Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #710
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 13, 1988
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Producer: Julie Corman
Screenplay: Robert King
Based on a novel by Eli Cantor
Special Effects: James M. Navarra
Cinematography: Ricardo Jacques Gale
Score: Rick Conrad
Editing: Stephen Mark, Jim Stewart
Studio: Concorde Pictures
Stars: Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois, Franc Luz, Terri Treas, Stephen Davies, Diana Bellamy, Jack Collins, Nancy Morgan, Jeff Winkless, Steve Tannen, Heidi Helmer
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Bobby Jimmy & The Critters “Roaches”
 Tito & Tarantula “Angry Cockroaches”
 Whitney Houston “Queen of The Night”
Of all the species in Mother Nature’s kingdom, few are as universally despised as cockroaches. Gross, icky, filthy, nauseating – these are just some of the adjectives used to describe these stubborn little beetle-like scavengers and they’re pretty much guilty as charged on all counts. That said, they’re also rather magnificent creatures by all accounts. Were you aware that they predate dinosaurs and are believed to have existed as far back as 359 million years ago? That their diet consists of anything from paper, cloth, soap, wood, glue, hair, other dead insects and even feces?
That they can survive up to four weeks after having their head removed thanks to all their vital functions being controlled by the thorax in their midsection? That they can also endure a nuclear explosion and can tolerate high levels of radiation? Alas it’s not all plain sailing for cockroaches as the Chinese think them something of a delicacy, deep-frying their hard-boiled asses and selling them on sticks in street markets. Just to level the playing field, a new species was recently discovered in South Africa and dubbed the “leaproach”. No prizes for guessing its special talent.
However, cockroaches are at their most meddlesome when attacking in significant numbers and a perfect example of mass roach invasion is the They’re Creeping Up On You segment from George A. Romero’s 1982 anthology, Creepshow. Mealy-mouthed mogul Upson Pratt learned the hard way that, while domestic pets are easy enough to rid yourself of, sometimes they come back.
It was no less than this breed deserved, having been passed over during the seventies creature feature revival and they made the very most of their rare moment in the limelight. It was inevitable that they’d eventually be granted their own starring vehicle and also that the great Roger Corman would have something to do with it. In fact it was his long time wife Julie on production duties for Terence H. Winkless’ debut feature, The Nest, although it’s very much part of his stable.
Mere months earlier, Juan Piquer Simón’s Slugs had revolted audiences worldwide, although the inspiration for The Nest actually derived from the likes of David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing. You see, these are far from your average roaches and it takes a lot more than pesticide to halt their incessant march. Winkless’ schlock-filled delight scuttled straight to home video and regrettably left virtually no imprint on the marketplace.
Alas, horror was already winding down by that point after almost a full decade in the limelight and decent genre flicks such as this and Frederico Prosperi’s Curse II: The Bite never gained the recognition they so rightly deserved. It has taken the best part of thirty years for audiences to unearth this rough little gem and I’m pleased as punch that the tide has finally started to turn.
To begin with, it appears that The Nest is going to be very much your run of the mill creature feature as we head to the sleepy New England town of North Port, where nature is set to run amok in this small community by manner of an infestation of unruly cockroaches. To be fair, this outbreak is the last thing on the mind of Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Frank Luz) as he has found himself stuck in the middle of an ongoing love triangle.
While dating the owner of the local diner, Lillian (Nancy Morgan), Richard’s old flame and high school sweetheart Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois) has just returned to North Port after a four-year hiatus and is keen to pick up where they left off. For the record, Elizabeth just so happens to be the daughter of town mayor, Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing), who has his grubby little fingers in a number of pies it seems.
You see, Elias is secretly in allegiance with a shady corporation by the name of INTEC and they’ve been breeding mutant roaches immune to everyday insect repellants for some time now. It isn’t long before he catches whiff of the threat to his locality and recruits unscrupulous scientist, Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas), to do some digging around.
Batting for the home team is harmless nutbag and local exterminator, Homer (Stephen Davies), who is best described as a human clay cast for John Goodman’s similarly kooky pest controller Delbert from Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia two years later. Should you be suffering from an infestation or simply be in need of a dash of light comic relief, then Homer’s very much your man.
Early doors, there’s no indication as to where The Nest is headed and Winkless introduces us to our stone cold roaches in typically innocuous fashion. We’re talking one in the coffee cup and the customary low-angled shots of a handful of its brethren mincing about the brush while the residents go about their daily duties blissfully ignorant.
However, once they begin swarming, storming, and in one case, nosediving into an incapacitated woman’s leg cast, we are swiftly and unapologetically ushered into far more dubious territory. Have you ever heard the term “you are what you eat”? Well that has never been more applicable as this particular strain of battle beetles have the ability to metamorphose into their host, leading to all manner of cross-breed combos.
Worse still, they’ve even constructed their very own knocking shop in the form of a fully active underground hive. It is there that the dreaded queen resides and dishes out orders to her hateful horde and here that our showdown is destined to play out. Fans of splatter will find themselves more than catered for here as the pedal to metal closing act is chock-full of grotesquery and sends its audience out on one helluva high.
Aside from one broad but affable turn from Davies, the ensemble play this straight down the line and Treas is in deliciously sinister form, encouraging distrust the very first second she shows up. Meanwhile, B-movie stalwart Lansing couldn’t be better cast as the obligatory dirty-nosed overseer and, while his actions may be questionable, he does at least try to atone for them once the titular nest goes haywire.
The Nest is no classic and to announce it so would be setting it up to fail when it is far more efficient at the precise opposite. One look at the stunning poster art (affectionately echoing the sensually charged ad campaign for Bert I. Gordon’s Food of The Gods) and all should be more than clear. Granted, the odd corner is cut here and there, including two more costly effects being lifted directly from another movie from the Corman canon, Barbara Peeters’ Humanoids From The Deep.
But it’s got a little thing called heart, as attested by its director’s rousing rendition of La Cucaracha for its midpoint diner scuffle. Winkless wasn’t afraid to adopt an all hands on deck approach, plucking his crispy-coated critters from the city streets; while hilariously the studio used to shoot was infested with the little blighters for several years after shooting wrapped.
If nothing else, his grossly overlooked creature feature reminded me there’s only one good roach – a stone cold one. I’d chant “off with their heads” but that no longer seems appropriate, thus I’ll have to rely on my old Doc Martens to bail me out. Something tells me that the queen has her own methods of persuasion.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Prepare to hit pay dirt as The Nest is sloppier than Beaches and no amount of handkerchiefs would mop up this fine mess. Given the lack of available funds at his disposal, what James M. Navarra achieves with his practical effects is staggering and there are more than enough examples to call upon for inspiration. From the titular hive itself, bedraggled with gooey egg sacs that hang all around it like blighted gonads, to peepers bursting and squishing beneath foot, faces being parted in a red-sea display that would make Moses throw up a little in his throat, and of course, she who must be obeyed mincing about in the murky shadows like Brundlefly’s bitch – it’s all here in glorious eye-popping eighties Technicolor.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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