The debut Roger Corman title on Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line is the creepy-crawly 1980s bug pic THE NEST, on Blu-ray and DVD combo with director commentary.
The New England island town of North Port is not only host to a potentially lucrative condo development, but also an increasingly carnivorous predator capable of rapidly stripping meat from the bone. The first onscreen victim (more about that later) is a dog, but that’s enough for Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz, GHOST TOWN) to lean on Mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS) to do something. Since the dog was killed on land belonging to the Intec Corporation, Johnson contacts them and they send in Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas, THE TERROR WITHIN) who seems more intrigued than concerned when she discovers the culprit to be a highly-evolved and militant species of cockroaches. Tarbell would have stumbled onto it earlier, but he’s caught up in a love triangle with “forty side of thirty” diner owner Lily (Nancy Morgan, GRAND THEFT AUTO) – daughter of junk man Shakey Jake (THE TOWERING INFERNO’s Jack Collins in his last role) – and Mayor Johnson’s daughter Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME) who has recently returned to the island. While Tarbell is running about investigating strange happenings around town and curious Elizabeth explores the underground caves – after conveniently stumbling across an Intec report – Dr. Hubbard persuades the mayor that she has everything under control (even as the bug mutations get more and more complex).
Corman creature film fans will know what to expect with this one: isolated small town, escalating attacks (low angle POV shots and sitcom “jiggling bushes” to start with), schism between law enforcement and local government, unethical scientist, explosive climax, and “it’s not over” final shot; however, THE NEST is surprisingly lacking in topless starlets while sporting better-than-usual special effects including an amusing mutant cat for a RE-ANIMATOR-esque setpiece (created by Cary Howe, who followed up this assignment with a FRIDAY THE 13TH entry and FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE). Treas’ Dr. Hubbord joins the Corman tradition of female scientists that are not so much mad but perhaps have skewed priorities (including Barbara Steele in PIRANHA, Ann Turkell in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, and Diane Ladd in CARNOSAUR); however, in a nice twist on the JAWS “tourist season disaster” angle, Johnson immediately wants to evacuate the island (“public scrutiny is nothing compared to the alternative”) but is convinced to hold off for 24 hours by the scientist who assures him that she has everything “completely under control”. Although nowhere near as unpleasant as SLUGS – it’s more along the lines of SQUIRM with less intentional humor – THE NEST will still elicit shudders from viewers who tend to skip over the fifth story in George Romero’s CREEPSHOW. It’s well-acted and directed, but the scenario just feels played-through without enough exploitation blandishments to make it a popcorn movie. It probably plays better on TV, which was where I saw it (I don’t recall much gore being excised, but some of it may have been darkened).
The only extra – not even a trailer, or any trailers for other Scream Factory titles (as had appeared on the line’s previous pair of titles) – is an audio commentary by director Terence H. Winkless. The director goes without a moderator, but there are few silent gaps as Winkless – not entirely proud of his debut, but fondly recalling everything that went wrong – keeps up the talk without any need for prompting. Winkless started out as an actor and screenwriter (one of his earliest writing credits is THE HOWLING – with John Sayles – directed by Corman alumnus Joe Dante and featuring a cameo by Corman), but he did not get an opportunity to direct until a short film of his came to the attention of Julie Corman (Winkless would follow up THE NEST with six other films for Corman including BLOODFIST with Don “The Dragon” Wilson and the remake of NOT OF THIS EARTH with Traci Lords). He spends a lot of time pointing out which shots were shot by him and which were second unit (including some bits with the lead actors), but is complementary of lead Luz as well as Stephen Davies (INSERTS) – as “pest control agent” Homer – who Winkless would use in four subsequent films (Winkless appeared as an actor alongside Davies in John Byrum’s HEART BEAT from which Davies derived his character’s unscripted surname “Biram”). He also relates a tip Langlois got from her acting coach about taping her nipples to prevent the editor from using any unwanted peekaboo footage, and he also relates some of the horror movie lessons he learned from Corman (keeping the camera moving and following up horrified POV’s with attacks from unexpected angles). Winkless also mentions an unused opening attack scene (which would seem important since the recovery of the bodies later in the film play a part in one setpiece) and makes note of Corman’s notorious economic ingenuity: a character’s pick-up truck had to be blue in order to match it to an explosion shot recycled here from a previous film – the cabin explosion from HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP is also reused – while the spacious interior set of the mayor’s house built here was reportedly reused in at least five other Corman films.
Scream Factory’s single-layer Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD both feature sharp and colorful renderings of the 16:9 widescreen (1.78:1) HD master. The film was shot with home video primarily in mind – the compositions seem to have been protected for widescreen framing (possibly overseas theatrical venues) – so the cinematography is usually bright and evenly lit. Some darker exterior scenes sport a bit more grain, but the cave scenes and basement scenes are shot in-studio, and Jack’s junkyard was the backlot of Corman’s studio (decorated with “props” that were already there). The original 2.0 stereo mix is included (in DTS-MA on the Blu and Dolby Digital on the DVD) as well as a 5.1 upmix that seems to merely accentuate the sound design – by giving it a bit more breathing room in the surround field – without augmenting it (do note that the DVD has both 5.1 and 2.0 tracks while the Blu-ray offers two DTS-MA 2.0 tracks, presumably an authoring error since the menu states that one of the tracks is supposed to be 5.1). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. The increased detail doesn’t really hurt the effects, but for one close-up (although I believe Winkless mentions in the commentary that it was overlit in the original shooting). (Eric Cotenas)
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