The Nest (1988)
Dir. Terence Winkless
Written by Robert King, based on the novel by Eli Cantor
Starring Franc Luz, Lisa Langlois, Robert Lansing
THE NEST is a 1988 movie about killer cockroaches that attack an isolated island community and start eating people and mutating cats and stuff. I figure the world is probably divided pretty starkly between people to whom that sounds delightful and people who have already stopped reading this review. But if you’re in the first category --and I think you know where I stand on this issue-- THE NEST is pretty much exactly what you want it to be, which is amiable cheapie 80’s horror which gets by mostly on charm but eventually sweetens the deal with some gross monster puppets and stuff. It’s rather slight, but it knows what it is and seems comfortable in that skin.
THE NEST --which is somehow based on a novel by composer, poet, writer, lecturer on graphic design and typography, playwright, and all-all around renaissance man Eli Cantor, who seems to have had a appealingly good attitude about this silly movie-- is mostly about Sherrif Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz, GHOST TOWN, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY), a local of a small, isolated island community who’s going to have to deal both with this killer cockroach situation, and the unexpected return of his old flame, mayor’s daughter Elizabth (Lisa Langlois, CLASS OF 1984, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME), much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, diner owner Lillian (Nancy Morgan, GRAND THEFT AUTO 1977). Of course, there’s some kind of evil science behind it all, and a sinister conspiracy involving the town’s mayor (Robert Lansing, ubiquitous 60’s TV actor and star of 4D MAN and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS) and an unbalanced corporate scientist with an unhealthy love of the little scurrying guys (Terri Treas, ALL THAT JAZZ, HOUSE IV).
Luz does fine as the affably meatheaded, inoffensively hunky sheriff, being exactly dumb enough that he can’t solve this problem immediately but not quite so dumb that you want to slap him upside the head, but he’s kinda upstaged by Langlois and Morgan, both absolutely effervescent here, even in underwritten roles. It’s a shame that it seems like neither actress ever really got her due. But come on, you know that the real star here ain’t the humans. The real star is the swarm of cockroach-actors who do some real solid work here portraying a more man-eating mutant version of themselves, the kind that might menace a small town. Though you might be initially disappointed that they’re not the size of a St. Bernard --as the movie’s cover art fraudulently teases-- maybe it’s better this way; swarms of real cockroaches are just such a immediately and naturally repulsive sight that they’re gonna wrench a shiver out of you even in a movie which is basically just a low-budget JAWS with killer bugs.
For most of the movie, that’s all you get; someone will go to some lonely place and perform some innocuous task, while the camera gleefully informs us that death by a thousand clicking mandibles waits nearby, unseen. Then, suddenly, the person will wince, look around, and realize that they’re standing in a sea of tiny carapaces, and before long they’re a pile of bloody bones. The gore effects are fine if not especially over the top, and these sequences are assembled with care, but admittedly, this does go on for awhile. The whole first half of the movie is fairly small scale, perhaps a little more focused on setup and teasing out the concept than is really warranted for something so lowbrow. While a cockroach attack is never far away, there’s no way around it, THE NEST spends a good bit of time, especially in the first half, establishing characters and a sense of location. That sounds pretty dire, but for the sort of person who loves 80’s cult cinema, this is almost as good as killer bugs because it’s so perfectly an artifact of that time. If you’re into these 80’s nostalgia pastiche things they got now (like that Stranger Things show everyone keeps trying to get me to watch) -- well, this is exactly the kind of thing they’re trying to recapture. It’s got some mystery and some horror, but spends much of its time as an affable smalltown drama, populated by colorful locals performed broadly but affectionately, and bedecked in truly nauseating 80’s fashion.
For me, part of the affable charm of THE NEST is luxuriating in its quintessential 80’s-ness. If you have any affection for that particular vibe, I can hardly think of another example which captures it so perfectly. But for those weirdos out there who would like a little more juice from a killer cockroach movie, never fear; in the home stretch, things escalate rather sharply, and a series of disgusting bloody monster puppets enter the fray. There’s a inside-out catroach (are you listening, SyFy channel?), a multi-headed and very pissed-off meat casserole which would not look out of place in FROM BEYOND, and, most impressively, a truly bravura flesh-ripping sequence which ranks among the best of its ilk I’ve ever seen. Special effects director James M. Navarra didn’t do too many other films (976-EVIL and NOT OF THIS EARTH are his only other horror credits) and that’s a damn shame, because while the movie doesn’t pack a lot of effects in, the practical effects it does offer (especially seen in glorious Blu-Ray) pack a real wallop.
THE NEST is obviously not a movie for everyone, but for a certain kind of taste, it’s as exquisite a morsel as is likely to come your way. Broad, colorful 80’s archetypes in a low-budget but professionally assembled JAWS ripoff which eventually turns into goddam DEAD-ALIVE, all held together by thousands of disgusting, swarming cockroaches? I’m frankly baffled that the movie has stayed as obscure as it has over time. Hopefully, now that Shout Factory has done God’s work and brought it out into the light, it won’t scurry back under the refrigerator.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
Roaches Have Never Tasted Meat… Until Now. And, also, what is certainly the greatest tagline of all time and I wish to God I could confirm it was really used and not just something funny someone put on IMDB, but… Why Is The Cheese Moving?
There is a nest.
Yes, from Eli Cantor’s novel of the same name
There’s a 2000 TV movie called THEY NEST, which is also about cockroaches and looks like it has some suspiciously similar scenes, but as far as I can tell it’s not an acknowledged remake.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Killler Bugs / When animals attack!, Mutant, body horror
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Yes, in a big way
MORAL OF THE STORY
There is basically no variation on the JAWS-with-a-(insert your own animal here) that won’t result in a pretty good movie.