Producers: Ryland Tews, Mike Cheslik and Sebastian Johnson   Director: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews   Screenplay: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews   Cast: Ryland Tews, Beulah Peters, Erick West, Daniel Long, Steve Hoelter, Wayne Tews, Lucille Tews and Aylah Hutchison   Distributor: Arrow Video

Grade: C-

There are two ways to judge this nutty homemade movie.   On the one hand, as a narrative it’s just a chaotic assemblage of goofball episodes and bad jokes, all played by actors of amateur-night quality.  You might enjoy it if you were high in a crowd of people in a similar condition; in such a crowd, even the frequent groaners might be amusingly awful.  Without that sort of surrounding buzz, on the other hand, the fun dissipates, and you might find it pretty irritating.

Nonetheless you have to admire the visual ingenuity that has gone into this micro-budget effort, made by a group of family and friends in Milwaukee and Michigan.  The sparkplug was obvious Ryland Tews, who takes the lead role as well as writing what passes for a script and directing.  But equally important—if not more so—were Mike Cheslik and Sebastian Jackson, who in addition to sharing the producer credit with Tews, devised and executed the effects.  (Cheslik also edited, and Jackson did the cinematography.) 

What’s the picture about?  Well, the overall arc focuses on a pseudo-captain named Seafield (Tews), who assembles a squad of helpers in order to locate and destroy a monster living in Lake Michigan that he claims killed his father: Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters), Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West) and Dick Flynn (Daniel Long).  They all have special skills, supposedly, but all the schemes planned by Seafield—strategies with titles like “Naughty Lady” and “Master Baited” (har, har)—fail, and after several mishaps and a failure to get paid, Seafield’s left alone.

That takes him on a long expedition beneath the waters of Lake Michigan, where he battles the monster, which turns out to be his sister. 

That plot is just an excuse for a series of increasingly absurd sketches, dominated by Tews, a sort of Zach Galifianakis on steroids, who rants his way through the first two-thirds of the brief (78-minute) picture and then does lots of slapsticky stuff in the final underwater third.  The others are more laid back, though Wayne Tews, as a one-eyed old sea dog called Ashcroft, is almost as over-the-top.  (He also gets to sing a song over the final credits as a disembodied head—shades of “Re-Animator.”)

The real reason to watch “Lake Michigan Monster” at all isn’t the wit in the script (there are occasional clever lines, but they’re sparse), but the imagination behind the visuals, especially in the underwater segment.  True, that drags on too long, but the bizarre images—of the monster, and of a congregation of robed, masked ghouls that Seafield enlists in his efforts (there’s a spoof of Bergman when Seafield plays a game of checkers with one of them)—have a sporadically captivating quality, which would be enhanced still further if the viewer were under the influence. 

Overall “Lake Michigan Monster” is pretty terrible—a cheekily self-aware “Mystery Science Theater”-ready bit of madness that’s nevertheless interesting for its ingenious low-budget pictorial pizzazz.