Terror from Beneath the Earth (2009)
By Duane L. Martin
I don't usually do this, but since the director, Christopher R. Mihm wrote the synopsis for Terror from Beneath the Earth himself, I'm just going to paste here what he has on IMDB since it's quite a good description of the film.
After years of underground atomic testing, one of the animals living within the Wisawa caves (a system that stretches from Phantom Lake to the Deadlands) has undergone a radical and unimaginably horrible transformation! While exploring the caves, Dr. Vincent Edwards and colleague Rosemary Bennett stumble across evidence in the disappearance of local children. After reporting the find to the local sheriff, Dr. Edwards and Rosemary are tapped to lead a rescue attempt. Along with the sheriff and small-town farmer Stan Johnson (the children's father), the rescue party quickly comes to the realization that if the caves don't get them, whatever unseen terror lurking in the shadows just might!
Now, a little something you should know about Christopher R. Mihm. He makes films that are made to look like those classic old black and white monster and sci-fi movies from the 50's, and he does a damn good job of it. I've liked all his movies so far, and loved a couple of them. As for this one, I'm somewhere between like and love. There are some problems with this film that kept me from going so far as loving it, but the monster...man, the monster in this one gets a whole lotta love from this reviewer, but I'll get to that in a minute. Let's get the problems with the film out of the way first and then we'll get to the good stuff.
First, I had a couple of casting issues. The sheriff in this film was played by Justen Overlander. He's actually older than he looks, but he looked too young to play the part of a sheriff who had supposedly been a sheriff as long as he had been. He also seemed to be using a deeper, more gravelly voice for some reason. I don't know if he was doing that on purpose or if that's his real voice, but something didn't seem right about it. His deputy, played by Michael G. Kaiser, was wholly unbelievable as the deputy and totally wrong for that part. He looked too young and too nerdy to be a deputy. Fortunately however, Michael also played the part of the creature (he was the guy in the costume) and seemed far more suited to that role. He didn't have much of a part in it as the deputy anyway.
My next problem was the dialogue. Christopher's films have this halting type dialogue in them that I guess is supposed to sort of spoof "read dialogue" in a way and make the movies more cheesy. I would love to see him drop this in his next film and let the actors be more natural in their line delivery. He's got all the elements there to make phenomenal period films if he would just allow the actors to deliver their lines naturally. The "read dialogue" spoofing leads to the dialogue being delivered in a slow, plodding manner and it really throws off the pacing of the film, makes it occasionally difficult to focus on what they're saying and detracts somewhat from how great the other elements of the film really are.
My last problem with the film has to do with the confrontation with the creature at the end. I would have liked to have seen more of a fight. The way it was done was very anti-climactic and sort of leaves you scratching your head and thinking, "Is that it?". It would have worked better if there had been a cool fight or some sort of a difficulty in stopping the creature in order to build up tension before they finally did stop it.
Now, onto the good stuff...
First and foremost, I gotta say that I absolutely LOVED the creature in this film. It was a big, mutant, humanoid sized bat with bog eyes that were very reminiscent of the eyes the turd monster had in Creature From the Haunted Sea. The bat creature would paralyze its victims and drag them deep into the cave where it would devour them once it got hungry. Very cool stuff and the creature looked amazing.
I gotta mention Daniel Sjerven here as well. He played Stan Johnson, the father of the kids the bat creature captured at the beginning of the film. I first saw Dan in Christopher's previous film, Cave Women on Mars, and he really impressed me with how likable he was and how his performance really stood out. Since then, I've always felt like he could be the next Bruce Campbell if he took on that sort of an attitude and swagger and was given the right material. Anyway, I didn't actually know he was in this film when it was first sent to me, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him back again. He was more natural in his line delivery than everyone else in the film, though it wasn't entirely natural due to the nature of the dialogue and how it was being done. Still, it was like a teaser of how good it actually could be if all the actors gave natural deliveries. I know Christopher is working on another film now, or is going to be, and just from the title it sounds like it's going to be awesome. I don't know if Daniel's going to be in that one as well, but I hope so. Of all the people Christopher re-uses in his films, Daniel has quickly become my favorite.
Another great thing about these films is the music Christopher uses. The music is literally old music that was used back in the day, so it's very authentic and always fits into his films beautifully. This film was no exception, and his musical selections were impeccable.
Lastly, I have to mention one of the best things about Christopher's films, and the one biggest thing that makes them so special, and that's the way they look. They're black and white, the props and vehicles are authentic items from back in the day, the costuming always suits the period, and he makes really believable looking films. I think the only set I found lacking in this one was the sheriff's office, but the cave where the bat creature was living looked really great! It had a flat floor and you could tell the set wasn't a real cave, but for some reason, when you're watching the action in there, you'll find yourself suspending reality for a while and the whole thing actually does end up feeling like it's in a cave, even though you know it's just a set. It's kind of hard to explain, but still very cool nonetheless.
Christopher R. Mihm is keeping alive a style of film that shouldn't be lost. Those old black and white b-movies were some of the coolest, most innocent and most fun films ever made, and by making the types of films that he does, he's keeping their spirit alive. It's something we need in our modern world of slick CGI monsters. We need so see the googly eyed mutant bat or the lake monster that rises from the depths to claim its next victim. There's a specialness to monsters like those that all the money and CGI in the world can never touch, and I really hope that Christopher continues to bring us his special style of films for a long time to come.
If you'd like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film's website at http://www.sainteuphoria.com/tfbe.html.