Try to imagine a scenario where Mel Brooks and David Lynch secretly reunite to create the ultimate tribute to Sam Raimi in the form of a no-budget ‘50s style creature-feature starring a bearded and man-bunned Bruce Campbell. However, to make things interesting, they decide to shoot the movie guerrilla-style throughout the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin using nothing but a handheld digital camera.
Can you picture it?
If so, you probably envision this group of legendary filmmakers undoubtedly creating a fantastic film that is equal parts beautiful, hilarious, entertaining, and absurd. However, believe it or not, it still may not have been as well done as Lake Michigan Monster.
While this is a bold statement for sure, everyone listed in the opening scenario has already made their mark on the industry, which typically brings about a certain level of professional comfort. Therefore, there is a limit to what they are willing to do to make a successful movie. Whereas only hungry, talented, and, possibly naïve filmmakers, with something to prove and nothing to lose could have successfully made this movie. Despite having to overcome just about every limiting factor within the industry, Lake Michigan Monster turned out to be one of the most surreal, awe-inspiring, and memorable movies I’ve ever seen.
In an industry that classifies a budget approaching a half a million dollars as low-budget and ten grand as the starting point for a no-budget film, it seems impossible to imagine making a feature film for $7,000. Even the worst movies I’ve ever seen like Hogzilla (2014) and any of the Sharknadoes had an estimated budget of a million dollars or more. So how did Lake Michigan Monster do it?
Do Less, Better
Where low-budget “Mockbusters” over-rely on CGI, which even when done poorly still costs a lot of money, Lake Michigan Monster kept things simple. By doing less, they set themselves up to shoot a quality movie from the trailer all the way through the film’s final scene. Lake Michigan Monster is the personification of executing each scene as well as possible.
In addition to laser-like attention to detail, the film was predominately shot in public places and in an old-school grainy black and white. By shooting low-fi, they were able to overcome their lack of resources to create powerful, dynamic, and effective shots. The 16 mm look also made the special effects and editing (Mike Cheslik), as well as, the monster’s costume design (Joe Castro) not only possible but extremely effective. In fact, the final third of the movie is so visually stunning and innovative—especially given the budget—that it is impossible to imagine many viewers that don’t appreciate the film’s grit and execution.
Outside the visuals, the majority of the credit for this award-winning film goes to the writer, director, and lead-actor, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, whose fantastic performance single-handedly carries the film. Tews plays the deceptive, ornery, and constantly intoxicated Captain Seafield who is seeking to avenge his father’s death. Tews has a commanding presence that is wonderfully engaging. His temperamental, inconsistent, and obsessive behavior sets the tone for the entire movie. In fact, Seafield’s tomfoolery is so outlandish and sincere, it becomes endearing. So much so, that by the end of the movie, you can’t help but root for him to succeed.
A star + caring freinds and family = a successful movie (at least in this case)
The film opens with Seafield introducing his hodgepodge team of misfits (all of whom are played by some of Tews’s friends) created to hunt down and kill the monstrous beast responsible for taking his father’s life. Seafield’s so-called “Team of the Century” consisted of a weapons expert, Sean Shaugnessy (Erik West); a sonar wiz, Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters); and a Nautical Athletes and adVenture Yunit aka NAVY man, Dick Flynn (Daniel Long). Finally, Tews’s father and grandmother also make memorable appearances in the film as well.
While Tews is certainly the movie’s star, his co-stars help keep the film from derailing by balancing Seafield’s absurd behavior and poking holes in his story through a series of informal interrogations between missions. Impressively, their lack of acting experience did not detract from the film in any way. If anything, the performances enhanced the movie by highlighting Tews’s strong writing and directing. He did a wonderful job setting his co-stars up for success and, to their credit, they delivered.
As the story progresses, Seafield’s motley crew embarks on several failed missions to destroy the murderous creature. With each attempt, the tactics along with the mission’s name become more elaborate and far less reasonable. Yet, each escalation enhances the story.
Tews does a wonderful job of pushing the limits of creativity without losing control of the film or the audience. Which is no easy task, especially with the self-aware hijinks style of comedy. Too often parodies such as this tend to feel disconnected, like a series of individual scenes spliced together; more like an anthology than a feature film. Lake Michigan Monster, on the other hand, manages to somehow hit its target by the end, making it a complete story.
End Result= Creative Masterpiece (Maybe, the Best of All Time?)
For me, movies are something to be enjoyed, not studied. However, after watching Lake Michigan Monster, I feel compelled to learn more about the filmmaking process. I found myself enjoying the subtle ways the crew would frame a scene or manipulate lighting to enhance the effectiveness of each shot.
As it turns out, I am not the only one that felt inspired to create something epic after watching this movie. Arrow Video, recently released Lake Michigan Monster on The Arrow Channel and VOD. To generate a buzz around the movie, Arrow hosted a Make Your Own Lake Michigan Monster Competition. The winner will be selected by Ryland Tews and Mike Cheslik—the visual effects editor and producer of the film. Once the winning monster is announced Arrow Films plans to make the monster into a collectible figure, that will be handcrafted by visual effects expert, Dan Martin (Color of Space).
In fact, Lake Michigan Monster is so well done it deserves to be considered in the discussion as one of the top 10 no-budget films of all time.
I highly recommend giving Lake Michigan Monster a try. Even if the humor doesn’t connect with you, I am still confident that by the end you will
still have enjoyed the movie, especially the final third. It was beautifully shot, well written, well-acted, tightly edited, strange, funny, and wildly entertaining.
Still on the fence?
- Watch the trailer, it nails the vibe of the movie perfectly.
- Still unsure, watch this promo video that Ryland Tews and Mike Cheslik made for their high school in 2008
- If these two videos didn’t grab your attention, then you should skip this one for sure. Although, you will have missed out on a truly fantastic movie.
Kyle Feuerbach is a high school teacher with a passion for horror books and movies. When he is not teaching, running a fitness business with his wife, or spending time with his son, he is likely reading, writing, or repairing manual typewriters.