Nest, The (Scream Factory Blu-ray)
Directors - Terrence H. Winkless
Cast - Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 2
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 02/27/13
The Film: 3/5
The tiny island community of North Port has a skin-crawling problem: large numbers of cockroaches are springing up all over town and no one can figure out why and how. Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) is enjoying a normal, dull day on the job when his office starts getting strange calls about people disappearing and animals acting unusual, and somehow it is all tied to a research facility owned by the INTEC Corporation and built for the purposes of genetic research. Eventually the roaches grow weary of snacking on table scraps left out by the lazy townsfolk and set their sights on eating dogs and cats. Before long they've graduated to devouring the citizens of North Port. Besieged mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing) calls INTEC for help and they send their geneticist Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas) to find a solution to the town's carnivorous cockroach infestation. Hubbard reveals to Mayor Johnson that INTEC was experimenting with the roaches to create a larger breed that would destroy the normal roaches and then die out within a short amount of time, but the ones they created through genetic mutation have become so strong that not even the most powerful pesticide at the company's disposal can kill them. Worst of all, the roaches are beginning to spawn hideous creatures that are hybrids of what they eat. Sheriff Tarbell, Johnson's daughter (and the sheriff's old flame) Beth (Lisa Langlois), Dr. Hubbard, and the town's resident exterminator and entomology fanatic Homer (Stephen Davies) must race against time to destroy the roaches and their hybrid monstrosities and save the citizens that haven't already become their bedtime snacks before INTEC sends in a fleet of helicopters to spray the entire island with the pesticide Rentenone, which won't have any effect on the mutated roaches but it will kill every human it touches.
Anyone who has ever lived in a low-rent apartment or house - or in any residential area of New York City - can relate the problems the people of North Port have dealing with a sudden invasion of ravenous cockroaches. Using a novel written by Eli Cantor (under the pen name Gregory A. Douglas) as their source, director Terence H. Winkless and screenwriter Robert King have crafted The Nest into a creepy little horror flick that harkens back to sci-fi B-movies of the 1950's like Them! and Bert I. Gordon's giant grasshopper epic Beginning of the End but seems the most inspired by Steven Spielberg's standard-setting 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws in the construction and execution of its highly derivative plot. Winkless, the University of Southern California film school alum who started working in the industry as a production assistant on John Carpenter's classic student film Dark Star before teaming with John Sayles to author the screenplay for Joe Dante's beloved werewolf horror The Howling, made his directorial debut on The Nest and he takes full advantage of several decades' worth of experience in various aspects of film production to deliver a very professional-looking film that makes up in sheer lunacy and gruesome effects what it lacks in visual finesse and sensible storytelling. Even with a running time of 87 minutes (including credits) the movie's pace can occasionally drag as Winkless devotes a little too much screen time to his various plot threads, including the renewal of Richard and Beth's romance that was put on hold when she left North Port to move to Los Angeles and how her return affects Richard's relationship with local diner owner Lillian (Nancy Morgan) and the internal conflict between keeping the town's economy from cratering and allowing the devious INTEC to use the island as a breeding ground for their deregulated genetic experiments that the mayor has to overcome. By the time the third act ramps up and the roaches begin evolving into their hybrid forms most of these subplots are pretty much forgotten or wrapped up hurriedly in order for the carnage to take center stage. But what carnage it is.
Under the supervision of James M. Navarra, who would later work on the boobtastic remake of Not of This Earth and Robert Englund's directorial debut 976-EVIL, the effects crew creates some horrific sights that gave The Nest its solitary concession to the exploitive gore fests that cluttered movie houses and video stores during the heyday of 80's horror. Though we are mostly spared on-screen deaths for not only a German Shepherd but also a sweet stray cat used as bait for the roaches by the cold Dr. Hubbard, the humans do not fare as well: characters are chewed up and condensed into roach droppings by the hungry insects, rending skin from bone like they were tearing into a bucket of KFC with mad aplomb. Arms are severed, ribcages exposed, skull tops sliced, and eyeballs are popped from their owners' sockets with the energy of lobbed spitballs. Lucio Fulci would be proud. The effects highlight is when one of the roach-man hybrids bursts free from its human host; during this scene I was thinking of the brilliant transformation scenes in the remakes of The Thing and The Fly that were both released several years before The Nest and seemed to have left quite the impact on the look and feel of the practical effects sequences of Winkless' film. Just wait until you take a gander at the roaches' "queen" because you just may squeal with gorehound glee.
Screenwriter King, the future creator of the CBS drama series The Good Wife whose screenwriting credits also include Cutthroat Island and the first of the Bloodfist movies starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson (and also directed by Winkless), roots his characters in the time-tested archetypes of B-monster movies past - the heroic sheriff, the gutsy love interest, the conflicted local politician, and the morally ambiguous scientist to name a few. But he also manages to create a few interesting eccentrics to give the town of North Port some interesting color and identity. The standout is the wisecracking Homer, who considers himself a "pest control agent" and putters around town on his motor scooter going from one extermination endeavor to another. There's also the loquacious kleptomaniac and junk hoarder Jake (Jack Collins) and the bedridden local gossip Mrs. Pennington (played by the late, great character actress Diana Bellamy). Winkless and King concoct some random humorous moments such as a scene where Lillian battles a horde of roaches in her diner with a microwave, blender, and deep fat fryer while "La Cucharacha" plays on the soundtrack. It's moments like that you can't help but revel in the absurdity of what is happening, but they rarely undercut the escalating tension. The performances rarely rise above competent and functional, but there isn't a stiff presence or amateur night theatrics to be found. Luz makes a fine hero, Lansing the Mayor Vaughn-lite politico who as always was only thinking of the town's best interests, Langlois is a cute and capable female lead with a few more dimensions than women characters are genuinely allowed in flicks like this, and Treas injects a character that could have been a one-note exposition dispenser with traces of dark humor. It's Davies who just about steals the whole show as Homer, armed with some hilarious quips and a spastic energy that carries The Nest over its many slow spots.
The Nest isn't the most visually extravagant feature to premiere on Blu-ray recently but Shout!'s 1.78:1 1080p widescreen transfer is a solid presentation of the movie. The picture quality is sharp throughout with low levels of grain, little noticeable print damage, and some remarkable visual detail at times. Colors during both the day and night scenes are slightly but when the gruesome third act kicks into gear the bloody marvelous practical effects can be enjoyed in all their gory glory. As for the audio quality, Shout! committed a serious error by listing the inclusion of an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio channel in the Blu-ray set-up menu despite the fact that no such audio track can be found here. Instead what we get are a pair of 24-bit English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks that contain an occasional deficiency in the sound mix during certain dialogue scenes, but that could have been a result of the film's low-budget post-production work. The squishy sound effects in the various roach attack scenes and the screams of their victims are clear as a bell and there is absolutely no overlap between the dialogue and music. English subtitles are included.
The sole extra is an audio commentary with the director. Winkless is a better-than-decent speaker and he keeps the track interesting with fun stories from the production of The Nest and a welcome sense of playful humor about his involvement with the movie more than twenty years after it was made.
Shout! has also included a bonus DVD copy containing a standard-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Nest along with Winkless' commentary track.
The Nest is one of the better killer bug movies of its time, which isn't saying much when you consider its competition. But the movie is a fun time-waster with sporadic wit and a final twenty minutes packed with gleefully nasty old school practical effects work. Check out this gory gem from Scream Factory on a nifty Blu-ray if you're in the mood for some extra cheap skin-crawling thrills and chills.