By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Christopher R. Mihm was introduced to schlock-terror by his father, a fan of 1950s creature features, and the ballyhooed works of William Castle.
After his father died of bone cancer in 2000, Mihm pledged to make movies his father would approve, with all the archly drawn danger and stilted acting that involves.
Mihm's latest personal tribute, House of Ghosts, is the centerpiece of the 19th annual Independents' Film Festival, getting the Friday midnight showcase it deserves.
Like Castle, Mihm shoots on a shoestring in black and white, with an exaggerated sense of terror prodding screams or giggles. House of Ghosts can be a nostalgic experience for baby boomers, or Mystery Science Theater 3000 material for ironic hipsters, but it's faithful to the source.
"I try to shoot for a certain level of authenticity," Mihm said by telephone from his Minnesota home. "I don't play them for jokes like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra that's much more of a straight parody, an Ed Wood thing: 'This is horrible, we know it and we're having fun.'
"I'm sort of actually trying to make good movies in a very specific bad style. It's a weird line you have to walk."
House of Ghosts is Mihm's seventh feature since 2005, each inspired by 1950s creature features, with titles like The Monster of Phantom Lake (an Independents' festival selection in 2006), Cave Women on Mars and Attack of the Moon Zombies.
"I make them simply because I've seen all the old ones and they aren't making more, so I've got to make sure there are more," he said.
The festival showcases more than 50 films, mostly short subjects, packaged in a dozen screenings in a Wyndham Tampa Westshore hotel ballroom.
Topping the competition list are three feature-length works: the family-friendly adventure Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (2:30 p.m. Saturday) starring Mira Sorvino and Joe Pantoliano, the Italian wartime drama Il Cacciatore di Anatre (7:45 p.m. Friday) and the animated fairy tale The Lady of Names (4 p.m. Friday).
In addition to movies, the festival offers peeks at what goes into making them with a series of workshops and tours of potential locales in Ybor City and Pinellas County. Another tour introduces aspiring filmmakers to the production facilities of Tampa Digital Studios. Each tour is free to festival patrons, with reservations required.
The workshops, each held Saturday, include lessons in film financing (10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.), protecting content in a digital age (10:15 a.m.), post-production tips (12:15 p.m.) and casting (2:15 p.m.).
Mihm will lead one of those workshops, titled "Ask Me Anything" (2:15 p.m.), sharing his experiences as an indie filmmaker managing to get his movies made, marketed and distributed on low budgets and high hopes. One thing he'll suggest is not expecting to be the next big thing.
"I learned the hard way that you have to define your own level of success," Mihm said. "A lot of filmmakers think they'll make a movie, put it out there and Hollywood will come knocking. They need to step back and realize that probably won't happen.
"Maybe at best you'll do some festivals. Maybe. But you have to decide what success is, and hone in on that. Be realistic. Figure out what is enough to make you happy, and what happens if you don't reach that."
The festival concludes Saturday evening with a 7 p.m. Best of the Fest screening, followed by a filmmaker Q&A, awards presentation and wrap party until midnight.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.