In each of the last eight years, independent writer, director and producer Christopher R. Mihm has released (through his own Saint Euphoria Pictures) a brand new full-length movie in the classic 1950’s sci-fi/horror style. Beginning with 2006’s ‘The Monster Of Phantom Lake’, Mihm’s films have achieved considerable success and critical acclaim at film festival and in the genre press with particular praise being given to his eye for detail and authenticity. In the intervening years he has tackled such drive-in staples as alien invasion, haunted house and giant bug flicks and with his latest effort he aims to recreate one of the most-missed cinematic experiences of the day – ‘The Late Night Double-Feature’.
It’s tempting in many ways (though admittedly, perhaps a little lazy) to see the project as a 1950’s counterpart to the off-the-wall 1970’s retro sleaze of Rodriguez/Tarantino ‘Grindhouse’. In both cases presentation is key to the illusion, and so vintage-style (though newly created) animated bumpers and interstitials separate our two 40 minute movies here. First up is ‘X: The Fiend From Beyond Space’ – a spaceship-based romp that is every bit as gleefully cheesy as its name would promise. In brief, a crew on a mission to Alpha Centauri find themselves prematurely awakened from stasis by the on-board computer. Having discovered the body of an alien life-form on a nearby planet, they elect to bring the specimen aboard for further investigation. What could possibly go wrong? While the story is slight, the cast (who by and large, according to the director’s commentary, do not consider themselves to be professional actors) are clearly having tremendous fun with both it and the kind of stilted bravado and preposterous pseudo-scientific dialog that should be sure to raise a smile of recognition from anyone familiar with the conventions of the era.
The audience warmed-up and the mood set, we come to the undoubted highlight of the show. Considerably more menacing in tone, ‘The Wall People’ plays like a great lost ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, and as a Rod Serling devotee I can offer little praise higher than that. Our lead is Barney Collins (the outstanding Douglas Sidney), a scientist and widowed dad who together with his skeptical but willing friends Dr. Edwards (Mike Cook) and Dr. Gabriel (James Norgard) – both recurring characters in what fans call the ‘Mihmiverse’ – aims to find his long lost son who was mysteriously abducted from his bed several years earlier. Barney believes that the culprits are the titular creatures, who travel via interdimensional portals in bedroom walls to snatch kids at the command of a mysterious leader – nightmare fuel indeed. Having shut himself off from the world in the years since his own son fell victim, Barney has now crafted the means to travel to the ‘other side’ – though everything has to be aligned and there is limited time in which to seek out his boy. What follows is a breathless, moving and tense tale with several fantastic and disorienting twists, not to mention some truly beautiful stop-motion effects as the film escalates towards its climax.
As a micro-budgeted labor of love for cinema’s more fun and carefree days, ‘The Late Night Double Feature’ would be admirable enough in intent regardless of the results. Fortunately it manages to be consistently entertaining and has, in ‘The Wall People’, a truly great science fiction story. All in all, a very welcome throwback to science fiction’s glory days on the silver screen both for those who were there the first time around and for those who until now only wished they could have been.