Unbridled terror, unquenchable romance, unbelievable science and the unstoppable power of rock ‘n’ roll are all promised in a locally filmed movie that will be shown in Woodbury on June 17.
“The Monster of Phantom Lake,” produced by Josh Craig of Woodbury and Christopher R. Mihm of Arden Hills, is intended to be an entertaining tribute to the science fiction horror “B-movies” of the 1950s.
The movie, filmed in black and white, contains situational humor that is meant to be cheesy and era specific said Mihm, who also wrote, directed, edited and played a small role in the prodiction.
The movie is set in Mukwonago, Wis., an actual small town that borders the real Phantom Lake.
Much of the movie was filmed in Woodbury with Carver Lake standing in for Phantom Lake. The site was chosen because of convenience, with Craig, the star of the film, living in Woodbury. Scenes from the movie were also filmed in Mahtomedi, Newport and Arden Hills.
“Minnesota is one of the greatest places to film, but everyone thinks of filming up north,” Mihm said. “Nobody thinks of filming in the suburbs.”
The menace of the film is a war veteran who, while living in the woods convinced that the Germans are still after him, falls into a lake contaminated by atomic waste and mutates into a monster that is part human, part algae. The monster then terrorizes a group of teenage campers, a professor and his love-interest graduate student.
The movie captures the spirit of the 1950s, which Mihm said was “a fascinating era, full of optimism but with this shadow of fear.”
“People believed they were on the brink of the some great scientific discovery that would make life this utopia where family values would rule, but there was also this great paranoia of the unknown, with fear of atomic bombs and the Red Scare,” Craig said.
To get the audience thinking about the atmosphere of the 1950s, appropriate news reels from the time, with clips about Sputnik and the atomic bomb, are shown before the film.
The main character, Professor Jackson, portrays an “all-knowing” scientist of the 1950s.
“He is a ‘wise’ scientist who knows pretty much nothing, he touts himself as an avid outdoorsman but wears nice khakis, a dress shirt and loafers, and he brings his guitar along everywhere in case the need for campfire songs arises, which it does,” Craig said of Professor Jackson, the character he portrays. “He has many layers. I’m not sure what those layers are, but he has them.”
Mihm said he wrote the Professor Jackson character specifically for Craig, trying to play to his strengths as an actor. Craig recieved a degree in acting from Coe College in Iowa, but performed in his last play in September 2001. He said getting married and having step-children to take care of took time away from his acting career, and he now works for the Hartford, an insurance company.
Mihm, a computer programmer, said his only prior experience with film was doing technical work on public access television in the late 1990s.
“Most people don’t start making movies by doing a feature length film,” Mihm said. “But I decided I was going to go all out on this one.”
Mihm said that the style of movie made for a good learning experience.
“Since it’s a B-movie, some flaws are expected,” he said. “But the flaws just add to the charm. I think it’s perfect.”
Mihm said his father exposed him to the B-movies of the 1950s.
“He used to go see these movies all the time when he was a kid,” Mihm said. “He would sneak out of the house to go to the theater, and then would get in trouble because he would have nightmares.”
Mihm said he never understood why his father liked these types of movies so much until after his father passed away in 2000 at the age of 51 from stomach cancer.
“I went back and watched the movie ‘Them!’ and realized these movies were great and very nostalgic,” Mihm said.
Mihm pitched the idea of making the movie to Craig, a friend since high school, in early 2005.
“Every year for the 16 years that we’ve known each other, we would come up with 10 or 12 movie plots, but we never followed through with any of them,”Craig said. “So when Chris first pitched the idea of this movie to me, I thought, ‘oh yea, that’s great,’ and then figured the idea would go away soon.”
Instead, Mihm sent Craig the first 10 pages of the script a few days later.
Another motivating factor for the movie was Mihm’s 14-year-old step-daughter Liz Kaiser, who was diagnosed with bone cancer in November, 2004.
“It really motivated me because I realized that if a smart, athletic, in-shape 14-year-old could get a potentially fatal disease, then it could happen to me, too,” Mihm said.
“So we decided to stop talking about making a movie and just do it,” Craig said.
The movie also gave the family something else to do besides fret about Liz’s condition, Mihm said. Liz’s older brother Michael played the monster in the film, and Liz helped with the costumes when she was home from chemo treatments.
The movie was filmed in July and August 2005, mostly on the weekends, and was completed in September, 2005, on a budget of about $1,500. To keep costs low, the monster costume was constructed of materials purchased at a dollar store such as garbage bags, styrofoam and a mop bucket for the head.
“The costume cost about $33,” Mihm said. “The most expensive pieces were the kitchen strainers I bought for the eyes. They probably cost about $6.”
The movie had its world premier on May 17, 2006, and has been shown at festivals and screenings in Michigan, Oregon and Florida.
Although the movie is goofy, Mihm said it has gotten a good reaction.
“I think that is because it’s not the typical Hollywood fare and it’s not the typical artsy independent film,” Craig said. “It’s meant to be entertaining, and it’s a wholesome, family film.”
Craig and Mihm are currently working on a follow-up called “It Came from Another World,” featuring Professor Jackson and other returning characters, along with a few new ones. Auditions will be held on July 5 and 6 at the Woodbury library.
The filmmakers are also holding the Twin Cities Underground Film Festival over Labor Day weekend. The festival will feature films whose main purpose, like “The Monster of Phantom Lake,” is entertainment.
“The Monster of Phantom Lake” will be played at the Woodbury 10 Theatre on Saturday, June 17 at 11 a.m.
For more information about “The Monster of Phantom Lake,” a link to audition information for “It Came From Another World,” and a link to the Twin Cities Underground Film Festival go to www.monsterofphantomlake.com.