Joseph Culp


By about age 12, since any idiot could see that Proposition 13 was going to pass, I knew I had to get into private school on scholarship, and I did, at 15 attending what was then called Robert Louis Stevenson High School or RLS (now the Stevenson School) in Pebble Beach. I was from Del Monte Park, the back-end no-tourists part of Pacific Grove, so I was a day student, and very much more so, a low-rent townie.

It was and is a small school, about 425 kids in all four grades when I began my freshman year in 1979. In a school that size, everyone knows who everyone else is. I like to describe it as “The Dead Poets Society, with girls, without uniforms or spankings.” The period of my attendance is a very interesting story regarding the school which will see the light some other day.

Yes, that's the campus

Yes, this is a high school campus

One of its standout programs was theater, run by a guy named Tyler, a force of nature who put together a rather professional crew culture and considerable technical resources for the shows. He put on five plays every school year, including a musical which also went on tour for a couple of weeks in the spring. The plays were typically very damn good, and in the spirit of the times, ambitious and explicit. He didn’t bowdlerize.

OK, fifty interesting and shocking anecdotes snipped, and on to the point. A lot of the students were celebrities’ kids, many of them from the TV/movie culture of the west coast. Among the seniors of that year was Joe Culp, who starred in almost every play. The mid-year play was Cyrano de Bergerac, I was an extra (with a line!!), and due to fencing training, I got to cross swords with him in a big battle scene rather than merely jumping around with other extras. So I knew him a bit more than in passing, not much, and found him to be a really nice guy, very kind to a younger student, which is not always the case in a prep school, I’ll have you know. And damn what a good thespian. I haven’t seen him since his graduation in 1980.

Anyone reading this probably knows him from Deep Space Nine. Currently, he is making himself known more generally via Mad Men


… and it’s bringing a little something back into the light from 20 years ago:

This movie

In which Joe, who looked like this at the time …

Except actually it's not a very good shot, he was scarier

Except actually it’s not a very good shot, he was more dignified and scary

… played none other than Victor von Doom.

If you want to read about its history of inexcusable non-release and the destruction of the prints, it’s all over the net now; here’s some recent webstuff about it. No one asks me, but I say, the current nominal owner should put the best VHS they can find onto DVD and fill it with commentary and interviews.

Some observations:

  • First, I like it better than the 2005 version. I like it, period.
  • There is nothing at all wrong with the acting across the board, nor is the dialogue notably dumb or contrived. The rumors/reports I’ve always heard about that are mistaken.
  • There’s some really nice physical casting; the Storms are especially on-model.
  • In Doom’s first fully-visible post-accident appearance, “no capes” indeed – that right there is why you have a cape.
  • Are there plot holes? Sure, but the worst are inherent to the original; as a whole it’s on par with any number of other non-mocked action films.
  • It features certain B moments, but I’m OK with that given it’s a Corman film, and c’mon, let’s get over this absurd notion that a movie version of your favorite superhero comic is going to be inexpressibly high art and make all the high school bullies email you to say they’re sorry.
  • There are some neat original details: I quite like the sneeze, for instance.
  • The Thing makeup is way better than the budget should allow. The screenwriter seem to have confused him with a certain other burly comics character, for a bit anyway.
  • The weakest feature is the secondary villain who’d do better in the 1960s Batman show, and whose minions aren’t mutated enough by a long shot; the music director tries hard to make it work.

And Joe’s a blast – contrary to the scuttlebutt which has always circulated about this film, not because he cheeses it up, but because his portrayal of Victor pre-accident is quite moving and gives the whole story some weight.

It makes me happy to see him doing well.

It makes me happy to see him doing well.

See it, share it, talk it up. I know, it’s not fancy slick shit like you all are used to seeing, and you’ll get no cool cred for talking about it. But it has real cred – the people involved put it together for $1.5 million, practically nothing even in 1994 dollars, and they managed well. There’s a lot of love for the comic evident on the screen, and none more so than knowing that if Victor von Doom isn’t hitting hard, then the Fantastic Four is nothing.

Next: The Vision, his semen, and his friends

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on March 12, 2015, in Filmtalk, The 70s me, The great ultravillains and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ron, what do you think about the announced plans for “improvements” to the Doctor Doom character in the next Fantastic Four movie/reboot? 🙂

    [ducking under cover, waiting for a ronuclear explosion…]


  2. I am a failed geek in several ways, with one significant variable being that I haven’t paid attention to upcoming-movie announcements or discussions since … um … the Conan the Barbarian film. Seriously. I only care about existing texts, and I much prefer to see them outside of their initial release context.

    But you made me interested, so give me the quick version of what’s being said. I can always hope, I guess, because it’s not always a disaster. Dini’s and Timm’s villain work in Batman: The Animated Series is rightly classic, and Raimi really put his finger on the Green Goblin. (I guess it’s better to say “a” rather than “the,” but I’m less interested in comics-faithfulness and more in coherence.)

    So … can I hope? Is it possible? (shoot, Joe could beat the shit out of that part today, he’s the perfect age for it now)


  3. Mmm…….. are you really sure you want to know? OK, but remember, you asked for it….

    The short version, from the lips of the actor who is playing Doom, Tony Kebbell:
    ““He’s Victor Domashev, not Victor von Doom in our story. And I’m sure I’ll be sent to jail for telling you that. The Doom in ours—I’m a programmer. Very anti-social programmer. And on blogging sites I’m ‘Doom.’ “”
    And his origins… from the same article, “Kebbell also revealed that Victor Domashev is caught in the same accident that gives the Fantastic Four their powers”
    (if you have read ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, they have already said that the movie will follow that version much more than the original one, and in UFF Doom got his “powers” in the same exact way the FF did)

    And this is picture from the set of the new Doctor Doom:

    More information about the movie here:


  4. Thanks Moreno! Quick note: your post went into moderation because it has more than two links. I want to keep the linking to a minimum.

    I guess my response goes into the category of, “Forget the comic, see if the film is any good, probably a year or two after it’s gone from the theaters and everyone has stopped yelping about it.” I do understand that going strictly by the comic brings in tropes that aren’t very accessible (the 94 movie certainly shows that, much as I enjoy them), and that if you did highlight certain great Victor von Doom features, I bet people would sneer, “oh a Darth Vader ripoff,” including a lot of self-identified geeks.

    It may not be the reaction you anticipated, but I actually would prefer that if the filmmakers are going to go their own way, then better if they go really, really far away. In that case, I don’t have any sense of violation or disappointment regarding the strengths of the comics character, and I can enjoy this film, if it’s good, concerning this “doom” person strictly as a feature of the film.

    This is also a good opportunity to point to the very common view or assumption that a movie is the Great and All, and a comic is a hopeful aspirant to one day be included in a movie. Given this view, the nerdy notion that a reader of the comic might like the movie to be something like the comic is a bit ridiculous, quirky at best. I submit that this viewpoint is common even within the geek culture, that a movie is the sine qua non, the ultimate expression, the pinnacle point – even the idea that a comic can be validated, legitimized, or … elevated, emancipated, through the existence of the film. Therefore the argument over whether the film should conform to the (let’s say the good) features of the comics becomes hair-splitting … e.g., whether it should because then the comic will be somehow recognized as good, now that it’s a movie & all; or whether it shouldn’t because the comics fan should be grateful that a movie was made from this humble scrap in the first place, and look forward the the comic retrofitting to the form the movie has made from it.

    I like to step away from that and similar debates, via pure compartmentalization. Movie over here, other movie over there, comic of particular period here, comic of other period over there … getting away from the idea of an ur-Dr. Doom or an ur-Marvel, or whatever, that must be protected or elevated or anything at all.

    Even that is dodging really good questions, though. Who knows whether criss-crossing media is a bad or good thing? The original idea of Superman going boing-boing all over Metropolis like a ‘roided kangaroo is laughable in retrospect, but he didn’t fly in the comics until after the radio and TV shows instituted the power … even the “up in the sky!” and “up, up, away” lines came from those, not from the comic. Conversely, even the Kangaroo Kal-El was the hero of some pretty great comics prior to the shows.


  5. My position about changes in the “canon” when they make a movie based on a comic book (or any other literary source as well) is “as long as they have a good reason” and “as long as that change improve the final product”

    Seems simple enough, eh? Well, it probably isn’t so simple, seeing that most of the changes done in movies about comic books are downright stupid and bone-headed (for DECADES Hollywood made routinely changes to any comic book character to make them more “commercial”, going from a flop to a disaster to a dud… and at the end Marvel made a gazillion of dollars making movies more tied to the canon that any before…)

    I did read times ago (but I don’t remember the link) a Hollywood writer explaining that the reason most of movies are very badly written is that most of the people deciding about the final draft don’t know the first thing about writing (and there is the old gag about the starlet “so stupid that she fucked the writer” to show how much the writers counts in movie-making), so it should not be a total surprise that most movies get to totally mangle their source material, but in the case of comic books, the pattern is so outrageous that sometimes it seems that important plot points are changed simply because they “must be bad”, being in a comic book…

    To avoid citing the usual titles derided by everyone, some example of movies that gets even good reviews (evidence that movie criticism is debased almost as movie writing): in “Watchmen” they removed plot points that could be considered silly (with some reasons)… replacing them with plot points so unbelievably stupid and full of holes that a giant squid seems rock-solid in comparison. In V for Vendetta they get to totally miss the point of the book (it could be argued that having a movie have a different message from the book it’s based on could be a good thing, and something the movie makers wanted to say… if it wasn’t for the way they seems totally oblivious to the fact in any interview…)

    But, anyway, not EVERY change is bad, and I don’t think that movies should slavishly follow the book they are based on. For an example, I consider the movie “Kick Ass” vastly superior to the comic book, practically every change in it is an improvement, and the movie totally contradict the book (the book is a rather boring exercise in the usual nerd self-flogging that excite nerds, trying to be “edgy” by saying that superhero comics are stupid… something already told, much better, by superior authors. The movie is an almost amoral exaltation of everything “bad” (as in “evil”) in superhero comics, and I love it for that.)

    OK, improving on a mediocre book? That’s easy. What about the comic books I loved as a child (and still love… at least the old stories)? Well, I think that a lot of the changes they made in recent Marvel movies are improvements, or at least I can see the reason for them (not every one).

    I don’t know why, what’s the difference, if it’s because there are a few guys at the top that know something about good stories, because they have made a good team that was lucky enough with first movies to be left free to operate without too many interferences, of it’s because they can’t really say “see, we are not REALLY making silly superhero movies” as Warner try to do…. but at the end of the day, probably if I had read that description of a different “Doctor Doom” in the description of a Marvel movie, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had good reasons. Maybe the end result is an improvement, maybe I would wait to see the movie before commenting…

    …but after the two previous Fantastic Four movies I don’t have any trust in the producers of this one, the changes seems not only silly but they seems to follow the usual stupid reasons for producer-motivated changes (“a guy in a cape? That’s silly. A modern villain should be a hacker!”), so I feel rather secure in joining the mocking so early… 🙂

    Two other things I would like to say about “canon” and adaptations:


    When you do an adaptation of a propriety known by millions (as the Fantastic Four), you don’t buy only the adaptation rights: you buy an ready-made audience. You buy a lot of persons that will go to see that movie expecting to see the characters they love (or at least, know).
    Even when you make changes, you should respect the source material. Have a good reasons for these changes (I am not picky, “we can cast Samuel R. Jackson” for me is a very good reason to change Nick Fury, I don’t pretend vast artistic improvements… you should simply try to make a better movie).
    If you change things “just because”, because you don’t care a bit about these readers, you are committing a sort of “art fraud”: you are selling that audience a piece of “art” telling them that it’s a thing (“it’s a real Picasso! It’s the characters you love!) and then knowingly swindle them.
    Because I have worked (professionally, even if for a short time) in comic book adaptations, from one language to another, and we did know that adapting something from a language to another (from Japanese to Italian, or from comic book to movies) you always have to make changes, and that you always “betray” the original version (in Italian there is even a saying, “traduttore traditore”, that means literally that).
    But if had started to make changes “just because”, because I found the source material not worthy of my genius… I would have been fired in a very quick time! 🙂
    (and no, I was never fired, I left because the pay was abysmal…)


    I don’t believe in the usual saying, “look, the books are not ruined, they are still there”. Our mind and our culture doesn’t work like that. Movies are VERY powerful culture forces, much more powerful than comic book. So much that they can overwrite the meaning of the comic they are based on.
    One rather evident effects is that the weaker media tend to adapt to the powerful one (so, the comic book characters begin to resemble the movie ones, as is happening lately with Marvel and always happened, from the Superman example you cited to the Batman comics in the sixties. Even non-serial stories changes their art, their cover (it’s normal to replace the old covers with pictures from the movie, to reassure the public that really, the inside of the book is the same as the movie)
    Another is that, seeing that no reader is totally passive, and that reading is always a collaboration between the author (that describe) and the reader (that has to imagine, tie together, interpret, etc.), if the reader has already a media-fueled vision of “what these character do, how they talk, how they act”, that vision can easily cancel what the book really say, and the reader has REALLY “read (imagined) a different thing” The message change, and even if the physical book is unchanged (if they didn’t change the cover, the translation, or did not made editorial changes like cutting parts to follow the movie…), the EXPERIENCE of reading it is changed. And a reader can really believe that the book says the exact same things said in the movie, without realizing that it doesn’t.
    Still another is that the impact of a book in our culture can be much bigger that the people who have read it. A very recent example is the use of the mask of V by Anonymous. How many of the people who use or that watch these video has read the book? What is the “real V” now?
    (but this is something that bother me much more with other kind of source material, not the Fantastic Four, and I really doubt this new movie will be remembered very much…


  6. It’s getting postmodern in here, which makes me itchy, even though I can’t deny the power of the questions being raised. I believe I solve all of that for myself anyway, by completely ignoring the issue of “canon.” Scare quotes indeed, to indicate bullshit, distraction, and shibboleth. Which is a very tricky position for someone who loves Marvel characters and the traditional attention to past comics’ content, but I will address this in the future. Suffice to say that the improvisational and haphazard drawing on the past + crazy new shit of the 1960s and 1970s Marvel is a very different beast from the post-1980, Marvel Universe Marvel.

    More to the point here, I have been told by sources close to the making of the 1994 film that the creative team did in fact salvage a good print, and it’s available on DVD in various internet venues, like this one: Yes, I know, it’s free on YouTube, but I think I want this too.


  1. Pingback: Not enough Doom lately | Comics Madness

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