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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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Get ’em while you can, folks! Seriously, the buzz on this marvelously cheesy, funny/scary, B&W 1950s-drive-in-style creature feature by writer/director Christopher R. Mihm is over the moon, so to speak! The Heights Theater, where the premiere will be held on May 25, is not huge and I really think it’ll sell out fast! To co-opt a phrase used by my PetPAC colleague pet photographer Patrick Nau, “Don’t say ‘I wish I had.’ Say ‘I’m glad I did.'”

An added bonus is you’ll get to see my goofy ’50s hair as Administrator Ripley! I’m open to ridicule. 🙂

This event is a red-carpet affair—just like in Hollywood!—and everyone is encouraged to put their glad rags on. Assuming this will be following in the footsteps of Mihm’s five other movie debuts, you’ll meet the director and all the stars, hear a wonderful Wulitzer organ played, watch 1950s newsreels, eat cake and meet the Zombies created by Mitch Gonzales.

To order your advance tickets, click here.

Read about Christopher R. Mihm, the man and his movies in this May/June issue of SciFi magazine due out in April (It’s the official magazine of the SyFy channel) and in an upcoming Mpls/St. Paul magazine!

I first learned of Christopher R. Mihm through a story about his movie Cave Women on Mars published in the Southwest Journal in Minneapolis. His motivation for making B&W 1950s-drive-in-style B-movie homages was to honor his deceased father, who’d instilled in him from childhood a love of charmingly crappy cinematic works. He named his production company “All for George Productions.”

I then attended the world premiere of Cave Women on Mars (2008), and I was sucked into the Mihmiverse forever, where I now happily fester.

The plot, and there actually was one, which is always a bonus, involved a handsome astronaut (Dan Sjerven) who is stranded on, you guessed it, Mars, surrounded by primitive warring Amazonian beauties. Oh, the cheesy sets and costumes…the purposely stilted line delivery ala Shatner…the overacting of the villainesses (who were, it turns out, tinier than Alan Ladd and just filmed to look imposing—this I learned at the after party where I towered over chief baddie, Rachel Grubb, thinking I could have vanquished her simply by sitting on the waif)…What was not to love?

Cave Women was Mihm’s third film, and from the aforementioned article, I knew his first movie was Monster of Phantom Lake (2006). I assure you, the gang at “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would have been ecstatic to watch this one.

There were literally times in watching this film I guffawed so loudly I scared   my dog, Mortimer! I’m a ‘50s-ophile and adore most things created at or about that time. Monster of Phantom Lake had it all. It featured hormone-driven/twist-dancing teens, a crazed war veteran turned urban legend thanks to toxic waste, inept but lovable Canoe Cops, awesome cat-eye glasses, and a lake creature Roger Corman’s special-effects crew would have coveted, adroitly played by Mihm’s teenaged stepson Michael Kaiser.* Also memorable, and truly hilarious, was the campy song Professor Jackson launches into: “A-Rockin, A-Rollin, All the Way A-Ramblin’.” (A quadruple threat in the talent department, apparently Mihm’s not just a writer/director/producer, he’s also an accomplished musician who performed all the musical tracks for the song).

Next, I bought It Came from Another World (2007), Mihm’ second film, and did it ever send me! Professor Jackson (a recurrent role of a sort for Mihm’s best bud/co-producer on most of his movies, Josh Craig) has to go searching for a colleague, Dr. Frasier (Mike Mason), who’s gone missing in the woods where a mysterious meteorite has been seen crashing to Earth. Enter our favorite Canoe Cops, Sven (M. Scott Taulman) and Gustav (Mike Cook), to help him with the tracking. I’ll not be a spoiler, but there’s a certainscene involving an oar and a mushroom you’ll need to be wearing Depends to safely watch.

Mihm masterfully uses public domain footage and music to set the mood, as well as ping-pong balls to create the alien-possessed creature’s fiendish googly-eyed visage. A highlight of the film is a fabulous campsite sing-along featuring the infectious song “Paddlin’ Along,” performed by Echo Driver, Mihm’s musical nom de plume.

More than any of Mihm’s movies to date, his 2009 release, Terror from Beneath the Earth, was truly a family affair, with his lovely spouse Stephanie, son Elliot, stepdaughter Liz Kaiser and stepson Michael Kaiser taking prominent roles. Dan Sjerven returns, this time as a frantic father searching caves**—made radioactive by local atomic testing, naturally—for his two lost children (Liz and Elliot). Mike Cook, otherwise known as Canoe Cop Gustav, is Dr. Vincent Edwards, renowned geologist and all-around brainiac, who is called in on the search with his assistant Rosemary Bennett (Stephanie). The mutant bat creature (Michael, the inveterate Mihm-monster portrayer) the search party discovers is one of the best film monsters ever devised. (Check out the corn-cob holders that have been used to make its teeth!)

The B-movie-loving world thrilled at last spring’s premiere of Mihm’s fifth film, Destination: Outer Space! (2010) at the historic Heights Theater in Columbia Heights, Minn. Josh Craig reprised his roles as Captain Jackson (and his father), taking the character to new depths as an alcoholic loser whose life has no meaning until he tests a rocket ship that flies faster than the speed of light and sends him into new galaxies of terror and adventure with a space pirates named Urina, a robot named ADAM (played by Michael Kaiser and voiced by writer/director Mihm himself), and evil, eyeball-headed Oculon monsters.

Mihm’s films have racked up the cult-movie accolades, including Best Science Fiction Feature—2007 ShockerFest International Film Festival; Best of Fest Award—Big Damn Film Festival, Kansas City; and Audience Choice Award—Big Damn Film Festival, Cincinnati and Indianapolis; and many others.

This brings us to Mihm’s latest movie marvel, Attack of the Moon Zombies, due to premiere May 25, 2011. Dr. Vincent Edwards (Mike Cook, of Terror from Beneath the Earth fame) is back, on the moon in the distant future (the 1970s), and readying himself for a peaceful retirement. That is until a mysterious space plant is discovered in a moon cave by his young replacement and seeks to replicate itself by any means possible, thus threatening all the inhabitants of the Moon Base. This movie marks a subtle shift in Mihm’s storytelling style, incorporating a much larger ensemble cast with, dare I say it, character development galore. The crazy-talented Mitch Gonzales created the zombie monsters, marking an up-notch in sophistication without the sacrifice of that precious cheesiness. This is bound to be one of Mihm’s very best and is a must-see for any true B-movie aficionado. I know I wouldn’t miss it for all the world(s) in the Mihmiverse!

Become an associate producer of Mihm’s movie for a mere $50 donation and you’ll get a free ticket to the premiere, several copies of the finished DVD AND your name on the silver screen for all time. More info on this at www.sainteuphoria.com.

Sid Korpi is a Minneapolis-based writer and former film studies teacher, and in the spirit of full disclosure, she also plays Administrator Ripley in Attack of the Moon Zombies.

* I now own framed pieces of the Monster of Phantom Lake’s actual scaly hide (i.e. painted-on bits of plastic lawn and leaf bag).

**Ever generous to his fans, Mihm bestowed upon me one of the original papier maché stalagmites from the bat cave, which is proudly displayed in my basement!

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