Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Giant Spider & Danny Johnson Saves The World - A Review

While I enjoyed myself greatly at this past weekend's Infinicon, I couldn't help but feel a certain degree of simultaneous ennui. Due to a personal crisis, my good friend Roy Buckingham (of Cult Film Fanatics) had to cancel all of his panels, including his Saturday night double feature of vintage science-fiction movies. Thankfully, the convention was able to find a most-excellent substitute on relatively short notice. Thus I was exposed to The Mihmiverse

Christopher R. Mihm is a triple-threat. In truth, he's probably a greater threat than that, given the many credits he is given at the end of his movies. Yet at his core he is a writer, producer and director of vintage B-movies. He has the look of a school-teacher but behind the unassuming facade is an auteur in the most classic sense - even if his area of expertise is movies that beg to be projected on a drive-in screen or viewed on The Late, Late Show.

The first film of the evening was Mihm's 2013 release The Giant Spider. As one might guess from the title, the story involves a giant spider created by excess radiation. As the titular arachnid runs rampant through 1950s suburbia, it falls to a trio of scientists and an intrepid reporter to save the day when the might of the American Military proves insufficient.

Mihm perfectly captures the aesthetic of the old giant-animal movies of yesteryear. The special effects are low-grade, yet skilfully applied. A live spider crawls across obvious models and in front of green-screens, with a puppet being used for close-ups when the spider attacks its prey.

What really sells The Giant Spider, however, is the performances of the cast, who manage to go over-the-top in just the right way. Mihm's script also proves to be a highlight, as the film has fun with the conventions of the genre. The townsfolk, for instance, are all too ready to flee at the prospect of an invasion of Russians or Aliens but laugh down any attempt to suggest a giant spider is about to spoil the big dance. And, of course, there's a scene where an alcoholic hobo sees the giant spider and immediately swears off booze forever.

If The Giant Spider is Mihm's salute to Bert I. Gordon-style creature features, then Danny Johnson Saves The World is his tribute to classic boys' adventure fiction.  Released in 2015, the movie is told by our titular hero - now a grandfather being pestered for a story by his grandchildren as he's trying to take a long winter's nap. So he tells them the story of the first time he saved the world from alien invaders, back when he was a young boy about their age.

Danny Johnson Saves The World plays out like a lost collaboration between Jim Henson and Stephen King. I admit this may seem a daft comparison on the face of it as all of Mihm's films are decidedly family friendly but I think the comparison holds up.  Like Stand By Me, Danny Johnson Saves the World is a tale told in flashback of how a boy took his first steps to becoming a man. And like It, it's about a group of children confronting an evil they should never have had to face. The fact that said evil manifests as stop-motion dinosaurs and murderous puppets is besides the point.

If you're the sort of person who has a shrine to Vincent Price or who prefers the creativity of Roger Corman and William Castle to Michael Bay or Brent Ratner, I think you'll love The Mihmiverse as much as I do. These are not mere movies but works of love and art. And if you're a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, the movies are good riffing fodder by design. I can tell you from personal experience that Mr. Mihm takes no offense at people laughing at his movies so long as they are enjoying themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment