Movie Review: Horror whimsy on the cheap, “Lake Michigan Monster”

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We’ve got a captain’s hat, a camera, my dad’s old pontoon boat, and there’s that old light house down on North Point. Let’s make a MOVIE!

The delightfully daft and DIY “Lake Michigan Monster” seems to give up its origin story in every cheesy, off-the-wall frame. A no-budget horror movie that pays homage to George Melies, Ingmar Bergman, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and Monty Python, it’s a classic “Oh, look how those crazy kids did that” film festival farce — the sort of screen comedy you’d only find in off-the-wall, off-the-beaten path gatherings of offbeat cinema and its fans.

Me? It had me at “It’s pronounced ‘pontoooooon.‘”

“Monster” is fizzy fun from the mind of the over-named Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, its writer, director and star. There’s a touch of Terry Gilliam whimsy in his design and effects, and Graham Chapman anarchy in his performance as “Captain” Seafield, a Milwaukee madman who assembles a team to hunt and kill the “monster that slew my father.”

Sean Shaughnessy (Erik West) is his “weapons expert.”

Nedge Pepsi (Beaulah Peters) is the “sonar individual.”

And Dick Flynn (Daniel Long) is from the “Nautical Aptitude adVenture Yunit.” That’s the “Navy.” The “Captain” is fond of self-invented acronyms, and isn’t even a real captain.

“You know how long a fathom is?” No. No he doesn’t.

Tipsy, manic Seafield and his “Team of the Century” set up shop on the beach at Lighthouse Island and search for the beast that he insists killed his father.

“With a gun or a knife we must end this monster’s life!”

It goes, well, silly and sideways right from the start. Every new scheme for accomplishing their mission has a goofier name than the one before — “Operation: Nauty Lady,” “Operation: Master Baiter.”

And every few minutes poke new holes in the “story” and competence of the “captain,” whose piratical brother (Wayne Tews) seems even nuttier than he is.

“There I go again, pretending.”

The black and white cinematography matches video — covered with superimpositions of dirt and celluloid scratches — with inserts of obsolete technology and the switches and buttons it took to operate it edited into “sonar” montages, digitally hand-drawn “diagrams” and graphics.

The inventiveness never ceases, even as the energy and fun flag a bit. Need a “phantom ship” for a scene? Film the local ferry (we can see crew on this “ghost” ship) and play back its deliberate maneuvering in sped-up time lapse.

The whole enterprise hangs on R.B.C. Tews’  ditzy readings of the lines he gives himself as the loon-in-charge. How’d he come UP with this latest scheme?

“I saw some stuff when I was sleeping.”

“Like in a dream?”

“THAT’S the one!”

The effect of this 78 minute lark is to imagine how the 19th century illusionist and film pioneer Melies approached a problem on the set of say, “A Trip to the Moon,” and how he invented the tricks, effects and techniques of cinema with what he had at hand in 1902.

Melies, like Monty Python, made sketch-length short films. They knew how to make a point, get the jokes in and fade to black. “Lake Michigan Monster” plays like a sketch that goes on and on and on. It doesn’t so much run out of ideas as wear out its welcome.

But before it does, Tews and his Team in dazzle and amuse us in ways that put many a well-financed Hollywood production to shame. Tews is now working on a project titled “Hundreds of Beavers” next. One can hardly wait.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, comic violence, alcohol

Cast: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Erick West, Beulah Peters, Daniel Long and Wayne Tews

Credits: Written and directed by Ryland Brickson Cole Tews.  An Arrow release.

Running time: 1:18

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