Jay Underwood wasn’t always a pastor. Before taking up the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Weaverville, he made his living as an actor in Hollywood for almost 25 years. Often cast in sci-fi movies and TV shows, Underwood is a perfect guest at comic cons and film festivals across the country.
This weekend, June 8-9, he will be appearing at the 3rd annual Sundial Bridge Comic Con in Redding. This comic con is family friendly and includes artists, vendors, comics, toys, art work, panels and a cosplay competition. Some of the artists, like Underwood and comic book writer Garrett Gunn, are local to the North State area.
The film of Underwood’s that people at comic cons and conventions want to talk about most? B-movie king Roger Corman’s unreleased “Fantastic Four” (1993), in which Underwood originated the role as Johnny Storm the Human Torch. The reason for its unrelease? “It’s a case of dollars and cents,” says Underwood. “The fella that owned the film rights to the ‘Fantastic Four’ was a German producer named Bert Eichenger. His contract stipulated that he needed to go into production by Dec. 31, 1992, or his rights would expire. Comic movies were not the proven commodity they are now. You had ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman’ but studios weren’t clamoring to make the next comic book film. Boy, how things have changed!”
Eichenger went to Corman to see if Corman could make a low-budget version and get the production going before the end of the year. Eichenger could then maintain the rights and either sell the property to another studio for hopefully big money or, if no one wanted it, he could always release Corman’s version. As it turns out, 20th Century Fox and Marvel bought the rights from Eichenger for Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”) to produce, which amounted to the 2005 version of the Fantastic Four and its subsequent sequels.
Says Underwood, “Once the deal was made with 20th Century and Marvel, they now owned the rights to our little million-dollar version and didn’t want it to compete in any way with their big budget version. So they shelved it. We were the little guy who got squashed.”
Underwood and the cast were given copies by the director for their own personal use but what also happened was that a print of Corman’s version got out and started showing up at comic conventions across the U.S. and eventually You Tube. “What’s funny is because of the way things happened, our little movie has become a part of Hollywood lore. Here we are over 25 years later still getting invited to comic cons and conventions to talk about the original ‘Fantastic Four’ movie. Comic buffs eat this stuff up! It’s probably had a life it would have never had if it had been released. You have to know that with only a million-dollar budget, our special effects were not too special.”
You can talk more with Underwood about the “Fantastic Four” and some of his other roles from “Star Trek Voyager,” “X-Files,” “Uncle Buck” and “The Boy Who Could Fly” this Saturday and Sunday at the Sundial Bridge Comic Con at the Red Lion Hotel, 1830 Hilltop Drive. Tickets can be purchased at Collector’s Choice or Fanworld in Redding or at the door. Doors open at 10 a.m. both days.