulevard, yes. And I destroyed the costume, I’d like to say! They had blue sweatpants on me because it was falling apart by that time. This was a couple months after the film was done shooting. The feet were a mess. The body was a mess. I think they glued it back together since, but I got yelled at later.
Culture Crypt: Even though it was already falling apart?
Mark Sikes: Yeah, the guys who made the costume came back to Roger’s office the next day and they were like, “who did this?” Some idiot pointed at me and I said, “hey, I went where they put me!” They wanted to blame somebody, I don’t know why.
Culture Crypt: You were intimately involved with the project back then.
Mark Sikes: As much as they would let me. I would work for free. I did The Thing for free. At the time, I was Roger’s projectionist. I was an intern, but by the time we developed “Fantastic Four,” I was the receptionist. But receptionist is an umbrella job. You’re the receptionist, the mail person, you run the intern program, and you’re the projectionist. Every time there was a new cut, I was the one screening it for Roger.
Culture Crypt: And now you’re still involved by producing a documentary about making the movie. What makes this “Fantastic Four” film so personal that you’ve remained this closely associated with it for 20 years?
Mark Sikes: Well, I had never lost touch with some of the actors. Alex Hyde-White and Joseph Culp have auditioned for me over the years, so I kind of stayed in their sphere. And I’m a huge comic book fan. When I was seven years old, my father opened up a comic book store. So that was very exciting when the project came up in the first place. Imagine being at a production company in 1993 and they say, “we’re doing The Fantastic Four,” I mean that’s a fanboy’s dream. There weren’t Marvel movies back then to speak of. This script looked decent, so we were very excited and we were told it was going to be a theatrical release.
Mark Sikes: It’s always been a fascinating story to me. Every time in the past 20 years when I’ve been at a wedding, a party, a dinner, wherever, and we start talking, it comes up. I was having lunch with a producer back in 2013, prior to really kicking this whole thing off, and I told her, “I’m thinking of doing this documentary and here is what it is about.” And this woman has no interest in comic books and she just lit up saying, “that’s a million dollar idea, you have to do this.” That cemented for me that this is a story that people are going to find interesting and it seemed like an injustice that no one had officially told the story.
Mark Sikes: We had the L.A. magazine article from about 10 years ago. And I thought (Robert Ito) did a really good job. But there were things in there, no fault of his, that I felt were wrong. I don’t believe for a minute that Avi Arad burned this film. That’s a load of crap. But that’s what everybody thinks now because of that article. And I don’t believe it. I don’t think legally he could do that.
Culture Crypt: You have a direct relation to the “Fantastic Four” production, but how did Marty Langford come aboard as the documentary’s director?
Mark Sikes: Marty worked at my dad’s comic book shop back in the eighties. We were best friends. We’d gone to Fangoria conventions together in New York. And “Doomed” was Marty’s idea, except it was a book. He laughs when I say this, but I think it’s funny. He came to me and said, “will you do the chapter on casting?” I said, “well I’ll do anything you want, but we went to film school dummy! Why aren’t we doing a documentary?” He had this aha moment with me and he thought about it for a month or two, because obviously that’s a big undertaking, and we thought we couldn’t do it unless we had a lot more money than we really ended up with. I know it doesn’t look like a big lavish documentary. But if you knew the number, you’d be like, “holy sh*t! That’s amazing!”
Culture Crypt: Were you present for most of the interviews?
Mark Sikes: I was doing B camera. It was Marty, Oktay (Ortabasi) the D.P., and me. Marty is in the chair. Oktay is obviously running the main camera. And that was our crew.
Culture Crypt: Some of the actors as well as director Oley Sassone cover a range of emotions in their recollections. Alex Hyde-White for instance seems to still have some soreness about Stan Lee taking a shot at the film back in 1993. What’s the sense you have of where the cast and crew currently stand with regard to their feelings on the film and what happened?
Mark Sikes: I thought I was a little pissed about it and then we did all the interviews! (laughs) I think this is fair. I think they have every right to be (pissed) because the cast really got screwed, and Oley really got screwed. These were all actors who were starting to work. Alex was in “Pretty Woman” already. Rebecca was in “Love Potion #9.” They were starting to work on decent films and TV. And they came in for if not scale, a little more than scale on a low-budget Roger Corman film. Doing a Roger Corman movie is something you hope to do later in your career, not at the start, when you’re already doing studio films.
Mark Sikes: The reason these actors were willing to do this movie at all was because they expected residuals, a theatrical release, junket, press, a sequel that paid more. They didn’t have that in writing, obviously there was nothing illegal. But these actors had expectations. When you get paid $1,000 a week or $2,000 a week, you’re going to make four to five times that in residuals once the money starts coming in. So they really did get screwed. And they also got screwed in the sense that a lot of people back then thought the movie didn’t get released because of how “bad” it was, which doesn’t reflect well on a cast or a director. It’s 50/50. It’s not a masterpiece, but for the budget, they did a valiant effort.
Mark Sikes: Oley got screwed really bad as a director because as he says in the documentary, “where’s your movie?” “You made a movie that nobody would release? Holy crap! Was it a train wreck? Were you drunk? Are you a drug addict? Were you punching actors and P.A.s?” I remember a lot of questions about that at the time even from within Corman. Obviously Roger knew everything, but the people in the office, guys like me, we didn’t know about a deal. We didn’t know about Marvel coming in and buying it out. We just knew the movie wasn’t getting released. Nobody wanted to talk about it for fear of screwing up Roger’s payoff.
Mark Sikes: Michael Bailey Smith (Ben Grimm) got taken to the cleaners financially, too.
Culture Crypt: He says in the doc that he would do it all over again. “It was money well spent,” I believe were his exact words.
Mark Sikes: I don’t want to contradict Michael, but I honestly think if he had a time machine and could see what would happen, he would have been crazy to spend that money.
Culture Crypt: Who do you feel gave the most surprising revelations or insight into the production?
Mark Sikes: Well, Carl Ciarfalio, who played The Thing, kind of blew our minds at one point. We didn’t put it in “Doomed” because we couldn’t get confirmation. We’re hoping it wasn’t a mis-memory. But he thought there was some kind of concern during filming that the film wasn’t going to get released. And in all the interviews with everybody – I even went back for this very reason and re-watched Oley’s whole interview – And (Oley) doesn’t give any indication that he had any reason to think ahead of time the film might get canned. But Carl swears he remembers it like it was yesterday because it was at the Corman Venice stage. They were on break and Oley came out and was like, “yeah, I just heard that there’s a possibility that the film isn’t even going to come out.”
Culture Crypt: But Oley doesn’t remember that?
Mark Sikes: Nobody remembers it. And also, who wants to say that? That’s the other thing.
Culture Crypt: How direct were you with Corman?
Mark Sikes: Oh, he’s 90. I hadn’t been in that building in 10 or 12 years. I went there that morning and we got there early of course. Roger couldn’t have been nicer. But I ran to the back of the building to say hi to the one person that was still there from when I worked there, she’s in the legal department, and Roger coincidentally walks in and asks for the “Fantastic Four” file to brush up, like 10 minutes before we’re going to do the interview! And he got stuff wrong. He remembered a lot of stuff wrong. Just dates and things. But he’s 90.
Mark Sikes: He walked out of our screening at the Aero. 15 minutes in. We’d sent him the movie a month earlier, because he was thinking of coming to San Diego with us, and we heard back that he saw it and he loved it. And that guy couldn’t have been nicer during the interview. He was never this nice when I worked for him! I was so surprised, because I was afraid when we interviewed him that at 90 he might be, I don’t know, not a great interview or not in a very good mood or not whatever. This wasn’t one of his best film experiences and (yet) he was smiles and gracious and he took pictures with us. The interview with him was fine, but he didn’t remember a lot. He had to go back and check the contract just to check for names and dates.
Culture Crypt: Were there any topics that were off limits? Anything you were afraid to ask anyone?
Mark Sikes: We didn’t want to get into people’s personal relationships. I didn’t want to get into who slept with who or who hated who. I know for a fact that there was tension on the set of “Fantastic Four.” I was there. I saw it and I heard it. But for this documentary, it served zero purpose to say so-and-so didn’t get along with so-and-so. I just felt if relationships had spawned dissent and that had led to the film not being released, then I would have wanted to tell the story. But the behind-the-scenes didn’t matter. And I didn’t want our cast to think that was the movie we were making. Because they were very gracious, they were very helpful, they signed a lot of posters for us to sell and pay for post-production. To a certain degree, you don’t want to make someone unnecessarily think you’re doing the TMZ version of this.
Culture Crypt: Avi Arad and Stan Lee declined to participate or didn’t respond to interview requests. What would have been your first question for Avi Arad?
Mark Sikes: “Where’s the movie?” I would still love to sit down with Avi Arad, but we’re not allowed to. I think Avi on some level wants to pretend this movie doesn’t exist. I don’t believe he burned it. Marty and I kind of had our holy grail and we didn’t get it. I did want to hold in my hand that print of “Fantastic Four” and be able to tell people, “it exists! I cannot tell you if you’re ever going to be allowed to see it. I hope that you can. But it exists. I’ve seen it.” And we didn’t have that luck. Frankly, between you and I and your readers, there is a really nice ¾” copy of “Fantastic Four” that I do know exists. So a nice version of that film will be seen by people at some point.
Culture Crypt: Realistically, what do you think are the chances that “Fantastic Four” will ever have an official release?
Mark Sikes: Oh, it will. It’ll be a special feature on a box set. They’ll sneak it out that way. Maybe Marvel will do a box set someday of the 12 versions of “Fantastic Four” that were all cursed. I really do believe the way Marvel handled the Corman film cursed the franchise. Because they haven’t been able to get this right yet, and it’s the simplest frickin’ story you could ever tell. I loved the concept behind “Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Then I saw the movie and thought, they just don’t get this comic book. All you need to do is take “Fantastic Four” #48-50. That’s a great movie. That’s not a hard movie to make. But you have to do what Zack Snyder did on “Watchmen” and just tell the story from the comic book. And tell it as a period film. Go “Mad Men” on it.
Culture Crypt: Set it in the 1960s.
Mark Sikes: It doesn’t make sense if you’re not capturing the race to space, the fear of what’s out there. That’s totally the sixties. It doesn’t work today. And that’s the mistake they’ve made every time.
Culture Crypt: What is something you’ve always wanted to say about the “Fantastic Four” production that you didn’t get a chance to cover in the documentary?
Mark Sikes: If Oley had been given everything he was promised, the film would have been significantly better in certain places. The special effects, which are really what bring the film down to me. The costumes needed a little revamp. But they did make a good effort with the money they had. There may be fans out there now who already say this, but I really believe if Oley had been given what he was promised going in, he would have made what would be today the quintessential “Fantastic Four” movie. And nobody would be embarrassed about the hand waving at the end, which was silly. And nobody would be embarrassed by the Human Torch effects. I maintain, I always thought there was an obvious solution here, release it as a Saturday morning, Nickelodeon kids, family-friendly version. Don’t play it up as a studio release film. That’s never going to work now. Put it out there. I mean, they’re not embarrassed by those other properties from the seventies and eighties? And this is an argument that’s been coming up a lot now, you know, there was the David Hasselhoff “Nick Fury” movie, there was “Captain America,” those movies are forgotten now.
Culture Crypt: I forgot about that “Nick Fury” movie.
Mark Sikes: Who didn’t? Wasn’t there a “Doctor Strange” at one point in the seventies? Like a TV movie or something?
Culture Crypt: Yeah, it was supposed to be a series pilot.
Mark Sikes: And who cares? People have seen it. It didn’t kill anybody. Nobody’s done. Three horrible “Fantastic Four” movies that did get released aren’t killing the franchise.
Culture Crypt: So what’s the harm in releasing the 1994 film…
Mark Sikes: Oh yeah. Now, I will say this. They couldn’t release it in the nineties because Chris Columbus really was trying to get a “Fantastic Four” movie off the ground for the next decade. So I get why they didn’t release it right away. But they missed the boat in not releasing it either as a special feature or two-disc bonus thing at Kmart when one of the other movies got released. Put it on Nickelodeon. I don’t know, I would think plenty of channels would love to show it.
Culture Crypt: But there is still reason to hope we might see it in a proper fashion one day?
Mark Sikes: Yeah, I just think Avi Arad is stubborn, and is wrong. I’m sure he’s a very smart man. He’s made a lot of money. I think his feeling is, what do we have to lose by sitting on it? But it’s very disrespectful to a huge fanbase. It’s very disrespectful to the people who made that film. The cast put in a lot of hours and traveled a lot for that film for no money mind you. And I just think it’s a real bad juju mojo thing on Marvel. And Stan Lee. It would cost him nothing to come out and say, “c’mon guys, release that film. Let’s make it right!” But he won’t even talk about it.