INTERVIEW: 1950's Horror Film Superstar, Christopher Mihm

If you've not seen the incredible works of Christopher R. Mihm, you must! With titles like "Cave Woman on Mars," "Attack of the Moon Zombies," and his newest release, "House of Ghosts?" If you have any love for films of yesteryear, Christopher Mihm is the man to follow. I took a moment to interview this Minnesota independent film maker because what he does is incredible, and I can't wait to see more.

Clutch: Give me a brief history of your experiences/ involvement in filmmaking.

Mihm: My filmmaking career officially began in 2006 with the release of my first retro-styled film, "The Monster of Phantom Lake." Made on a nearly non-existent budget, the film went on to garner much critical acclaim, appear in many film festivals, win multiple awards, and, to this day, continues to screen across the world.

Since "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I have released one new as-authentic-as-possible 1950s-style feature a year, many of which have received numerous accolades, nominations, and awards. My sixth film, "Attack of the Moon Zombies," raked in the most "2011 Dead Letter Awards" at mailorderzombie.com and was nominated for a prestigious "Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award," the second Mihmiverse film to receive such a nomination after 2009's "Terror from Beneath the Earth."

My films were recently featured in the June 2011 issue of SCI-FI Magazine and in a recent front page article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I was also the recipient of the first-ever "Roger & Julie Corman Intrepid Filmmaker" award at the 37th annual ValleyCON in Fargo, ND and won the "Best Director" award from mailorderzombie.com.

Since the beginning, I have only ever aspired to write and direct. I put myself in small "Hitchcock-style" cameos in all my films but my interest in acting pretty much stops right there!

Clutch: What/Who are your influences and why?

Mihm: I am heavily influenced by a couple of '50s directors and a pair of more modern ones. For the '50s, my favorites are Roger Corman because of his ability to CREATE so many films! He's got to be one of the most prolific filmmakers EVER.

Bert I. Gordon is my favorite director from the '50s (and '60s) because, though he wasn't always the best screenwriter, I love his approach to creating fantastic films. A lot of times he developed his films around a big idea (and I mean big—this is the guy who made a movie about giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago!) and usually just made up ways to make it reality. As a low-budget filmmaker, I can think of no better way to describe what I've been forced to do on all my films—making it up as I go along!

My two modern filmmakers are George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. "Star Wars" and many of Spielberg's films had a gigantic impact on me as a kid. Their ability to tell stories that, regardless of how unrealistic the subject matter could be, felt absolutely REAL made me want to make movies. I wanted to be able to create little mini-universes like they did!

Clutch: Why the 1950's? What draws you to that era:

Mihm: As a kid growing up, I used to watch those old B-movies with my late father. When he passed away, I revisited those old films and realized it wasn't quite the same without him—and I had so many questions I wanted to ask that I will never know the true answers to now that he was gone. So, when I decided I was FINALLY going to make my own film (something I'd been dreaming of doing for as long as I can remember), I wanted to create something that would be a tribute to him—something he would have loved when he was a kid. With that, my first movie, "The Monster of Phantom Lake" was born. After I released it, it got such positive attention I kind of felt like maybe I was on to something. I felt like this genre was something that I not only understood BUT would allow me to be able to make WHATEVER I wanted (outer space epics, monster movies, science fiction love stories, etc.) with very little money AND have the "cheapness factor" actually contribute to the overall charm and quality of the end product. Since then, I've just never wanted to do anything else!

Clutch: Tell me about your latest feature premièring May 23rd:

Mihm: "House of Ghosts" is my first supernatural horror film. Up until now, I've pretty much stuck with science fiction or horror with a sci-fi twist. For this latest one, I wanted to do something a little different while staying within my wheelhouse. As a fan of the films of the late director William Castle ("House on Haunted Hill," "The Tingler"), I thought maybe I could do a little tribute to his work.

Here's a synopsis of "House of Ghosts:"

"Rich socialites Isaac and Leigh have a tradition of throwing exclusive dinner parties that include unique (and expensive) forms of entertainment. This time, they've booked a spiritual medium who promises to 'open a portal to the great beyond' and allow the couple's equally eccentric guests to contact the 'afterworld.' But, before he begins his presentation, the occultist offers a warning: once the door has been opened, no human being can anticipate or control what might come through. Regardless, the group collectively agrees to go forward, only to find itself greatly disappointed by the results... at first. Trapped in the couple's oversized house by a massive winter storm, the partygoers begin to experience unexplainable and increasingly frightening things. As these occurrences intensify, it becomes apparent that something evil is at work. Can the group survive the night or will ignoring the medium's warning be the last thing they ever do?"

Also, William Castle is probably best known as the "guy who wired theater seats to jolt viewers" of his film "The Tingler." Part of his schtick was to include an interesting gimmick for each of his films. In honor of this, we have some interesting "shenanigans" planned for the "House of Ghosts" premiere!

Clutch: What are your favorite horror films:

Mihm: My favorite horror films are "Them!" (about giant ants!), the original "Night of the Living Dead" and the very first "Alien."

Clutch: What on set stories do you remember most:

Mihm: Oh, man, there are a lot! One I always like to tell is the "giant raccoon" story that is basically my version of a "giant fish" tale—because the raccoon gets bigger with each telling. I shot my first film, "The Monster of Phantom Lake," in a wooded area in someone's backyard in Newport, Minnesota. We were wrapping up a night's shoot at roughly 3AM. I packed the camera away and was about to break down the tripod when we heard this crazy rustling in the trees... and it was getting louder... and closer... there were about three of us left and we kind of looked at each other, confused... not quite sure what to say... suddenly, a humungous raccoon (the size of a house, no doubt) came BOLTING out of the woods and it was literally heading right toward me. The lead actress in the film saw it, yelped, and jumped behind me. Running purely on reflex and adrenaline, I grabbed the tripod like some sort of ancient weapon and readied for battle. As the creature got within about five feet of me, it seemed to realize it was outmatched, did a perfect 90-degree turn and disappeared into the woods. No one said a thing for a moment and then we all burst into laughter. At that late hour, after shooting for so long, it seemed like the FUNNIEST thing ever.

The other one happened while making "House of Ghosts." During one of the last scenes to be shot, two clocks in the house we were shooting in magically stopped at exactly 7:30PM. These clocks were in different rooms of the house and no one had been near either of them all night. We only noticed as we were packing up and realized one of them had stopped. Someone went into the other room to check the other one so they could reset the first one and at that moment realized THAT one had stopped, too! Spooky...

Clutch: Why Minnesota and not LA?

Honestly, Minnesota is my home. I grew up here and I love it. It has a robust arts community and a thriving film scene. Plus, with the types of films I make, I don't think being in L.A. is required. AND, I have no interest in "going Hollywood." I'm perfectly happy doing what I'm doing right here. It hasn't hindered me in any way so far so, why stop now? With the internet being what it is, who needs L.A.? I seem to be finding my own success without it. Also, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from "The Muppet Movie." I think in a weird way, it applies to me and what I'm doing. And obviously, in this instance, I'm Gonzo.

Gonzo: I want to go to Bombay, India and become a movie star.
Fozzie: You don't go to Bombay to become a movie star! You go where we're going: Hollywood.
Gonzo: Sure, if you want to do it the *easy* way.

Clutch: Have you aspirations to do other genres, if so what and when might you engage in those options?

Mihm: Honestly, I don't think I have many aspirations to do anything beyond what I'm doing now. Any "other genres" would have to fit into the 1950s mold. Like I said previously, doing everything from within that 1950s "playground" allows me to do A LOT of things that I wouldn't necessarily be able to do well without more money than I'll ever get my hands on! THAT BEING SAID, if I ever DID get a ridiculous amount of money, I would love to make a Braveheart-esque story about the last days of the Viking "empire." I think there's a great story or two to be told in that genre and I feel like no one has ever REALLY told a GREAT Viking epic.

Clutch: What do you have on the plate for the future of Saint Euphoria?

Mihm: After the release of "House of Ghosts," I'm going to be working on a movie about a giant spider entitled, appropriately, "The Giant Spider." Depending on how long the film is, I may be doing a second film this year that's basically a 1950s western/monster movie. Should be fun! I plan on continuing my "one film a year" for as long as I can keep up the pace!

Clutch: What is your advice for other filmmakers:

Mihm: The one advice I get a lot is this: have realistic goals and accept that "success" doesn't just mean "being discovered by Hollywood." Define your own success and don't get discouraged by failure. Learn from it instead. Allow yourself to be critical of your own work AND listen to CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Don't immediately assume that just because you made something and presumably spent a long time on it that it's the greatest thing ever made. Like I said, learn from your mistakes and build on your successes—just make sure you have the ability to accept and ADMIT that you HAVE made and will continue to make mistakes!