Info 101: at the movies 73: Terror From Beneath the Earth; Christopher R. Mihm
By Darrell Moen, Minneapolis Movies Examiner
"Terror" is a locally-filmed recalling (tribute) to the low-budget horror films of the '50s. Back then, sets and creatures were improvised products of individual creativity and the imaginations of the director and writer. Christopher R. Mihm replicated that technique with amazing accuracy as both writer and director in addition to editing. This is not about CGI of high-priced special effects and costuming. It's about that creativity plus lighting and sound to an extent. The point is to take the viewer back in time when filmmakers were taking those baby steps toward what we see onscreen these days.
Filmed in black and white, "Terror" recalls those early days when that's all they had. Small film companies had no budgets for extravagant costumes and special effects. The lighting crew and set designers were forced to provide the atmosphere in such a way that the shadows could be used to hide the 'man in a costume' effect. It was not limited to beginners with little money. Even the makers of "Godzilla", "Frankenstein", "The Mummy" and "The Wolf Man" were limited by budgetary constraints, directed by people who learned very quickly the importance of using light and shadow creatively. It was especially important in the filming of "Godzilla" because there were so many close-ups of the feet and face during the creature's rampages.
The reason for those constraints is simple. Every director hopes every film he (she) makes will become a major hit but there are no guarantees-ever. While "Godzilla" ended up doing very well in Japan, it was altered for US release by editing in scenes featuring Raymond Burr (which, in retrospect, did nothing to improve the original Japanese version). The point is that no matter how grandiose the creature, it is the technique of the director and his lighting and camera crews that makes or breaks a production.
Like many '50's creature features, "Terror" relies on man-made devices as the cause of the transmutation. In this case, it is underground testing of atomic bombs which left behind radioactive debris and cause a bat to grow to human size with a taste for human flesh. When two young children venture into the cave, the creature captures, paralyzes and stores them for future entrees. Meanwhile, their father discovers their absence and goes to the police. He is there when a professor and his assistant show up to report their suspicions regarding the children's fate-not yet fully aware of how dire the peril.
From there, it becomes a character study as the principles interact during the search. The tension and confusion dictate the storyline until the reveal of the creature and its insidious intent. Again, as in all preview/reviews on this page, no spoilers will be published. As it is a local production, this will be easier to obtain from the website (www.sainteuphoria.com). Check out www.TerrorfromBeneath.com.
Films such as this are exempt from value judgements. Good-Great-Bad-Cheesy-(insert descriptive term here). It doesn't matter. What matters is how well each viewer thinks the film succeeded at bridging the gap between the '50's and the current time-frame. As one who saw many of those films as first-runs, this is a step into one's own past that bridged that gap very well. Much younger viewers may not get that without research but it's interesting enough to pique curiousity. The acting, lighting, staging, set designs and creature make-up are authentic reproductions of those baby steps taken back then. It's very cool to see that a younger (and local) filmmaker has that same sense of risk-taking adventurousness as his predecessors. That's what makes movies so much fun.
As always, seeya at the movies...