Written by: Eli Cantor (novel), Robert King
Directed by: Terence H. Winkless
Starring: Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois, and Franc Luz
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďWhy are the roaches killing people and how do we stop them?"
In some respects, The Nest proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as itís another Roger Corman creature feature. By 1988, he would have been associated with dozens of these things, and heís shilled his name out to various unseemly productions since (it seems as if he single-handedly programmed SyFyís Saturday Night lineup for a while there). However, this particular effort also reveals how far heís fallen in esteem these days; while few people would argue that each of these offerings were of high quality, itís hard to make the argument that any of his more recent films have been of medium quality. As such, The Nest is a reminder that there was once a time when Cormanís involvement couldnít automatically be laughed off, even if the concept is kind of laughable: Jaws with bugs? It just doesnít have the same ring as ďJaws with claws.Ē
In typical Jaws fashion, The Nest presents a sleepy New England town thatís under siege by nature run amok when a horde of killer cockroaches descend upon the island community. The mayor (Robert Lansing) is (of course) hesitant to get the word out thanks to some shady dealings with a local corporation whose experiments, so he calls in one of their scientists (Terri Treas) to get to the bottom of the case. Meanwhile, Sherriff Richard Tarbell (Frank Luz) is juggling an awkward love triangle when old flame Elizabeth (Lisa Langolis) returns to townóas if dealing with mutant insects werenít enough!
That The Nest takes a bit of its cue from Jaws is no surprise since Corman was prone to riffing on it so often during this time period. However, most of its similarities are (thankfully) cosmetic; beyond the setting and the prickly mayor, the two actually arenít at that similar. Of course, it goes without saying that this includes the filmsí respective qualitiesóobviously, The Nest is no Jaws. More importantly, itís no Up From the Depths or Dinoshark, either, which makes it a welcome reprieve from the junk that often lines the Corman canon. While it seems unlikely that the notoriously thrifty producer didnít exactly break the bank for it, The Nest is sturdily produced and features a solid cast of veterans and contemporary genre stars.
The film marked the directorial debut of Terence Winkless, who acquitted himself so well to the Corman formula that he became a Concorde Pictures staple (probably because heíd been familiar with the producer for years at that point). With a threadbare concept and a tight budget at his disposal, Winkless delivers a sharply paced and entertaining bug movie that aptly preys on its disgusting concept. An early scene featuring the sheriff fumbling about while a cockroach scurries around in his cup of coffee starts the squirming off in innocuous fashion, but the film gradually builds up to more overtly gruesome sequences. At its heart, The Nest is a gross-out movie that becomes a showcase for devoured corpses and creature effects, with the latter becoming more elaborate and complicated as the bugs mutate into hybrids of their victims, a concept that was probably spawned from Cormanís insistence to cash-in on The Fly. Winkless didnít exactly have Chris Walas at this disposal here, but his effects team capably delivers some memorable gags, particularly a climactic one thatís appropriately gooey and slimy.
Taking all that into consideration, itís still difficult to escape that this is a film centered on killer cockroaches, which is a limited concept at best. To compensate, thereís plenty of additional drama: in addition to the love triangle, Elizabeth is also coping with the death of her mother and attempting to reconcile with her dad (the mayor, just to make things extra uncomfortable). One welcome divergence from the Jaws formula is the mayorís eventual level-headednessóinstead of doggedly burying himself in denial, he actually attempts to atone for his unwitting role in the whole affair (this unfortunately means that Lansing spends a lot of time barking orders into a phone). Really, the most obvious human villain is Treasís scientist; to call her ďsuspiciousĒ would be an understatement since Treas invites distrust the moment she arrives on the scene. Her ulterior motives are so obvious that itís sort of a surprise there isnít a twist there, but noósheís basically the Hooper in this scenario, only reimagined as a conniving, unlikable bitch (so, Hooper from Benchleyís novel, really).
As someone who has been an unabashed fan of Slugs since it was released on VHS, Iím left wondering where The Nest has been all my life. Even though a lot of the drama is manufactured and some of the character stuff falls flat (one of the few exceptions is Stephen Daviesís zany exterminator), but it delivers the stuff that counts: the gore is ample, the set-pieces are often atmospheric (particularly the caves housing the titular nest), and the filmís tone adequately straddles the line between serious and silly. Despite being centered around killer bugs, the film takes itself seriously enough and doesnít rely on being bad or overbearingly idiotic like many trash classics. This is simply killer, man-eating bugs done about as well as killer, man-eating bugs can be done (and one only has to look at Cormanís latest output to know that this can be done much, much worse).
Unsurprisingly, Cormanís own New Concorde label released The Nest on DVD back in 2001, but that edition is long out of print. Fret not, however, as itís the latest film to get a special edition treatment from Scream Factory, who has re-released with a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack that improves on the old releaseís full-frame transfer. The high-def offering features a more than solid restoration of a film that probably hasnít looked this great since it was released 25 years ago. Curiously, the menu promises both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-MA tracks, but the disc only has duplicate stereo tracks for whatever reason. Unlike a lot of Scream Factory releases, this one isnít packed to the gills and only features an audio commentary with Winkless. Still, donít let that deter you: The Nest on its own is a worthy addition to any collection, especially one thatís probably already crowded with lesser films of this type. More maximum effect, make it a double feature with the recently released Ticks (it's been a good couple of months for killer bug aficionados). Buy it!
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