The Films of Christopher R Mihm

No One Is Safe From This Bloodthirsty Monster - Christopher R Mihm

The greatest joy of being a psychotronic fan is finding a new film that blows you away. But disappointment can also result. For example, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a masterpiece and I was giddy when I first discovered it. But I was keenly disappointed that the man behind this idiosyncratic gem, George Barry, had never made another film. This is more common than you might think.

But the opposite happens too. Several months ago, I happened upon a film on Amazon Prime, House of Ghosts. It was made by a guy named Christopher R Mihm and a somewhat stable group of actors. (In addition to writing and direction, he generally shoots and edits as well.) And from his first film in 2006, he’s made 14 features — one each year — like clockwork. (His newest film seems to have been delayed — I assume because of the pandemic.)

My first impression of House of Ghosts was that it was well-made. But otherwise, I didn’t think much more about it. I’m a big William Castle fan and I appreciated this parody. But mostly, it seemed like something that Larry Blamire might have made.

It was only after I watched it a second time that I noticed its brilliance. I love Blamire’s work — strangely, I have a special fondness for his “dark house” parody A Dark and Stormy Night. But above all, Blamire’s films are comedies that use specific genres as a foundation.

Mihm reminds me of a cinematic Elmyr de Hory: he creates films “in the style of” (for example) William Castle. And as a result, they are usually not at their best on first viewing. In order to stay true to his homages, he will often edit far less crisply than he is clearly capable of. These are the kinds of touches that reward repeated views.

Mihm Films

Thankfully, almost all of Mihm’s films are available on Amazon Prime. So after seeing House of Ghosts, which was his seventh film, I started at the beginning and watched them all. Below is a list of all of them with my thoughts.

The Monster of Phantom Lake (2006)

Although this film is a general parody of 1950s teen horror films, it shares a great deal with The Horror of Party Beach. Almost all of the humor comes from our shared understanding (and hopefully love) of the foibles of the genre.

There are, however, explicit jokes. In fact, I think there’s even a George W Bush joke when George (Brad Tracy) talks about his upcoming move to Texas, “It’s the land of opportunity! I plan to find my fortune down there. And someday, when I’ve made a million dollars, I’m gonna buy myself a baseball team!”

Especially for a first film, The Monster of Phantom Lake is really well made. Despite the actors doing their best impressions of two-take B-film acting, their talent shines through — especially with all the female actors. Deanne McDonald as the fearful Elizabeth was especially funny and I half-wished that the film had broken form by having the other women give her a make-over with the pay-off, “Why Ms Weir, you’re beautiful!”

If you took all the jokes and references out, you’d still have an effective little film. This is something that’s generally true of Mihm’s films.

The Musical!

There is a filmed version of the stage musical of the film, The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical! It’s surprisingly good. It captures the essence of the film and is probably funnier. But I may just think that because people breaking out into song is funny. Mihm wrote the book with songs by Adam Boll.

It Came From Another World! (2007)

This film follows up with Professor Jackson who is with yet another grad-student girlfriend (the first one died). He must go to the forest to find a lost scientist who discovered a special “meteor.”

It has elements of It Came From Outer Space as well as Invaders From Mars. But it strays pretty far from that even while always staying well within the genre.

It pushes much of the humor in the previous film — but a lot harder. For example, the silly, obviously lip-synced song, is here fully-produced with distinctly misplaced split screens. There are also more explicit jokes including a nice Wrath of Khan reference and a pretty racy sexual joke.

The performances are quite good in this film. Mike Mason especially stands out. His only other credit is as the murderer in Phantom Lake. I’d like to see more of him. Shannon McDonough is also quite good but she doesn’t get to do a lot other than dress in some of the most awful dresses ever.

Josh Craig and M Scott Taulman would make a good pair for a road picture. But Taulman and Michael Cook beat all as the Canoe Cops. They would make the basis for a great TV show about two bumbling forest rangers who nonetheless manage to save the world week after week.

Cave Women on Mars (2008)

Mihm’s next opus is a parody of a different kind of science fiction film — the kind that plays with gender roles like in Queen of Outer Space. As such, I was expecting to cringe my way through it. Happily, Mihm did not go in this direction and the sexual awakening of the Martian woman is more earnest and respectful than what we got in these kinds of films.

Cave Women on Mars is also short — just 73 minutes. This is good for a few reasons. These films weren’t usually long. But more important: there isn’t a lot of plot here. It’s mostly just a lot of stalling to give the man and women time to credibly fall in love.

Mihm goes for more straight comedy here than he had before. Much of the script is funny in its own right outside the context of the parodied material.

There is one sequence that stands out in the film. The main Earth man goes to see the High Priestess. Even though it is funny, the blank eyes of the two actors and distorted visual were really effective. They would have worked well in a horror film.

Terror From Beneath the Earth (2009)

For this film, Mihm goes underground. It’s kind of like The Mole People (1956) but with far more limited sets. The film is mostly a series of dialog scenes either in the Sheriff’s office or somewhere in the cave — which is to say, the same place in the cave.

To this, he adds an intense dose of 1950s’ era earnestness with a father who is very concerned about his missing children. It also has plenty of other tropes of the genre like unemotional and obtuse scientists.

Finally, the bat-human monster is simply irresistible. Mihm always features well-designed creatures, but this one ought to be released as a stuffed animal. It features teeth like those of the fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror — but without a hint of danger.

I see the humor in this film but I didn’t laugh much. I have a feeling that if watched in a group, Terror From Beneath the Earth would get laughter throughout.

Destination: Outer Space (2010)

Despite the title, this film doesn’t have much in common with Destination Space. After the events in Cave Women on Mars, Captain Jackson is disowned by his father. After his mother dies, he becomes a drunk. At the start of the film, Captain Jackson gets a second chance to test his father’s new rocket.

The plot gets a bit sidetracked when Jackson gets kidnapped by slave traders but he soon escapes and we get on to the main plot involving his work with a robot who wants to stop the destruction of the galaxy by a bunch of religious fundamentalists.

Destination: Outer Space features very primitive special effects to provide the look of a serial. But there are many delightful touches that elevate them, like a skeleton animation. There are also loads of great costumes, including the monster from the first film.

Of all Mihm’s films, this one has the most straight comedy. Of course, they are of the usual silly variety like when Yureena Null says that her ship is one of only two that have made the “Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” There is a similarly outrageous allusion to Star Trek.

The film also features a ton of physical comedy, including an opening sequence with Captain Jackson where he seems to be right on the edge of falling down drunk.

Attack of the Moon Zombies (2011)

Christopher Mihm next film takes place at a Moon base filled with scientists. I can’t think of a specific film that it parodies, but it does have aspects of The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

A new member of the crew finds a plant, probably dead for millions of years. But it comes back to life and spews spores killing him. But soon, he is brought back to life as a kind of plant zombie. Then he spews spores at another crew-member who becomes a plant zombie. And soon the remaining crew must figure out how to save themselves.

The whole thing has a distinctly Land of the Lost feel to it with the plant zombies moving very slowly due to the tiny sets. Yet it’s somehow really effective because it isn’t like the humans have any place to run to.

Attack of the Moon Zombies also has a ton of bizarre bits found in these kinds of films. The most notable is the set of huge switches to turn off the cosmic ray deflector. Because of course, you’d have a whole room just for that — at least in a low-budget 1950s horror film!

House of Ghosts (2012)

In House of Ghosts, Mihm goes full William Castle. But he doesn’t do any particular film. It does bring a bunch of people together as in House on Haunted Hill. But I didn’t notice any real references to it. It has a very different feel than 13 Ghosts. But there’s a bit of that Cold War feel as in 13 Frightened Girls.

The Castle tone is set at the start when Mihm walks on screen and talks directly to the audience, even offering the most amusingly lame gimmick of all time: The Fear Shield. You see, the film is so terrifying that you might not be able to look away. So the shield (which can be a box of candy) can be put in front of your eyes to break the spell. Wonderful stuff!

The story is about a dinner party where the hosts bring in a medium to run a seance. Nothing happens but after the medium leaves, the guests see ghosts and eventually zombies.

This is all done very well and I especially liked the zombies who moved rather like Caitlin Delaney in My Dead Girlfriend. And there is one scene where the husband (Mark Scanlan) is sitting on his bed lost in thought that works really well — parody or not.

The Giant Spider (2013)

It’s that damned cave again! You would think the government would clean out the nuclear waste, but no. Last time, it was a giant bat. This time, it’s a giant tarantula. And it’s way bigger than the bat in Terror From Beneath the Earth.

This is Mihm’s take on the giant monster film. It’s closest to Bert I Gordon’s Earth vs the Spider. But the ending is more in line with the ending of Tarantula! Mihm has the distinct advantage of superior technology, so even with this micro-budget film, the spider looks great — including shots with material in front of and behind the spider.

The military is in town to destroy the spider but the scientists don’t think it’s going to work. They have an idea for how to kill it. If only there were a newspaper reporter who could implement their plan! (They suffer from being old and pudgy. Or female.)

There’s more social satire in this film than there were in the previous films. Mihm has always highlighted the way women were treated in these kinds of films but takes it to a whole new level here.

The Late Night Double Feature (2014)

As the title implies, this is a “double feature” with two films: The Fiend From Beyond Space and The Wall People. It also includes some other silly things like intermission ads.

The first film is about 35 minutes long and takes place aboard an interstellar spaceship. The crew is awakened to find that they have accidentally been pulled into orbit around a rouge planet. Some of the crew woke up early, found an alien corpse on the planet, and brought it onto the ship. And wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t really dead.

The second film runs about 45 minutes and tells the story of a man whose son disappeared 8 years earlier. He has determined that his son was taken to Pluto. With the help of some friends, he transports to Pluto to find his son.

These films look like low-budget science fiction films. For example, the walls in Fiend are covered in pegboard. But they feel more like 1960s television. Fiend could easily have been an episode of Star Trek. And Wall seems very much like The Twilight Zone with the different levels of reality.

There’s also more explicit comedy here and the transportation device in Wall really has to be seen. It’s a thing of beauty.

Danny Johnson Saves the World (2015)

Next up, Mihm tries his hand at a kid’s movie. Most of the actors are children, puppets, or James Norgard.

It’s rendered as a story being told by a grandfather — rather like The Princess Bride. This provides some opportunities for him to get confused and throw in random scenes with dinosaurs and giant spiders.

The main story is about some space aliens who are kidnapping children in their effort to take over the world. But it turns out that it’s really just the queen who wants to do this. She’s using technology to brainwash all her people.

So Danny and rogue space alien Steve work together to reprogram the computer and release the children and the minds of the space aliens.

Danny Johnson Saves the World starts with a simple, but effective, animated short based on The Monster of Phantom Lake. There’s also some excellent stop-motion animation. As for the puppetry, well, that’s my thing and the stuff here is of the “we didn’t really try” variety. But I will admit that Stephanie Mihm as the queen shows some promise while Christopher Mihm… he’s clearly very good at writing, directing, and editing.

This is an extremely charming film. Much of it is very funny. And Steve is perhaps the best-developed character in the Mihmiverse.

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter (2016)

Next up, Mihm takes on the revenge film with a little of The Wasp Woman thrown in. It tells the story of John Baker (Douglas Sidney) who is searching for a mysterious German man in a small American town.

We learn through flashbacks that Baker was captured by the Nazis during World War II. He was experimented on and now, whenever he sees blood, he turns into a giant mosquito. He hooks up with Leisl (Rachel Grubb) who has her own secrets.

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter is less funny than many of Mihm’s films. But it is also one of his most entertaining. It may be a parody but you really care about the two principals and you really want to see the evil Nazi doctor (James Norgard) get his due.

Demon With the Atomic Brain (2017)

This one goes back to the classic 1950s science fiction where everything is over-explained and yet makes no sense. A computer system has been developed to allow people to move instantly from one place to another. The US military now has it so the world can be at peace — on the terms of the US, of course!

But somehow, Pluto is out of range and the system is creating a bubble and the whole universe will be destroyed in 72 hours. Prim and proper female scientist Dr Adams (Amanda R Tietz) must lead a team hopping from reality to reality so they can shut down the system before it explodes.

Along the way, Adams turns into quite the Ellen Ripley. But before that, she is repeatedly minimized and ignored because of her gender. This is another strong example of Mihm critiquing gender politics.

Demon With the Atomic Brain is also part of a trend away from any explicit comedy. There are allusions that are humorous but mostly, this is a straight film made in the style of a low-budget 1950s science fiction film.

Guns of the Apocalypse (2018)

I never would have expected Mihm to take on the spaghetti western, but that’s why he makes the films and I just write about them. Of course, it isn’t that much of a spaghetti western. It’s really much more like Five than it is Django.

Guns of the Apocalypse continues the trend of Demon With the Atomic Brain in keeping away from explicit comedy. Unlike the usual ending twists, this one ends poignantly. I actually cried. And while I’ll admit to being an easy mark, I think this says a lot about the story and character construction that I cared enough to be emotionally involved.

This is probably my favorite of Mihm’s films.

Queen of Snakes (2019)

In Queen of Snakes, any notion of the film being a parody is gone. Christopher Mihm simply makes films in the style of 1950s horror and science fiction. Of course, they’ve been upgraded. In particular, the camera work is much more interesting than anything we saw in those old low-budget films.

This film features quite a difficult relationship. A woman (Rachel Grubb) cares for her mother (Stephanie Mihm) who was crippled due to the daughter’s drunk-driving accident. And the mother will not let her forget it.

One day, a package arrives for the former tenant who was an archaeologist who studied the Norse. In the package is a necklace that summons the power of the Queen of Snakes. At first, the mother only uses it to interfere with her daughter’s life. But soon, she is killing people and manipulating the police.

It’s an interesting film with strong performances by the two leads. But there are a couple of things I don’t understand about the ending. It feels as though there will be a sequel.

Notable Actors

One thing that is worth note is that the acting in these films is generally pretty good. Admittedly, none of the parts require great emotional depth, but that kind of thing tends to be overstated in films anyway.

Like most filmmakers who work the micro-budget trenches, Mihm features a lot of the same actors in his various films. Here is a list of some of the notables.

Mike Cook

Mike (“Michael” according to IMDb) Cook has been in most of Mihm’s films. But he is best-known as Dr Vincent Edwards, the scientist who, at least in some movies, doesn’t think that human-killing monsters should be killed when they are just doing their own things.

Cook has worked more widely than other members of the Mihm crowd. He also directed the play The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical!

Josh Craig

Josh Craig has only played Professor Jackson and his son Captain Jackson. He’s quite good but I’d really like to see him in something else. But we haven’t seen anything from him for the last decade.

Rachel Grubb

I think Rachel Grubb is by far the best actor in the Mihm universe. She has a naturalness on the screen that is the essence of great film acting. (Don’t believe what people say about The Method and all that jazz.) She has a particularly difficult task in Queen of Snakes, which she manages with great success.

She’s worked widely outside of the Mihm films. She also wrote and directed a film called Why Am I in a Box? — one of these annoying films that get made but that somehow are not available anywhere. I’ll definitely be looking for her in the future.

Michael G Kaiser

It’s easy to forget the guy in the suit. Michael G Kaiser is the only actor who has been in every one of Mihm’s films. And if there is a monster costume, he will be in it.

When he isn’t playing a monster, Kaiser is most often Deputy Hayes, a small town cop who will do what needs to be done but generally seems distracted and exhausted. But if you need someone to explain why everyone will need to spend the night in this house, Deputy Hayes is your man!

Stephanie Mihm

I assume that Stephanie Mihm is related to Christopher. She has appeared in all his films other than the first. And she worked on that film as casting director. She has also produced (along with Christopher) the last ten films.

She usually plays low-key characters in an understated way. I tend to think she is under-used. Her performance as the high priestess in Cave Women on Mars shows that she can go broad to great effect.

James Norgard

What Mike Cook was to Mihm’s early films, James Norgard is to his later films. But they are quite different. And Norgard is much more likely to be used comedically. I really like him — even when he’s playing evil Nazi scientists who turn their daughters into insects.

Douglas Sidney

Douglas Sidney is one of Mihm’s leading men — the traditional one. He has a kind of Rocky Jones American gee-whiz can-do attitude even when he’s playing more serious roles.

Daniel Sjerven

Mihm has his very own Bruce Campbell in Daniel Sjerven. He’s quite a compelling leading man — and a good actor too. Mihm likes marrying him off at the end of his pictures.

Other Aspects of Mihm Films

One of the best things about all of Mihm’s films is his pitch-perfect use of music. Only the first two films feature a music credit and the name, Echo Driver, sounds like a pseudonym. Regardless of where the music comes from, it is edited without fault.

The monster costumes are great in all the films. They are very creative and (Sorry!) cute. You can even buy puppets at their site.

Politics

One thing that I think is worth stressing is that Mihm and company seem to be on the political left. I mention it only because I’ve gotten very used to exploitation filmmakers tending to be on the right. They are, after all, small business people who (even though I think they are wrong) see their interests best served by parties on the right.

Mihm has a focus (although it isn’t like some who beat you over the head with it) on feminism. But he also seems to be skeptical about religion — at least the kind that was so often on display in 1950s science fiction films.

Film Length

If there is one criticism that I have of Christopher R Mihm it is that his films are too long. I believe that 70 minutes is the perfect length for a film. There are obviously exceptions, but most films that are longer just put off their conclusions.

An example of this with Mihm is in Destination: Outer Space. Roughly 19 minutes is used on the slave trader plot. Without it, the film would come in at roughly 75 minutes and I think it would be crisp.

This is not a major complaint, however. And I certainly don’t mean to second-guess Mihm. But this is a general problem with modern film making that I think has more to do with distribution than creation.

Buying Mihmiverse Films

Most of the films and lots of other assorted merchandise can be bought directly from the filmmakers at Saint Euphoria. I encourage everyone to buy directly from them. For one thing, I’ve come to see Amazon as doing little but siphoning off profits from hard-working filmmakers. But also: the films are often much cheaper. (Note: I have no relationship with the filmmakers and don’t get a dime if you buy from them.)

In some cases, it’s cheaper to buy from Amazon. And as I noted previously, all but two of the films are available free if you have Amazon Prime. You can stream the others via Vimeo for just $1.99 each. You can find them via Saint Euphoria.

Summary

I’ll admit to being slightly frustrated with Christopher R Mihm. He’s done a lot of outstanding work. But I would really like to see him release himself from the bounds of these old films and do some completely original work — particularly in horror.

But as it is, he’s made a lot of fine films in a short period. And I look forward to whatever he does in the future.


Image taken from Saint Euphoria under Fair Use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *