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STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 89 Minutes
• Commentary with Director Terence H. Winkless–
–“Tanner this is Denton! This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. I repeat: KILLER COCKROACHES!”–
–Terence H. Winkless (Director), Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois, Franc Luz, Terry Treas, Stephen Davies–
–The quiet town of North Port is being overrun by cockroaches! Sheriff Tarbell (Franc Luz) believes that genetic experiments being conducted by the INTEC Corporation are the cause. Confronted with a potential disaster, Mayor Johnson (Robert Lansing) calls for help.
When Dr. Hubbard (Terri Treas) from INTEC arrives, she realizes that an innocent experiment has gone terribly wrong. Ordinary cockroaches are turning into creatures with a taste for blood.–
–It’s a Damnation Alley quote, okay?
Killer Pest movies are a mixed bag. Snakes, rats, bugs, and spiders cause a very instinctively visceral reaction out of people. Since everyone is afraid of one or more of them there is all sorts of terrifying gold to be mined by taking a fairly harmless creature and making it dangerous.
Unfortunately these movies are rarely ever made by auteurs and, more often than not, writers put the whole weight of the story on the killer snakes, bees, worms, spiders, ants, bats, rats, or whatever to carry the movie while some boring TV actors sleepwalk through the plot of Jaws.
The Nest easily could have fallen into the same rut as those other movies; Roger Corman’s production company was still chasing that elusive Jaws money and had crapped out a string of atrocious ripoffs (and a couple of decent ones) in its quest to catch lightning in a bottle and there’s certainly no originality immediately apparent from the plot. So what sets this movie apart from its mediocre peers?
Our protagonist is Richard Tarbell, a nice-guy Sheriff. Tarbell is as plain as a no-flavor snow-cone but actor Franc Luz manages to inject just enough personality and charisma into the role as to make him more likeable and less boring than a score of other nice-guy law enforcement agents dealing with sharks, grizzly bears, and demonic cars attacking their idyllic small towns.
Tarbell wakes up to a series of events that makes him soon realize that his small island town is infested with cockroaches. He enlists the help of local “Pest Control Specialist” Homer. Played by Stephen Davies, Homer is one of the great cinematic exterminators joining the ranks of John Goodman in Arachnophobia, Brad Dourif in The Graveyard Shift, and Randy Quaid in Bug Buster.
While Homer plays roach killer, Tarbell picks up his old high school sweetheart Elizabeth at the airport. Elizabeth is as plain as petroleum jelly on wonder bread and I don’t think an actress of any caliber could fix that. Lisa Langlois does an admirable job of making Elizabeth far more likeable than she deserves but there’s only so much that can be done with such a damp squib of a character. Elizabeth exists for almost purely expository and romantic purposes. She’s there to squeeze information out of our well-meaning greedy mayor character/her father (played by Robert Lansing) and to get in danger and make kissy faces with Tarbell at the end of the movie.
After the roaches start eating people, cats, dogs, and anything else that constitutes organic matter, the mayor does what any good mayor in a Jaws ripoff would do. He sweeps it under the rug and calls in an incompetent nutcase (usually referred to as a “professional”) to solve the problem. Enter Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas) a cold, calculating, and heartless woman so vile that she should’ve been played by Meg Foster. She deduces that the roaches are pretty much unstoppable and like her twin-in-spirit from Piranha, she’s quite proud of this.
As the movie pulls into its final act, it is perfectly sane and acceptable to expect human-sized cockroaches; after all it’s the obvious progression and the cover even has one on. There is nothing obvious or sane about what actually happens. I’m not going to tell you what does actually happen, just suffice it to say that things go in the craziest direction they possibly could. I will say that the Queen is one of the most disturbing looking movie monsters I have ever seen.
There’s also a lot of nice little touches to the movie. The first death is the radio announcer at the beginning and it’s played off so casually that it’s genuinely chilling. There’s also a lot of great gags and banter. The back-and-forth between the Sheriff and the dispatcher are great, as is the opening gag involving him with a coffee cup containing a roach and Homer is a constant source of hilarity, particularly when he blows up his own house with dangerous bug-killing chemicals and blames it on the roaches.
I do have one major grievance. In addition to Elizabeth being boring, she’s vastly overshadowed by another female character: Lillian. Lillian works in and owns the local diner and is the daughter of the crazy old man character Shakey Jake (amatuer Ernest Borgnine impersonator Jack Collins.) Thanks to actress Nancy Morgan, and just good writing, Lillian oozes charisma and she’s an outright badass. (The greatest scene in the entire movie centers around her battling a cockroach siege on the diner wielding spatulas, hot coffee, a blender, and a microwave all while La Cucaracha plays over the jukebox. It is a thing of beauty.) Furthermore, she’s already dating the sheriff at the beginning of the movie when Elizabeth shows up. Lillian should’ve been the romantic lead and Elizabeth should have been written out of the script.
I can see why this movie didn’t do very well in its initial run. It treads a lot of familiar territory and it probably didn’t help that The Blob came out the same year, going for the same sort of dynamic whilst upsetting a lot of the genre tropes that this movie clings to so desperately. Still, The Nest is just too weird, crazy, gross, and fun not to love. I heartily recommend a double feature of this and The Graveyard Shift.–
–Unlike a lot of Scream! Factory releases, this one doesn’t have much in the way of special features. Picture and sound are crisp and clear on both the DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the movie and both feature an audio commentary with the director that’s pretty interesting to listen to if for no reason other than it being like listening to your grandfather discussing that time he made a killer cockroach movie..–
Out of a Possible 5 Stars