"The Monster of Phantom Lake"
Originally posted at http://www.jonja.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=13303
So you all know I like a good bad movie. I grew up watching some of the "classics" thanks to my local UHF station and their need to fill the hours of television between the morning news and the prime time shows. Saturday and Sunday afternoons were filled with Godzilla and other giant monstrosities terrorizing either small rural towns or major cities. Movies that are hard to find these days unless you have a large collection of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" DVDs or if you are like me and pick up the giant "100 greatest sci-fi films" box sets.
I'm always happy when I find someone with the same problem er, I mean interest, as I have. A love for the atomic filled waste land of 50's B-movies. So imagine my excitement when I not only found another fan of the films, but discovered him to be a film maker that MAKES these films, TODAY!
Christopher Mihm is this man. I met him at the Denver Starfest. He was there to screen one of his newest films "Attack of the Moon Zombies." (I'm pretty sure I saw one of them walking around the convention, too.) I spoke to him briefly and he convinced me that what he was doing was a great idea! So being the kind of guy that finds it hard to say "no" to someone selling movies for only $10 at a convention, I bought a couple. The aforementioned "Attack of the Moon Zombies" and the one that I will now actually go into in this post, "The Monster of Phantom Lake." Turn down the lights, (where applicable) and let's begin...
I understand the desire to make a film in the styling of a 50's B-movie. I at least recognize that there is a desire to do so as there have been several film makers big and small that have tried. Things can go horribly wrong when making a film like this today. There needs to be a balance between the camp and serious. Your actors for one can not always wink into the camera as to say "Hey! Where making a bad movie! Isn't it fun?" Because, no. No, it isn't fun. It's stupid.
Happy to say, Mr. Mihm has found that balance. When I spoke to him he admitted that he had no idea how to make a movie when he set off on filming this one. Maybe that benefited him somehow. Rather than worrying about test audiences and marketing he simply wrote what he thought was fun, clever and interesting to him. Maybe it is the Minnesota water or something. The MST guys got it, Mihm gets it. Whatever "it" is.
Anyway... A shell-shocked veteran falls into the obligatorily atomic waste poisoned Phantom Lake and becomes a monster (as one does in these films).
Meanwhile, a professor and his lovely (and a bit smitten) assistant are studying the amphibious life of the lake. ALSO, a group of teenagers are celebrating their recent graduation by camping out in the woods.
Luckily, depending on your point of view, these three groups cross paths in all the ways you expect them to. Rule #1, don't run off to make-out in the woods in a place called Phantom Lake and #2, don't go off looking for anyone who doesn't follow rule #1!
There is plenty of tongue-in-cheek throughout the film, (No, not the teens in the woods! Get your mind out of the gutter!) and even some nods to some other cinematic gems. (Yes, Mr. Mihm. I DID catch the "Ghostbusters" reference.) The actors do not play anything over the top and let the script do that for them. Maybe that is the balance that so few seem to find. Let the fun come from script and the situations. Don't try convince us that its funny.
I've used this quote many times in conversation and probably in posts so forgive me for bringing it out again, but in a 1991 Comedy Central commentary MST3k creator Joel Hodgson said "When we write a joke, we never ask, 'Who's gonna get this?' We always say, 'The right people will get this'."
I think that maybe that is the key to anything along the lines of parodies or homages and I think that is what Christopher Mihm and his cast and crew have done here.