INTERVIEW: Director Christopher Mihm on Dystopian Western ‘Guns of the Apocalypse’

Guns of the Apocalypse is the thirteenth film from cult filmmaker Christopher Mhim, known for his loving tributes to retro science fiction B-movies. Written and directed by Mihm, Guns of the Apocalypse pays homage to foreign-shot western films as a self-styled “post-apocalyptic spaghetti mid-western”.

Set in a dangerous, mutant-infested apocalypse, the film centres on a nameless man and an unusually gifted child as they are hunted by mysterious masked men who seek the girl. They must evade these “Death Dealers” or risk the destruction of humanity.

The film is having its world première on Wednesday 26th September at 7:30pm at the Heights Theatre of Columbia Heights, MN. Tickets are available here!

We caught up with Chris to find out more about the project.

Naomi: Your films are homages to the classic sci-fi and horror B-movies of the 1950s. What do you think it is about these movies that draws people in, even today?

Chris: I think it has to be the innocent REALITY of them. We live in a cynical age that’s drowning in irony and there’s a raw, earnestness to those old films that draws people in. I often talk about how, here in the 21st century, we tend to see things in terms of “gray areas.” Films of that era tended to explore themes in literal black and white and deal more directly with absolutes. “Good guys” were good because they were the “good guys” and acted like “good guys” should. They did what was right because it was. “Bad guys” were bad because they were. It’s much easier to escape into a cinematic world where things are simple and straightforward. That’s not to say that modern movies (or our society in general) exploring gray areas is negative. Far from it. However, it’s sometimes nice to go back to a simpler time. With it being possible these days to cinematically portray almost anything imaginable through CGI, it’s nice to occasionally watch a movie where you can just see the strings! It makes those movies fun and almost more akin to live theatre where you’re forced to really suspend disbelief.

Naomi: What measures do you take to make sure your films are an authentic representation of that era of filmmaking?

Chris: I should start by saying I’m not entirely slavish to that authenticity, but I absolutely do strive for a general sense of it. Having such small budgets forces us to really “make it work” in many of the ways the filmmakers of that era had to, especially in terms of special effects. Speaking of which, we do all our special effects using old, practical techniques. This does a lot to help with the overall atmosphere. We use custom latex masks for our monster costumes and actively seek out vintage clothes, cars, set dressing, props, etc. to help set the right tone. As a director, I purposely tell all actors working on my films to NOT “act badly.” There’s this temptation to try to be wooden to emulate the common misperception that that’s how actors acted in those old films. The truth is, the people making those films back then tried really hard to make good movies. The fact that some of the actors weren’t the most talented didn’t mean they were trying to be bad. Instead, they were just doing their best! I never want an actor to try to be “bad” in one of my movies. Instead, I want every actor to give me the best they have, knowing that that will go a long way toward selling the authenticity of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Naomi: Guns of the Apocalypse is something a bit different from your usual sci-fi and horror. What attracted you to the idea of making a western?

Chris: I always try to do something different with each film, while still remaining within my “wheelhouse”, and since this is movie number 13 in as many years, I figured this would definitely be something different! To date I’ve done several monster movies in a variety of settings: The Monster of Phantom Lake, which took place in the woods, Terror from Beneath the Earth, which took place in a cave, Attack of the Moon Zombies, which took place on a moon base, etc; a classic haunted house movie (House of Ghosts), a giant bug movie (The Giant Spider), a space opera (Destination: Outer Space), a Twilight Zone-esque mind-bender (The Wall People), a WWII “mini epic” (Weresquito: Nazi Hunter), a 1950s-style Muppet-like puppet movie for kids (Danny Johnson Saves the World) and more. Westerns were one of the popular sub-genres in the late 50s and early 60s and I had yet to make one, so it felt like the time was right! Admittedly, Guns of the Apocalypse is not a full-on western. It’s really a post-apocalyptic movie with distinct western elements. It’s a weird mix, but it worked well!

Naomi: Are there any lessons that you’ve learned over the course of your career in film that were particularly useful while working on Guns of the Apocalypse?

Chris: Honestly, I look at every film as a learning experience. I genuinely try to pick up a few lessons from every film and, for as generic as this answer is, I really could not have made Guns of the Apocalypse if I hadn’t made the previous 12. Everything that ended up in the final film is a direct result of all the techniques and lessons I’ve learned up to this point.

Naomi: I understand that you faced some difficulty shooting outside during the Minnesota Winter. Were there any other challenges you faced that you weren’t expecting?

Chris: I cannot reiterate enough how important a lesson that was. If I ever want to shoot a film that takes place almost entirely outside in harsh winter conditions, I better have a DAMN GOOD REASON for it. It was SO COLD! Besides the intensity of the winter weather, we also had to deal with it constantly changing. Snow and cloud cover would fluctuate rapidly. Even snow “quality” was different from day-to-day, from fluffy and dry to wet and heavy and everything in between. We faced a lot of challenges with the guns as well. Up until now, I’ve never done a film with so many classic guns and gunshots. I’ve done a few of the sci-fi “ray gun” variety where everything is a special effect, but nothing like we did in this film. Working with western-style pistols and getting them to look like they were actually firing was its own special form of behind-the-scenes torture! Needless to say, there are always challenges on every film!

Naomi: Your films interlink, forming what’s been dubbed as the “Mihmiverse”. Was this something that naturally evolved or was the concept something you consciously wanted to put into action from the beginning?

Chris: It evolved naturally out of the second and third films. The first movie, The Monster of Phantom Lake, was built to be standalone, mostly because, at the time, I never knew if I’d ever make more than one! After The Monster of Phantom Lake received such a positive response and because I had so much fun making it, when I decided to make the second film (It Came From Another World!), I chose another retro-styled movie that would act somewhat like a sequel – though one that was also intended to stand on its own. I pulled out a couple of the most popular characters from the first movie and built a story around them. During the making of It Came From Another World!, I came up with the idea for the third (Cave Women on Mars), set it in the future of the other ones, and used one of the same actors to play the son of his character from The Monster of Phantom Lake and It Came From Another World!. From there, everything I’ve made has been linked in some small way to all the others. They are still built so anyone can watch any film in any order and not be lost, but those who see them all are rewarded by all the threads and Easter eggs throughout.

Naomi: How does Guns of the Apocalypse fit into the Mihmiverse?

Chris: If you were to watch all my films in “in-universe-chronological order” (as opposed to the order in which they were released), Guns of the Apocalypse would come last. It takes place roughly 100 years after the events of X: The Fiend From Beyond Space. There are several ties into the greater Mihmiverse story, but most are very subtle. The biggest link has to do with the Genesis Project, which was mentioned in Attack of the Moon Zombies – the tip of the hat to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is very much intentional! It should be mentioned, in addition to all of my movies existing in a shared universe (I started mine two years before Marvel Studios!), all of my films include sly references to a lot of modern sci-fi and horror, including that EVERY film I’ve made has at least one reference to the movie Ghostbusters!

Naomi: While your films are largely inspired by the 50s and 60s, you’ve also mentioned being influenced by films that you grew up with in the 70s and 80s. What current media would you say inspires you?

Chris: I’m a big fan of Marvel superhero movies. I don’t think much of that has seeped into my movie universe… Although I am working on a Mihmiverse superhero concept which may or may not see the light of day sooner rather than later. Perhaps it’s the current state of the world, but I’ve been very much into dystopian sci-fi lately. I think The Handmaid’s Tale is brilliant television! Perhaps it’s part of why I decided to do a post-apocalyptic story. I really enjoyed the Lost in Space Netflix reboot. In fact, I binge watched the entire first series in two days because we were forced to reschedule an entire weekend’s worth of filming on Guns of the Apocalypse due to a freak April blizzard! Lastly, I have to mention that I am really happy to see high-quality giant monster movies like the new American Godzilla, Colossal and Kong: Skull Island doing so well at the box office. I have yet to do an actual kaiju/giant monster movie but it’s definitely on the list!

Naomi: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?

Chris: I’m currently working on another film called Queen of Snakes. We shot it concurrently with Guns of the Apocalypse and it’s a very different movie. It’s a fun mash-up of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and supernatural monster movies like The Mummy. It’s pretty bonkers and plays like an over-the-top melodrama mixed with a retro monster movie like 1957’s Blood of Dracula. Important to note, we are NOT done with the film and are still looking for contributions to complete it. All my films are crowd funded and contributors get their name in the credits, a copy of the finished film, and an exclusive document certifying their gift to the film! Folks interested in being a part of it can contribute at!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Chris for taking the time to talk to us! You can keep up to date with him and his projects on Twitter and his website. Check out the trailer for Guns of the Apocalypse below.


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