Christopher Mihm is a Minnesota-based producer and director of radically inexpensive, independently financed entertainment films whose maneuver is that they disguise the impoverishment of their production values by mimicking the low-budget, black-and-white B-grade science-fiction films of the 1950s. They do so with consistent comedic brilliance. Mihm came on the scene in 2006 with his Monster from Phantom Lake, filmed for around ten thousand dollars, according to his website. The Monster makes allusions to a number of vintage man-in-a-suit shock-and-horror movies, such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959), except that Mihm plays his story as a farce rather than as a straightforward fright-drama. In its farcicality, The Monster also recalls films of more recent vintage, such as The Toxic Avenger (1984), from Troma Studios, and its several sequels. The Troma films, however, were always crass and garish: That was their idiom. Mihm’s approach to farce, as well as to pastiche, is civilized rather than vulgar, and even at times rather gentle. Mihm clearly loves the films that he spoofs, and as he has found his feet in his self-defining genre a humane interest in his characters has increasingly informed his work. Mihm followed The Monster with It Came from another World (2007) and Cave Women on Mars (2008). The former riffs on the alien-possession motif of Invaders from Mars (1953) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The latter, Cave Women, stands out as Mihm’s best film thus far even though since 2008 he has completed at least seven others: Destination: Outer Space! (2010); Attack of the Moon Zombies (2011); House of Ghosts (2012); Terror from Beneath the Earth (2012); Giant Spider (2013); X: The Fiend from Beyond Space (2014); People in the Wall (2014); and Danny Johnson Saves the World (2015).
These later films have their merits although the growing number of them means that their quality will be uneven and that the filmmaker will have begun to repeat himself. None of these later efforts quite succeeds in surpassing Cave Women in its achievement. Destination, for example, which tries to supply a sequel to Cave Women, runs fifteen minutes too long and never directly picks up the story of its alleged prequel. What a pity! It would be interesting to know what might have happened in an actual follow-up. Cave Women, on the other hand, enlarges what might be called the meaning-capacity of its narrow conceptual niche, the contemporary low-budget retro-pastiche with science-fiction attributes, as played for laughs. Mihm’s planetary romance – casting its net of allusions both widely and deeply – suggests that, in this rare case, a deliberately cheap production, made to be risible for its apparent incompetency, might become the inadvertent carrier, so to speak, of a culturally serious insight. The network of allusions contributes abundantly and essentially to the film’s self-transcendence, but other factors play a role.