Sunday, October 19, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 14: The Nest (1988)

Nobody likes cockroaches. Or, at least, nobody likes the common American, German, Asian, and Oriental "pest" varieties. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are actually pretty neat, in my opinion, but then again they aren't likely to be found soiling the food in your pantry.

On the whole, however, cockroaches aren't directly dangerous. Their menace lies in their ability to ruin food, spread disease, and trigger allergies and asthma--these are all terrifying things in actuality, but if a healthy adult found themself suddenly swarmed by hundreds or thousands of cockroaches, they'd come out the other side wanting for a serious scrubdown with anti-microbial soap but otherwise probably very much alive and extremely grossed out.

What if that changed? What if cockroaches suddenly decided that humans were more tempting morsels than our insufficiently secured food? We can't even keep the little bastards out of our homes when all they want is our cereal: if they started gunning for us, we wouldn't stand a chance!

The island community of North Port, California is gearing up for tourist season, which is about the only time anything of interest happens there. Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Frank Luz) is rudely awakened by his dispatch operator radioing him to inform him that a local and a tourist girl are missing. They went missing by the old lighthouse, which seems to be a common place to lose young folk. Oh, and the guard dog at the INTEC Development site is causing complaints again. Tarbell is more concerned with the live cockroach he finds swimming in his coffee, but is unable to flag down the local eccentric exterminator, Homer (Stephen Davies) as the man whizzes past Tarbell's house on his motorbike. So any fumigation will have to wait.

Tarbell stops by the local diner to get a refill on his coffee and a good morning kiss from his girlfriend, Lillian (Nancy Morgan), who runs the place. The gossip in the diner is both about an increase in pests for everyone, and that mayor Elias Johnson's (Robert Lansing) birthday is coming up. And that could mean a homecoming for his estranged daughter, Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois). Not a prospect that Tarbell or Lillian seems thrilled by.

Tarbell goes to the lighthouse, intending to investigate the disappearances when he hears a loud buzzing, like a horde of insects. He goes to investigate--and is ambushed by Jake (Jack Collins), Lillian's father and resident wacky old coot. Tarbell has some words with Jake about not ambushing a police officer who carries a gun, and then asks Jake how quickly he got to the lighthouse when Tarbell saw him outside the diner earlier. Turns out it was because Jake indulged in one of his kooky old man habits of stealing someone's motor raft. Tarbell promises to overlook it if Jake takes it back at once, but is completely flummoxed when Jake asks if Tarbell is gonna marry his daughter. He manages to dodge the old man's question.

The answer, obviously, is no. This is plainly clear when Elizabeth arrives and Tarbell goes to pick her up from the landing strip North Port calls an airport. You see, the two of them were involved before she left after her mother's death. And Tarbell is just the kind of schmuck to date another woman whilst obsessing over an ex.

Tarbell doesn't immediately try to woo Elizabeth again, for what it's worth. He drops her off at home after some rueful words about four years and all that. Elias and Elizabeth are not exactly eager to see each other either. There's some terse discussion about her mother's things being moved to the basement, and all in all it's a pretty unwelcoming return.

Things are about to get worse for everyone, as Elizabeth finds out when she goes hiking by the INTEC Development. She's nearly mauled by the guard dog, and then finds an old favorite stomping ground further down the trail has been fenced off. Luckily for her, she's too far away from where the dog is chained up when that buzzing comes again. Whatever's making the sound terrifies the dog, but it can't escape...

When Elizabeth responds to the dog's cries of distress, she finds it has been stripped almost completely to the bone by the time she can run back to it. Tarbell appears and the two share some terribly ADR'ed dialogue about the state of the dog. Tarbell notices the dog is covered with some strange pellet-like objects. He and Elizabeth notify Elias about the dog but, since it happened on INTEC property, Elias insists that they be allowed to do their own investigation. It turns out he has a good reason for wanting INTEC to look into it, as he calls someone as soon as Tarbell and his daughter are out of earshot to tell them that what they feared might happen is happening.

Tarbell finds a lot more weird stuff is happening in the town itself. Mrs. Pennington (Diana Bellamy), the librarian insists that vandals have torn every page out of the books. When Tarbell examines one book, he points out that it was actually either insects or rodents chewing the glue out of the binding. Mrs. Pennington is less convinced, because how could the glue in every book have been eaten overnight? At the local grocer, Tarbell is shown a packaged T-Bone steak that has been stripped clean and told that every piece of meat in the store is like that. Tarbell notices that more of those pellets are in the packages, too.

That night, Jake gets to find out what's going on when he's shooting at a rat in his junkyard. He keeps missing, but then the rat's severed head lands at his feet--bitten off. As the buzzing surrounds him, Jake proves just how kooky he is by deciding that hiding under the covers is enough to protect him. The spurts of blood, his screams, and his severed arm being dragged away by something unseen prove that to have been a mistake.

INTEC's expert arrives, Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas). Elias greets her at the airport and then, ugh, begins trying to talk her into dinner sometime. Hubbard is far more interested in examining the dead dog. Tarbell is immediately put off by the woman's "emotionless" reaction to the dead carcass. I say "emotionless" because despite the hints that Hubbard is supposed to be somehow robotic,, she has plenty of emotion: she just expresses it in standard mad scientist ways.

For instance, once they've found an excuse to get rid of Tarbell, she finds great amusement in using a stray cat as live bait in her trap while a homing signal calls to what she's looking for. The cat suffers the same fate as the guard dog, but now she has the specimens she needed to study in her impromptu lab in the old lighthouse--carnivorous cockroaches. In studying the cockroaches, Hubbard almost takes glee in having the little bastards maul her hand when she's examining them in a glove box. And the dialogue between her and Elias spells out quite clearly what we won't actually be told until much later.

These carnivorous roaches were, as in Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic, genetically engineered to eat regular roaches. INTEC bought some property from Elias to test the roaches out and they were engineered to die after one generation. Trouble is, they thrived. Worse, Hubbard quickly discovers that while the roaches will succumb to a specific poison gas but the amount required is lethal to humans. If they can't find another way, they'll have to evacuate the island.

Tarbell begins to catch up. He has Homer examine the strange pellets and finds out they're roach droppings, but big ones. And then the dispatch operator delivers the info that Tarbell had asked for about Hubbard--she was kicked out of MIT for illegal experimentation. Things get even weirder when Elizabeth goes to investigate the INTEC property and finds Bronson Canyon. It's been fenced off but she finds a way in and finds dynamite and a timed detonator, strange bulbous pods hanging from the ceiling, and is chased out of the cave by a horde of cockroaches. She only heard them, however, so Elias is able to keep his secret a bit longer while trying to evade Tarbell's questioning.

Tarbell takes Elizabeth back home to his place and, off camera, the two sleep together. All this while Tarbell's actual girlfriend--who had earlier strongly suggested that Elizabeth stay away from her man--is fighting for her life against the horde of cockroaches that ate the fry cook before swarming the diner (all set to "La Cucaracha," naturally). Tarbell--Asshole,

Everyone in town is having a bad night. Homer finds Jake's remains and the roaches still chewing on them, but escapes with his life. Mrs. Pennington gets eaten when the roaches crawl into the cast on her broken leg, The local grocer is attacked while driving and--in footage cribbed from Humanoids From The Deep, he drives his truck off a bridge and it blows up. And then Homer manages to blow up his house while making a poison cocktail to kill the super roaches--also via footage from Humanoids From The Deep.

Elias, seeing that the shit may be hitting the fan soon, calls INTEC and demands that they send someone to spray the island with the poison at 5AM. If he cannot evacuate the island, he light the lighthouse and that will be the signal to abort the spray. Unfortunately, the roaches get into the phone lines about then. So when Elias radios Hubbard to tell her, he finds out that she has already discovered that the eggs laid by the roaches killed by the poison are immune to it. So spraying the island will just kill off some of the roaches, leaving only those that are immune to breed.


Tarbell drops Elizabeth at home and heads to the dispatch station--finding the operator has been devoured. He rushes to the diner, where he finds Lillian in the freezer, dead. Apparently she froze to death hiding in there from the roaches while Tarbell was fucking around on her with Elizabeth. Asshole. Tarbell also finds Homer and the two overhear on the radio that Hubbard can't get the signal lit. They head to the lighthouse and try to get some answers from Hubbard, who manages to convince them of the importance of getting the lighthouse lit.

Of course, it's no longer that simple. You see, there's a cocoon in the cage where the dead cat used to be. And when it hatches, the group in the lighthouse discovers that the roaches have developed a completely new mutation: they take on the form of their prey

That's right: Zombie Cat Roach!

Only slightly more evil than an actual cat.
So now not only do they have the roaches to contend with, but their victims, too. Good luck surviving all that and getting the lighthouse to work.

And that Eleventh Hour revelation is why I love movies like The Nest. There was nothing wrong with its "horde of carnivorous cockroaches" premise--aside from it lacking any of the giant roaches represented on the poster--but the film decided to break off in an entirely different direction in the last few minutes. That it didn't even care if the revelation makes sense is even better. Alas, I have not read the source novel by Eli Cantor (under pseudonym Gregory A. Douglas) so I can't confirm if it hails from there or was invented for the film. I would put money on the latter.

Now, to be fair, nothing is really made of this revelation considering the implications. Considering it's strongly implied the entire town has been eaten by the roaches, imagine the characters having to face down the roaches and all their zombie roach victims. Instead, no doubt owing to budget, it turns out the roaches have a Queen that appears to be composed of all their victims. And Homer figures out the Queen is calling the roaches back to the nest, even though he ought to know roaches don't normally have Queens.

I will let that slide on account of the fact that the Queen is awesome.

"Get away from her you bi-- Er, on second thought you can have her. Have all of them, just please don't touch me. Gah!"
Aside from that, the film is definitely very standard. Its characters could have come off a conveyor belt. You have your unscrupulous politician/capitalist who dooms his community--though, hilariously, the implied Jaws ripoff of having a local festival attacked never materializes--and the unethical scientist who created the monsters, both of whom meet their end at the hands of their hubris.

Much like me and HubrisWeen, but with more legs.

The other main characters are the hero cop who won't stop investigating, the old flame who returns, and the comic relief exterminator. You've seen them all before and since, many times. Though usually hero cop is less of a cheating asshole. Seriously, what a lousy douchebag.

The film is surprisingly light on the expected exploitation elements, too. Oh, sure, there's buckets of gore--but there's zero nudity. It rather reminds you of Roger Corman's current output, pre-packaged for TV exhibition on channels where you can tear women apart in graphical detail but you can't show their nipples, than what he was still producing in the 1980s. (Though it was Julie Corman whose name is on this one as producer, it still counts since it was his production company)

Then again, that could describe another Corman production so I suppose the change has been a long time coming.

Mind you, not having sleazy scenes for those in the audience who swing towards women to leer at is hardly a criticism of the film. Merely a curious observation. Certainly, I enjoy the film enough for it to have a place in my collection, but that doesn't necessarily mean a movie is good.

And The Nest is definitely "not exactly good." It certainly hits a lot of the right notes and has a sense of humor--Lillian killing cockroaches to "La Cucaracha", as earlier mentioned--that helps to keep it from taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, that sense of humor is sometimes full of jokes so stale it's amazing the script wasn't devoured by roaches, and all of them center around Homer. Comic relief characters in movies are almost always the characters you wish death upon who won't die, and while Homer never quite gets that bad he comes dangerously close.

If you enjoy B-Movies, you'll like this one. If you expect your horror films to be truly good, look elsewhere. The Nest is a delightful time waster, but it has very little else to offer.

Other than Zombie Cat Roach: you won't see that one anywhere else.

This concludes HubrisWeen, day 14. Click the banner to find out what else is in store for you.

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