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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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For pets euthanized at home, a ‘last dose of love’

By Bob Shaw

bshaw@pioneerpress.com Updated: 11/07/2011 12:08:35 AM CST

Sid Korpi shows off clay paw prints of her pets, two of which were euthanized at her Minneapolis home. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Undated photo of Sid Korpi’s cat Giles, who was euthanized at home by Minnesota Pets in August. (Courtesy to Pioneer Press: Sid Korpi)

Sid Korpi is glad that death makes house calls. When her cat, Giles, approached the end of his life in August, Korpi called on a unique in-home euthanasia service. Called Minnesota Pets, the St. Paul business does euthanasia—and only euthanasia. It has no clinic to treat animals, just four veterinarians who make about 20 house calls a week, each one ending an animal’s life. Customers say their pets die more peacefully at home. Korpi said that instead of dying in a clinic, her cat died in her lap, surrounded by love, peace and candlelight.

“There was no stress from cramming him into a carrier. I didn’t want to have to drive him somewhere with tears streaming down my face,” she said.

The idea for the business first dawned on Dr. Rebecca McComas four years ago, as her two beagles aged. Being a vet, she always planned to euthanize them at home. “I would never consider doing it in a clinical setting,” McComas said. “Then I started talking to other vets, and they said they wouldn’t do that in a clinic, either.” So, she asked, why would anyone? She knew that other clinics performed in-home euthanasias but wanted to have the first Minnesota business to specialize in them.

But the business does more than stick needles into dying animals. The vets are expert grief counselors. They dispose of the body afterward. And they offer mementos of the pet, such as a clay imprint of a paw. The basic visit costs $225, up to $375 for cremating the body and Advertisement returning the ashes. McComas helps customers deal with a form of grief that is misunderstood—and underestimated. When someone’s mother dies, friends and family share the grief. Everyone understands it. But when a pet dies, it’s not the same. “A lot of clients report that the loss of an animal, for people with a primary bond, is worse than that of a mother, father, sister or friend,” said Lisa Havelin, a grief support specialist with Minnesota Pets. “It’s incomparable. It’s much worse.”

That’s because pets spend an enormous amount of time with their owners. “We get used to them. They go in the car with us. We are with them all day,” said Havelin. “We do not spend that much quality time with other people.” That makes the loss of a pet hard to explain to others. “It’s disenfranchised grief,” Havelin said. But can’t a person who loses a pet just get a replacement? “For some people who do not have a connection with the animal, they can say, ‘Fine, I will replace a black lab with another black lab,’ ” Havelin said. In other cases, the animal-human bond is very strong.

“It’s just like with people. You may have a lot of people in the course of your life, but some stand out,” Havelin said. “I have had animals my whole life, but two or three of them have been especially difficult to lose.”

Sid Korpi holds a clay mold with paw prints of her 15-year-old cat Giles, who was euthanized at her home in August. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Linda and Allen Anderson of St. Louis Park realized last summer that their 19-year-old cat, Speedy, was no longer living up to his name. “He was falling down,” Linda Anderson said. The cat stopped eating and drinking, and death seemed imminent. But McComas said cats are very hardy – and can sometimes live for weeks without food. That means that an owner determined to let nature take its course will watch the cat deteriorate—painfully.

For the Andersons, euthanasia in a clinic seemed too cold, too impersonal. “Speedy hated vets,” Anderson said. McComas showed up at the house, dressed in surgical scrubs and carrying a bag with the equipment. Together, they talked about Speedy’s life. “She was very kind,” Anderson said. The experience was perfect, she said. “To be able to do that, with him on my lap and my husband there, to give him that last dose of love—it was a remarkable experience.”

Korpi is a Minneapolis author of the book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” and an expert on grieving over lost pets. So when her own cat, Giles, was near death in August, she liked the idea of a peaceful death at home. When the vet arrived, Korpi lit a candle and dimmed the lights in the room. “Giles came right up to her. He knew what was happening—and he was grateful,” Korpi said.

She has been through euthanasias of 16 of her other pets. “Every single time,” she said, “I say that when I go, I want to go like that.”

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

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