Arden Hills auteur specializes in 1950s-style B-movie horror films (w/ video)

Updated: 11/13/2011 11:24:47 PM CST

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Video from the St. Paul Pioneer Press | TwinCities.com.

Filmmaker Chris Mihm jokes with the actors and crew during a short break last week in the filming of House of Ghosts, his seventh movie. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

The corpse is having a rough night.

She’s cold, after lying on the floor for two hours. One of the mink’s legs in her fur stole is missing, and she thinks the dog might have eaten it.

Her face is supposed to be locked in a death-mask of terror – eyes bulging out, mouth wide open – every time the film director reshoots the scene.

One time, she forgets.

“Cut!” shouts Christopher Mihm of Arden Hills, Minnesota’s leading auteur of 1950s-style horror movies. “You didn’t do the face!”

“You didn’t tell me to do the face!” squawks the corpse, aka Stephanie Mihm, his wife.

To start the next shot, the director doesn’t yell “Action!” Instead – so his wife won’t miss it – he yells, “Face!”

Last Tuesday, in a small room in a Minneapolis home, Christopher Mihm worked for hours perfecting a 30-second shot in his upcoming movie, “House of Ghosts.”

Mihm shoots tributes to cornball horror movies such as “Plan Nine from Outer Space,” “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” and “Attack of the 50-foot Woman” – regarded by critics as some of the worst movies ever made.

Mihm is aiming higher – at least, slightly higher. He writes, directs and produces movies that strive for the sweet spot between so-bad-it’s-good and just plain bad.

They get spotty exposure. His movies have played in theaters in Lakeville and Forest Lake, and “House of Ghosts” will premiere in May in Columbia Heights.

All six films have been shown on Australian TV. One was translated into Esperanto


—yes, Esperanto—for a convention in Copenhagen this year.

In this genre, penny-pinching is part of the mystique.

His seven movies have cost about $4,000 each. He shot one, “Terror from Beneath the Earth,” entirely in his basement. He doesn’t pay his actors.

He shoots in black-and-white, so he can substitute chocolate syrup for blood.

The results aren’t exactly Steven Spielberg.

“These movies are so cheesy you can’t watch if you are lactose-intolerant,” said one of his actresses, Sid Korpi.

But the joy of the work binds the actors and director together, as the filming session Tuesday showed.

“This movie is about a dinner party of rich weirdos,” explained Mihm, as his cast crammed into a room the size of a king-sized bed.

In the scene, a woman’s body is found after she was frightened to death by a ghost.

To get ready, Stephanie Mihm, aka the corpse, lies on a rug. She is a star of the corpse-acting world – she lay on a concrete floor for about 40 hours during the shooting of “Terror From Beneath the Earth.”

To prepare, she tucked a pillow under her knees.

“How convenient that when someone is scared to death, they land on a cushion,” said actress Korpi.

The director shot the scene of guests discovering the corpse, then did it again. And again.

When one actor’s neck-scarf kept slipping, actor Justen Overlander said, “It gets to be a pain in the ascot.”

During one take, two terriers wandered in and sniffed the corpse. “Go away, dogs!” Mihm said from behind his camera.

The corpse’s facial muscles were getting tired. The director complained that the death-face wasn’t scary enough. “I want you to be terrified – truly terrified,” he said.

“I’m trying,” sighed the corpse.

“Eyes open but sightless,” coached Korpi.

By the eighth time, the actors felt comfortable with their lines and breezed through a take.

“Cut! That was OK-ish,” said Mihm.

He then stood over the corpse, aiming the camera down at the face.

“This is Stephanie’s beauty shot,” said lighting designer Cherie “Rhuby” Gallinati.

A voice floated up from the corpse: “Use the soft focus,” in which something is rubbed onto a camera lens to blur the image.

Gallinati contributed this comment: “I smeared some nose juice on the camera.”

The corpse erupted in laughter, spitting and coughing into the floodlights. “Oh…Oh…I am dying,” she laughed, gasping for air.

“You are already dead,” snapped Mihm.

Sitting up, she noticed that one mink’s leg was missing from her fur stole. She glared at the dog. During filming a few weeks before, a dog was caught munching the mink.

“Anyone see any more mink body parts around here?” she said, as she lay back down.

Mary, played by actress Catherine Hansen, left, stands in a doorway shocked to see Ursula, played by Stephanie Mihm, lying unresponsive on the floor frightened to death, we later learn, by a ghost during the filming of House of Ghosts. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

Overlander, the muscleman of the group, had to kneel down, pick her up and put her on a sofa.As the camera rolled, he lugged the corpse, bonking her head against a lamp. He tried it again. But the face wasn’t right. Again – this time dropping her, snapping her neck.

“Sorry! Sorry!” he blurted. The corpse giggled.

“Cut!” said Mihm.

Behind the lights, the prognosticators discussed how stiff the corpse should be. Rigid? Easier to lift. Limp? More realistic.

“Fold her like an accordion!” said Korpi.

Just when everyone’s patience – and Overland’s back – were almost exhausted, he swept down, scooped up the corpse and gently laid it down. The corpse’s eyes were glassy, the mouth open in a horrible yawn.

An awed hush filled the room. It was perfect.

“Cut!” said Mihm. “That’s it. There are only so many shots I can get of someone sitting there dead.”

As they were cleaning up, the missing mink leg appeared. It was centered on a velvet pillow in one corner of the room, as if someone were presenting it to a king.

Mihm and the corpse looked around, uneasily. It was almost…spooky.

Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433. Follow him on twitter.com/BshawPP

TO SEE MORE

For trailers and information about Christopher Mihm’s movies, go to sainteuphoria.com. The movie “House of Ghosts” is expected to premier at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights at 7:30 p.m. May 23, 2012.

Filmmaker Chris Mihm films his wife, Stephanie, who gets a chance to show off her considerable corpse acting skills in the role of Ursula, in House of Ghosts, which is in production. (Pioneer Press : Chris Polydoroff)
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