The Nest (1988) Review by RevTerry

Bugs ( insects, spiders, etc., not the bunny) and I have a complex relationship. I think they are amazing-- anatomy, behavior, the fact that we have very little in common. It all intrigues me immensely on both a curiosity and an aesthetic level, even if sometimes it takes me a few minutes to appreciate it. Also, generally, I prefer not to kill things, if it's avoidable. Trying to build good karma is hard enough without me ending tiny little lives when I get spooked in the kitchen. Instead, I try to overcome my lizard brain, wait for any surprise to subside, scoop the little alien-looking assholes up, and release them back into the wild (out the front door). Unfortunately, while this nonviolent policy worked well back in my home town in California, the stakes are higher here in the desert. Before, the worse thing I could run into (bug-wise) was a black widow. Currently, I spend my summer months bumping into all sorts of random, real life, Creepy Crawler mother fuckers with a range of weapons and attitudes. They still look cool. If anything, many of them seem more badass, and they are smart too, but that makes it worse. Take the scorpion for example, as I don't go a week without finding one in the vicinity of my sleeping place (a pile of laundry/tapes with 2 X-Files action figures, a portrait of Ray Bradbury and a lamp next to it). You don't just capture or "squish" a scorpion, you engage in mortal combat, and not in the exciting way with the "K" instead of "C." The fucked-up kind, like when two plane crash survivors are forced to fight over the last ounce of a stewardess. Everything about the moment's struggle feels more substantial than your average reckless act of human superiority. Both parties give off an air of desperate strategy and the room has a strangling musk to it. I can't explain in full but put plainly, it's hardcore shit and reminds me more of a street fight with a stranger, than a one-sided extermination. Plus, if I win (it's a statistics game at this point), I have to deal with that later. How am I supposed to live after killing something nearly as smart as me because I was afraid of his poison-butt-spear and secretly know I'm the real invader? It could be worse, I guess. I could be in a New England fishing village, facing an infestation of chemically enhanced roaches with a taste for flesh and a knack for lively impressions.
A small-town sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) awakens one afternoon to call into the station for an update and takes a drink of day-old (at least) coffee with a cockroach swimming in it.  After spitting all over the floor, he heads down to the local diner where his hard-working waitress girlfriend Lillian (Nancy Morgan) is employed. He engages in some warm banter with his sweetie and her senile eccentric thief father "Shakey"Jake (Jack Collins) and grabs a kiss before immediately heading down to the dock to pick up an ex-girlfriend arriving by private plane, Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois). On the way back into town, Richard informs his old flame that he has become a sheriff in her absence and offers some small talk before quickly making things more awkward by blurting signs of affection at an increasing volume. It goes over better than you would think, as Liz seems morosely interested. Soon it’s like she never left (and he never started dating old whatsername, who is probably back at her actual job, working). Once the two have arrived on Main St, they are hailed by the local librarian. Mrs. Pennington (Diana Bellamy) frantically informs the duo that the binding has been removed from all the books overnight and demands justice be served in some form. The untrustworthy law enforcement agent remarks to the distressed civil servant that since it's most likely some kind of pest, and there is nothing he can do to help. He then leaves to drop off his old/new romance with her dad, the corrupt elected official, mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing). While the heiress checks in at the mansion for a dramatic reunited embrace, Richard rides off alone to do some sheriff-ing. Well... kind of, he mostly just plays with his radio, implies to the crazy larcenist that he intends to marry his poor daughter or at least "likes her a lot" and circles back to Casa de Johnson. Upon returning to the area, he (somehow) finds Elizabeth wandering around near a dilapidated trailer. It's a good thing too because as he is walking up, she discovers a pile of mangled canine remains in the grass. Mr. Sheriff examines (pokes) the carcass with a hunting knife and finds the insides riddled with hungry baby beetles. Since rapidly fucked up bug situations are overshadowing his love triangle, Sheriff Tarbell decides to look into a possible connection. So after some more drama, he meets with every expert in town including Homer The Exterminator (Stephen Davies) and the insect-specific, super-scientist Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas) who just happens to be playing Dr. Moreau with some cockroaches. Soon, it looks as if fucking up the town's literature was just the start, and an entire species of superbugs have made drastic changes to their diet recently, namely adding human meat to the menu. It's up to the sheriff, to rally his gang of ex-girlfriends and local nuts against the insect take-over. More bug related doom follows as well as some shoddy relationship examples and a bloody blob of bug parts with a human face. Also, Dr. Hubbard really likes being bitten by her pets at the lab, like, a lot.
Initially, the film’s plot and general motif are that of every Jaws rip off mixed with a little of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). These borrowed moments are lovingly shoved together into the dated frame of a classic creature feature. Outside of some cars, the finale’s effects and camera quality, the project could have been made for the drive-in crowd, cashing in on the earlier era's animal attack craze. Compared to films with similar themes, where the vintage cheese is played for laughs, The Nest approaches the source material with a mostly straight face. Knowingly, It leans hard into the b movie tropes, cliches, and format without overt meta-reference or a snubbed nose. As the plot moves along from animal attack movie into schlocky sci-fi, it takes on a few self-aware qualities but holds tight to its earnest ambitions. The desire to thrill or scare makes the dialogue all the campier in savory varieties lost on parody. I'm pretty sure everyone knows it's ridiculous, but by not continually pointing that out in a self-defeating way, the viewer can engage with (or giggle at) the mixed bag of silliness on any level they choose. Almost nothing substantial happens for much of the early storyline, and we are left with bits and pieces of small-town melodrama told with an out of place whimsical undertone. It's more fun than it should be and ends up landing a carefree vibe even with the whole creepy asshole protagonist thing it's got going on. I don't know if its the fact that it takes place at a waterfront, that it's mostly lifted from Piranha (1978) or that I associate bugs with warmer months, but it has a real "summer" vibe to it. The seasonal vacation motif sticks around until it explodes into messy mutated carnage, never looking back and rendering most of the relationship shit null. As a more era-appropriate riff, this latter chunk seems to pull from Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) pretty heavily as well as Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and tosses in some unsavory implied eroticism for extra flavor. Hollow but satisfying in some of my favorite ways, it's a tour of vintage genre trash with a finish that's all late 80s. I make no claims to be a bug expert; however, I would probably leave your life science textbook on the shelf and just enjoy the silly, sometimes sticky, ride.
If it wasn't obvious, Roger Corman fingerprints are all over the late 80s outing. Through  Concorde Pictures, his wife Julie Corman served as producer, and Roger reportedly ponied up some of the dough for production, which features many of his trademarks throughout. In a lot of ways, it serves as "best of" when it comes to the nature-attacks films he has laid hands on but with cockroaches and some awesomely morbid late 80s trends thrown on top. It ends up being a solid example of that subgenre, at least in part due to the direction of Terence H. Winkless. There are a lot of great updates to the format, but while the majority of them seem to emphasize the comedic aspects of the golden age of Corman shlock, here Winkless puts forth an attempt to scare and/or thrill. It's not wholly effective, if at all, but the serious route makes for a different kind of derivative b movie enjoyment.  As was the norm for Concorde releases at the time, there is recycled footage intercut from other features to pad up the action with more explosions. It's not exactly subtle (talking like Sgt. Kabukiman Car Crash style), and if your up on your deep-dwelling Humanoids then you will probably see through the "sneaky" splicing. In-kind pieces of The Nest would later be utilized in the piecemeal Dino flick, Raptor (2001), as well as other Corman linked productions. The rest of editing is functional, at its best it invokes some of the film’s oddly satisfying, laid-back vibes. At worst, it ruins the set-up on the intentional comedy.  Reserved primarily for the second half, the real payoff comes from the properly grotesque, all-in practical effects. They are nowhere near the best the era had to offer, but they have moments of true gooey greatness and are consistently well designed. Possibly due to a lack of help from editing and angles, the monstrosities can look a little stiff in action at times, and like the rest of the film, the gags can be somewhat familiar. Though flawed, the effects are still worth the wait for any era-appropriate goo fans, even if you weren't digging the throwback vacation-town drama. The production brought in its own real-life infection by using over 2,000 real cockroaches, which they graciously left behind at the studio in LA.
The cast features a large chunk of Star Trek alumni from the various space-faring series in well-placed roles, even if the most seasoned of them Robert Lansing doesn't seem super stoked about the material. As the grumpy, nefarious and stubborn mayor, Lansing sometimes feels like he is reading someone else's lines. Luckily, the veteran exudes classic but adequately cornball authority without really trying. His schtick here is kind of low rent Ronny Cox meets evil Andy Griffith and is probably the most lackluster element in the film, but he is also responsible for some of the movie’s best unintentional comedic lines, so it works out (that might also be why he is pissed though). My favorite character, crazy science lady Dr. Hubbard is played by Terri Treas, who I can't see without remembering her rubber alien cranium prosthetic from the Alien Nation TV series(not that I spent a year watching that entire series on sci-fi reruns, instead of going to school). Her character here takes a few cues from iconic fellow mad-scientists but amps up some unique aspects to make it her own. The story doesn't even explain or further utilize half the crap she says or does, but it's all trashy gold to me, and Treas seems to be having a blast being weird as fuck. She has never been in a Star Trek series, which I find to be a shame as she handles jargon well here, and we already know she can do rubber headgear. Franc Luz takes up the most screen as Richard Tarbell, while Lisa Langlois plays damsel/other women/awkward love interest, Elizabeth Johnson. The two have a creepy relationship that is baked prominently into the banter, awkward looks, and circumstances. I had chalked it up to just being bad, confusing fictional relationship dynamics, but after repeat watches, I'm starting to wonder if that speaks to some rambling exposition stuck in the bug shit later. There is also a good chance I could be overthinking, which is both not an effective way of watching this and really an all-around unhealthy thing to do in these situations.
The Nest (1988 film) is squirming shlock casserole made from generations of monstrous seafood leftovers, body horror, and cockroaches. It's a classic nature-attacks drive-in flick with a gnarly VHS practical effects point on its tail end. I wouldn't say it's going to become your favorite Corman-flavored nugget from the 80s, but it's a fulfilling alternative update of the "King of the Drive-in"s more celebrated years. It's also not a smart movie despite "science" being at the forefront, just good squishy pulp with a noticeably gung ho spirit. Speaking of which, did you know scorpions kind of pop when you smash them? It's true. I hear it over and over, every night while holding back tears. 
1h 29min | 1988
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Writers: Eli Cantor (based on the novel by), Robert King

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Review by:
RevTerry
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