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The Nest

Director: Terence H. Winkless
Cast: Robert Lansing, Frank Luz, Lisa Langlois

(Concorde; US DVD: 19 Feb 2012)

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Terence H. Winkless. That’s because Winkless is a film directors whose ouevre contains such uninspiring work as Bloodfist, Rage and Honor, and the 1995 version of Not of This Earth. Oh,  and he was also responsible for some television, including three years of The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, if that’s your kind of thing. The point is, Winkless has managed to keep himself working in one way or another, but he’s not exactly the type to churn out A-list material.


You might expect a guy like this to kick off his career with a grubby little film about killer cockroaches, and you know what? You’d be right. The Nest is exactly that, except that cockroaches aren’t content to just remain cockroaches, but instead undergo some weird genetic mutation (courtesy of an evil lady scientist) to become flesh-eating semi-intelligent cockroaches that absorb their victims genetic code and then pass on their characteristics to the next generation. Or something. (Details are a little thin on the ground.) A kind of mighty morphing power cockroach, as it were.


And yes, the effects here are fairly gory and gross, and the mutated cockroach-people things are reminiscent of the Jeff Goldblum/housefly creature in the final scene of The Fly, which was released the year before, and there are also echoes of the 1950 Roger Corman weird-fest Attack of the Crab Monsters (in which giant killer crabs eat people and then use the voices of the dead to lure more victims to their doom). But the suimilarities are superficial; this movie isn’t of the same caliber as The Fly, and it lacks the inventiveness of Attack of the Crab Monsters.


But the point of all this meandering about Winkless is that his audio commentary—the sole bonus feature on this double-disc DVD/blu-ray set—is quite possibly more entertaining than the movie itself. Winkless flies solo here, as if Shout! Factory couldn’t be bothered to do more than hand him a microphone with the instuctions: “Say something, Terry.” What results is a surprisingly candid, self-effacing monologue from a man who understands perfectly well that he spent a fair amount of time and money making a movie about flesh-eating mutated cockroaches, and now has to make the best of it.


Winkless starts off by describing himself as “the guy who acted the most as if he wanted to do a movie about cockroaches when he went into the interview.” From there, Winkless’s slightly rambling, disjointed commentary touches on all aspects of production, everything from sound problems to wardrobe to the absurdity of showing palm trees in what’s supposed to be New England.


Alas, the palm trees are far from the most ridiculous things in view. The plot can be summarized easily enough: on a remote New England island, experiment-subject cockroaches have mutated into something far more sinister, moving in packs and craving flesh, both human and otherwise. Local sherriff Richard grows suspicious as the bodies start piling up, and love interest/mayor’s daughter Elizabeth tags along for the ride, looking concerned all the while. Before long, the truth becomes apparent: local research company Inteck had been performing experiments on cockroaches with an eye to eliminating the need for pesticides, with unexpected results.


There is little enough unexpected in the story arc, as the roaches become more aggressive and the body count piles up. One of the movie’s few genuinely creepy sequences reveals the extent of the mutation, as successive generations of insects incorporate the genetic material of their victims. Thus, in the climactic sequence, our heroes face off against not just a bunch of bugs, but a multiheaded monster that is genuinely revolting. Does this qualify as entertainment? You decide.


The performances here are reasonably good for such a low-budget picture, with Frank Luz’s Richard possessing a wry charisma, and Lisa Langlois lending Elizabeth a kind of girl-next-door sweetness. The movie’s biggest star was Robert Lansing, of TV’s Twelve O’Clock High and much else, whose understated performance lends a bit of gravitas (just a bit) to this story of flesh-eating mutated monster cockroaches.


Shout! Factory subsidiary Scream! Factory has done a nice job with this reissue, although pairing the DVD and blu-ray discs seems a bit redundant. (One or the other would have been enough, guys.) There are no extras besides the director’s commentary, though as mentioned above, that commentary is pretty entertaining.


The movie itself lacks the creaky charm of ‘50s giant-bug classics like Them! or Tarantula, and the emphasis is clearly on gore as much as suspense. So it’s hard to actually recommend this movie except for aficianados of cheesy horror, who are likely to be the only audience willing to even consider it, given the illustration on the DVD package. (In the great tradition of horror/exploitation movies, that image has absolutely no connection to anything that actually appears in the movie.)


It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it’s unlikely to be the worst you’ve seen, either. For a silly little time-waster on a cold winter afternoon, you could do much worse. Damned by faint praise? You decide.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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