Arrow Video: Lake Michigan Monster (2018) - Reviewed

What do you get when you cross breed the likes of Georges Méliès, Guy Maddin, Richard Elfman and just a few hints of the manic energies generated by Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson?  With all these names in mind, you’d get something akin to Elfman’s do-it-yourself black-and-white Forbidden Zone where a little ingenuity and one compellingly wacky central performance takes the microbudget homemade venture a long way.  Another one of those movies that’s overwhelmingly visual with frenetic camerawork and editing all done on a shoestring price tag that somehow manages to transcend the financial limitations of the piece.

The film in question is the acting/writing/directing debut of a certain Ryland Brickson Cole Tews called Lake Michigan Monster.  Doing a loose and snarky reinterpretation of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the film concerns an eccentric bearded Captain Seafield (Tews himself) on a single-minded mission to kill the urban legend lake monster that claimed his father’s life.  Enlisting the help of weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (coproducer Erick West), sonar expert Nedge Pepsi (coproducer Beulah Peters) and Nautical Athletes adVenture Yunit officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long), together they join forces to capture and destroy the dreaded Lake Michigan Monster…provided Captain Seafield doesn’t stray off into the deep ends of the lake.
Akin to Larry Blamire’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra which was also shot in black-and-white sought to parody B sci-fi/horror movies from the 1950s, Lake Michigan Monster is a delightfully weird little number that doesn’t quite scratch the strangeness reached by, say, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway but comes pretty close at times.  Utilizing a number of green screen effects, superimpositions that look deliberately fake and wild editing techniques, the film feels a bit like a longform Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that’s simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and wonderfully hokey. 
Holding this nuts and bolts endeavor together (aside from bourbon) is Ryland Brickson Cole Tews as the overgrown child Captain Seafield who at times feels like a grade school kid playing pretend during recess.  While the supporting actors lend their talents behind and in front of the camera throughout, this is pretty clearly Ryland’s show and with his swashbuckling pirate ship captain dialect, thick beard and sea captain hat defining the man as a flesh and blood caricature come to life.  Think of Captain Ahab if he were a bumbling idiot instead of an unrestrained madman.

The kind of film that’s clearly in love with the idea of the so-called ‘bad movie’ designed to be played at parties with lots of beer and chips involved, Lake Michigan Monster is a goofy but fun little quickie that doesn’t take an iota of itself seriously and hopes you don’t either.  The reversal stock black-and-white cinematography might seem forced at first but after awhile actually pulls you even further into the film’s oddball headspace.  Mostly though it is a springboard for the unique personality of Ryland Brickson Cole Tews to do his schtick, creating a whirlwind of silly nautical nonsense that gives new meaning to the catchphrase “funning-around”. 

--Andrew Kotwicki