Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Mike Cook, Stephanie Mihm, Daniel R. Sjerven, Justen Overlander, Michael Kaiser, Elizabeth Kaizer
Written and directed by Christopher R. Mihm
I wrote the following in my 2006 review of Christopher R. Mihm’s The Monster of Phantom Lake:
“The classic and not-so-classic B-movies of the 1950’s are a bygone film genre that you either look back on with fondness or contempt. You either have a soft spot in your heart for such films, even if you often wield a degree of mockery directed at their obvious deficiencies, or it’s a genre that you look upon with scorn and think ‘good riddance.’ If you fall into that latter category, then I’d advise you to stop reading now because the film being reviewed is all about that soft spot.
Writer-director-producer Christopher R. Mihm has crafted this Fifties monster movie homage to capture the look and feel of those films with tremendous affection. Shot in glorious black & white, The Monster of Phantom Lake may not have been made with a lot of money but it sure was made with a lot of heart. The dialogue, the mannerisms, the clothing, the tone, the look, the vehicles, the music, etc. – Mihm nails them perfectly. I mean this thing is designed to feel authentic…”
I chose to reprint those paragraphs here because they apply every bit as much to my review of Mihm’s newest atomic age monster movie homage, Terror From Beneath the Earth, available through his website.
Two children have gone missing in a cave system. A brilliant geologist and his female colleague familiar with the caves assist the sheriff and the children’s hot-headed father to organize a rescue mission, unaware that nearby underground atomic testing has mutated a cave bat into a carnivorous man-bat. Will the children be saved? Will the professor betray his scientific principles to destroy the mutant hell-beast that calls the caves home? Will the rage of a distraught father be enough to overcome the paralyzing grip of a radioactive bat monster?
Essentially backyard productions designed to fully capture the look and feel of Fifties black & white monster movies with just a hint of self-awareness; Mihm does add flourishes of humor poking fun at the trappings of this film genre but not to the same degree as similar homage comedies like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
Mihm is such a stickler for recreating the look, the feel, the mannerisms, everything that defines this genre, it’s kind of hard to be critical one way or another. Its strengths are its weaknesses; its weaknesses are its strengths. The budget is almost non-existent. The same can be said of most of the films this replicates. It’s too talky. So were the films of this genre back in day. The production feels stagy. Ditto. The acting is primarily wooden and stilted, but then shouldn’t it be?
Actually, you can tell who in the cast has some acting chops and who is delivering their lines wooden and stilted because that is all they are capable of. Mike Cook, the professor, could have been time traveled in from the 1950’s he so perfectly captures the vocal inflections of the matter-of-fact men of science found in atomic age monster movies. Only thing missing is a pipe.
Lack of smoking is the one area where Mihm fails to mirror his inspirations. The professor should be smoking a pipe. At least one of the other male leads should be lighting up with the female lead during a casual conversation.
Mihm appears to have taken to heart one of my biggest criticisms of The Monster of Phantom Lake – a shorter running time. His first effort needlessly clocked in over 90 minutes. His latest is only around 69 minutes, more along the lines of the length of these types of films back in the day. The difference can be felt for the better.
One other area that doesn’t reflect the classics is a lack of a body count. The creature incapacitates its victims, but when the film was over, it dawned on me that none of the characters had perished. That is highly unusual, especially when the movie is about a man-eating cave monster.
The makers of not-so-classic monster movies of the Fifties and Sixties introduced a few silly looking buggers, few quite as ridiculous as the Terror bat. It’s not that the homemade monster costume brings to mind the bodysuit of a school mascot – it’s the grin. This is the cheeriest looking atomic mutant I have ever seen. Always smiling that fanged grin, always appearing so cheerful, regardless of whether he’s paralyzing victims with his electro-shock grip or fending off an attack by an angry father, it just looks so happy. Even when it perishes, it looks like it died happy. If it was going to kill me I would be smiling too; that grin would fill me with joy even as I fill its belly. I dubbed the monster “Felix the Bat” because it looks like a bat version of Felix the Cat. I even rewrote Felix’s theme song just for it.
He’s atomic, he’s remarkable
He is mutated, unbelievable
He is superdooper and extraordinary
He’s the kind of bat that keeps you feeling scary
Felix the Bat
The terrible, terrible bat
Whenever you enter his domain
He zaps you in the brain
Felix the Bat
The terrible, terrible bat
3 out of 5
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