“A double bill of fifties-style B-movie shorts from writer-director Christopher R. Mihm, the king of ‘new old, good bad’ movies! X The Fiend From Beyond Space: On a decades-long mission to Alpha Centauri, the crew of the UESPA spaceship Endeavor are awakened from LD-sleep to find themselves in orbit around a rogue planet. Finding nothing but a seemingly dead alien on the planet’s surface, the Captain decides to bring it aboard for further study. But, the crew quickly realise the creature is not dead – and it’s very hungry. The Wall People: Following the death of his wife, scientist Barney Collins finds solace in his new role as a single dad to his only son. However, when the boy disappears from his bed under mysterious circumstances, Barney loses his grip on reality and becomes a shut in. Eight years later, he resurfaces with a wild theory – his son has been taken by an otherworldly entity that steals sleeping children through inter-dimensional portals in their bedroom walls! He enlists the help of his old colleagues to potentially save his son from the clutches of this inhuman threat – or prove he is certifiably insane!” (courtesy IMDB)
I have for your degradation another Schlocky Horror exclusive from prolific independent filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm, the latest in his seemingly unstoppable (and I’ve tried) tributes to science fiction horror movies of yesteryear. It actually debuted on American screens just twelve months ago and was slow-tracked to Australia by Collins Class submarine, the Hindenburg of the high seas. Who remembers the old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits television shows? Well, you’re both in for a treat, because The Late Night Double Feature (2014) is just like that. Part one is called X The Fiend From Beyond Space, in which the crew of spaceship Endeavour find themselves orbiting a rogue planet and the captain, a stick-a-fork-in-a-powerpoint-to-see-what-happens kind of guy, has retrieved a dead alien for further study. But is it really dead? Write your answer on the back of a fifty dollar note and address it to Nigel’s Next Holiday for your chance to win a cheesy postcard from Cannes, on the sun-and-champagne drenched French Riviera.
Part two is called The Wall People, in which a scientist discovers an evil alien entity from the former planet Pluto who kidnaps sleeping children through inter-dimensional portals in their bedroom walls. I’ve also lined up for your edification an interview with Norman Yeend, the Australian animator responsible for the stop-motion monsters seen in part two. For eight years running, Christopher R. Mihm has released a brand new full-length movie in the classic science fiction horror style, which you and I would call ‘schlock’. Beginning with The Monster Of Phantom Lake (2006), his films have achieved considerable success and critical acclaim at less-discerning festivals. In the intervening years he tackled such drive-in staples as alien invasions, haunted houses and giant bugs, and tonight he attempts to recreate one of the most missed of cinematic experiences, The Late Night Double Feature, as mentioned in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) theme song.
In case you’re wondering, back in 1973 I had just finished touring in Hamlet when I found myself free to appear in a new Richard O’Brien musical called Transvestites From Outer Space. After I mentioned my idea for hosting horror movies on TV, Dick – as I refer to him – stole my title and locked me up in a grandfather clock for three years! I managed to escape during the wrap party but, by then, it was too late. The second feature of this late-night double is The Wall People, in which Douglas Sidney stars as Barney Collins, a scientist searching for his long lost son who was mysteriously abducted from his bed several years before. He’s assisted by two skeptical friends, Doctor Edwards (Michael Cook) and Doctor Gabriel (James Norgard), both of whom you might remember from earlier Mihm movies. What follows is an intense tale with some fantastic twists, not to mention some lovely stop-motion effects by animator Norman Yeend, who has been kind enough to remove the restraining order and return my phone calls. Hello Norman, are you there?
NIGEL: In accordance with the 39th Rule Of Interviewing, when talking to an animator one must always ask how it is done, even though the interviewer knows full well that the audience is quite aware how animation is created, so I won’t ask you that.
NORM: Well, I’m going to answer you anyway. Stop-motion animation is the art of basically taking a miniature, a little figure not unlike this fellow here, and articulating it one frame at a time. Twenty-five frames equals one second of film. Move it twenty-five frames, a little bit like so, take a frame, move it again a little bit, just take another frame, move him again. You might move a finger or so, or even a head-turn, take another frame, and twenty-five of those you have one second, fifty of those and you have two seconds, a hundred is four seconds, and so on. That’s the way the original King Kong (1933) was made, or Jason And The Argonauts (1963), with the skeletons swashbuckling with the fellows there. Good old Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien, god bless them, pioneers of the art who have passed their mantel on to people such as myself, Nick Park, Aardman, all those guys – Wallace And Gromit – use the same technique.
NORM: You generally start with a drawing and you present that to your director, in this case Mister Christopher R. Mihm. He says, “Great! Go for it!” Okay, great, so I did a plasticine maquette, a little figure that roughly represents what it was going to look like, after I had done the drawing and when that was approved: “Great! Let’s do that!” In the case of this fellow (indicates big-headed octopus alien), he was sculpted first, and I only sculpted the head and the torso section. All these (tentacles) are separate, they’re all added on separately, it would have been a nightmare to get him out of the mold otherwise. So, two-part mold, fiberglass molds back and front, silicon rubber, fiberglass inside, and there’s a little light shining up in here which gives him a spooky alien effect which you’re about to see in the film…not to give too much away. This guy on the other hand (indicates dinosaur-like monster) was built up. All I did was sculpt the head of that guy, the rest is just a wire armature. An armature is basically a posable skeleton, and he’s built up with foam rubber over the top and some latex skin texture, with little spikes and horns, what have you, and again this posable armature, which I should mention can be ball-and-socket jointed, um…
NIGEL: I’ll have to stop you there, Norman, that’s sounds too much like hard work. Can he say ball-and-socket? This is a family show after all and, as host, being offensive is my job, not yours. Speaking of which, Norm, is there any danger of the latex decaying to reveal *gasp* a naked skeleton?
NORM: A naked skeleton, like Mister Honeybone, for example? Sorry Nige…
NIGEL: Hey, I’m all for ‘going commando’ but my editor hits me with a ruler every time I try. But I don’t wish to digress. Is there any way to stop rotting rubber baby buggy bumpers?
NORM: There is. What we tend to avoid is direct sunlight, actually. Like a vampire, they tend to rot away. I actually have foam latex models which are much softer than this. Foam latex is like making a souffle almost, it’s very tricky to make. I made a dinosaur film back in ’93 and I still have those models, and they’re still fine because they’ve been kept in a cold, relatively dark environment, and they’re still quite okay. If I was to leave him (dino-monster) on a window sill he wouldn’t last very long at all. This guy on the other hand (octo-head) is made of silicon and he’d last a lot longer.
NIGEL: This explains two things: My dressing room is a cold dark environment, hence my youthful good looks; and why my rubber chicken collection looks like mouldy old Play-Doh.
NORM: Rubber chickens, exactly right. Same principle.
NIGEL: A minute ago you mentioned my old friend Christopher R. Mihm, the American director of this endurance test. How did you, a Sydney animator, meet a Milwaukeean filmmaker fifteen thousand kilometres away?
NORM: Well, actually, I was watching this great show on a Friday night called The Schlocky Horror Picture Show, I don’t know if you’re familiar? I was watching when this wonderful film came on. I thought I was pretty familiar with all those great old fifties monster movies, but this one was like, I hadn’t seen this before, this thing called The Monster From Phantom Lake (2006). What on earth?! The humour was just right, it had this crazy Professor Jackson doing ‘science’. It was just puerile humour, which I love, and harkening back to those old fifties monster movies that I love. Paul Blaisdell creatures, Invasion Of The Saucer Men (1957), It Conquered The World (1956), all this kind of crazy stuff. And the monster, the acting, was abysmal – intentionally – everything was just great. I love bad movies, no offense, it was all in the best possible taste. Anyway, so having said that, I noticed the joy of social media – The Schlocky Horror Picture Show – what’s happening – Christopher Mihm had commented! Golly! I’ll contact him and just say, “Christopher, I’m a fan of your work and if you happen to need a stop-motion monster for any of your films, let me know.” I think he commented back and said, “Great! I’ll do that!” and of course he’d say that but, lo-and-behold, he said it just so happens, if you’re interested, I do have a film that I think you’d be interested in, so he sent me the script and I loved it – The Wall People – and the rest is history. I’m actually collaborating with Mister Mihm on another of his films as we speak, called Danny Johnson Saves The World (2015). Watch this space!
NIGEL: You’re lucky to find the work. Movie roles for real skeletons have dried up, so to speak, and are now being performed by CGI skeletons, which are much cheaper and less likely to arrive drunk. Likewise, stop-motion animation is less in demand nowadays. Have you dabbled in CGI?
NORM: Yeah, I have done a little bit of CGI. I’ve done computer-animated dinosaurs for a few documentaries and this sort of thing in the past, but I think I pretty much prefer to get my hands dirty, and I like to think there’s actually been a bit of a resurgence in the interest in stop-motion animation. As amazing as computer animation is, I think – I don’t know. When every frame is so polished, there’s just not the handmade charm and feel that I think stop-motion gives. Of course, there’s a lot of people and a lot of work goes into computer animation but, for example, look at films such as the original Jason And The Argonauts (1963), an amazing amount of work by one man, Ray Harryhausen did all that, it was an incredible amount of work. The skeleton scene, for example, sometimes he’d average half-a-second a day, because there was no computer animation software, he had to remember each skeleton – was he moving his arm left or right? Was this skeleton moving forward or back? He had to simply memorise everything. You look at a movie these days and the credits are endless, but I still say the handmade charm – the Wallace And Gromit films, the Aardman films, the Laika movies such as Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), etc. It’s always handmade beautiful craftsmanship that I think people can appreciate. It’s like looking at a model train set, people just project themselves somehow into this world, and they clearly appreciate the artistry that goes into it. Not to say there’s not a great amount of artistry in CG, don’t get me wrong, but it’s different.
NIGEL: I’m afraid I’ll have to cut you off there Norm, these live satellite feeds cost much more than community television can afford, and probably wasn’t necessary since we’re actually in the same room, but thanks for being part of the show.
NORM: Thank you very much for having me, and enjoy The Late Night Double Feature!
What a nice guy. Of course, there were many other people involved with the making of the film but, since I can’t talk to any of them, I’ve decided not to talk about any of them. As a micro-budgeted labour of love for cinema’s more carefree days, The Late Night Double Feature is admirable enough in intent regardless of the results. Fortunately it manages to be consistently entertaining and The Wall People is a great little science fiction story. All in all, a very welcome throwback to the genre’s glory days on the silver screen both for those who were there the first time around, and for those who wish they could have been. The Late Night Double Feature is available on DVD directly from Christopher R. Mihm through his website at www.sainteuphoria.com and, as with all of Mihm’s movies, the DVD is packed with special features including Esperanto audio and subtitle tracks, two full-length commentary tracks, a blooper reel, photo gallery, previews, and an introduction by my old friend and fellow horror host Doctor Ivan Cryptosis – who insists my cheque is in the mail. The time has come for me to sign off for this week, but I’ll be back in seven days from now to creepily intrude upon your personal space and ask inappropriate questions about your undergarments while I glue you to the set with another torturous ninety minutes of whatever the hell I can fish out of the wheelie bin behind Fox Studios for…Horror News! Toodles!