Horrifying shocker as a biological experiment goes haywire when meat-eating mutant roaches invade an island community, terrorizing a peaceful New England fishing village and hideously butchering its citizens.
When it comes to movies having a “gross out factor,” few films can hold their own against those that feature cockroaches. While all types of insects have been shown throughout decades of creature features, there continues to be something about the roach that causes a reaction of true horror every time we watch them. Maybe it’s how they travel in horrible, writhing teams.
Maybe it’s because they have a reputation for being near impossible to kill. It could easily be because of that dreadful hissing sound they make. Whatever the reason, we can all agree that regular roaches are bad, let alone super-strong roaches with a taste for human blood. This type of roach is the insidious evil that stars in Terence H. Winkless’ film The Nest from 1988. Winkless would go on to direct the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers television show from 1993 to 1995, but it certainly doesn’t show in this his first foray into directing. The Nest is revolting film which serves a vehicle for some fun gross special effects and make up complimented by surprisingly good acting. (This doesn’t mean its good, I just expected it to be a whole lot worse.)
The film opens with young Sheriff Richard Tarbell (played by Frank Luz) puttering around his bungalow in the morning before heading into work, though you get the impression that most days at work for Richard don’t involve very much action. Following a brief interaction with a solitary roach who seemed to have gotten lost from the pack, we move with Richard through the island town of North Point. We establish that this a quiet town off the mainland that apart from tourist season, rarely sees any excitement. We also get to meet the town mayor, played by Robert Lansing. In the first few moments of the film, he interacts with an agent of a mysterious corporation called INTEC. Though we don’t get the full story from this stunted interaction, we do see that INTEC has made a deal with the mayor to do “something” on the island in return for an investment. Thrown into the mix is the mayor’s daughter Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois), who turns out to be a long lost love of Richard who left the island for years after her mother’s tragic death. There are tensions between these characters and some of the other towns folk, but lets get to the meat of the film… so we can eat it! (Sorry.)
Now that we have our main characters, lets “flesh” out the plot a little.
There’s a bunch of killer roaches on the loose, and the town gets eaten alive.
Sure, it isn’t as simple as that, but that’s really the gist of things. Because the film was based on a novel of the same name by Eli Cantor (I never heard of him either) it seems as though the story wants to include some of the plot details that book compelling, and a lot of it actually works, especially the strained relationship between Elizabeth and her father. However, at the end of the day, it’s the roaches that steal the show, in one gruesome kill after another, all of which make your stomach want to jump out of your mouth and hide in the next room.
At the same time, one of my larger problems with the film was the nature of the roaches themselves. As the film progresses, we learn that INTEC was using the island as a testing ground for a new species of cockroach. More specifically, a breed of roach that eats other roaches and then die off. This seems like a reasonable idea (I guess), but what INTEC and the town of North Point gets instead is a new breed of roach that constantly hungers for meat. The victims end up being pets, the meat section of a grocery store, and eventually humans.
This works well for the majority of the film. After all swarms of killer roaches are scary. But in the third act of the film, the genetically modified roaches demonstrate a new ability to mutate and combine with whatever they eat. We see this first with a cat and once that happens, you know what’s coming. The result: a poor man’s version of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely fun to see the various roach hybrids, but in terms of plot consistency, it seemed a little off.
What makes The Nest particular fun is that you actually care about the characters. You become somewhat invested in the love between Elizabeth and Richard, and for a movie like this, that’s a pleasant surprise. Also, there are some awesome supporting characters, the best of which is the town exterminator who provides some comic relief occasionally. This by no means a stellar horror film, but the roaches are damn creepy, and for a late night of scares, that should be enough. I’m still itching thinking about them now…
The Nest (1988)