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'The Nesting' (Blu-ray): Life Imitates Lunacy

(The Nesting is) the kind of movie that requires you to embrace it halfway, to accept its off kilter claims and concepts and simply move on.

The Nesting

Rated: R
Director: Armand Weston
Cast: Robin Groves, Christopher Loomis, Michael David Lally, John Carradine
Extras: 5
Studio: Blue Underground
Year: 1981
US date: 2011-06-28 (General release)

For many, the '80s represented a true renaissance in post-modern horror. After the '60s started the redefinition and the '70s stretched the boundaries, the Reagan Era took the genre and - commercial viability aside - let it run wild. Thanks to the possibilities inherent in home video, the public's embrace of the creepy content, the studios desire to keep the fear fad gadget fully functional, and the long standing belief that terror was an easy 'in' for an independent or foreign producer, dread just exploded. While not every entry was a classic, many left a memorable impression.

A few also fell by the wayside, waiting decades before being discovered by the macabre mavens. A good example of this is The Nesting, a surreal bit of dream logic lunacy. The story revolves around successful writer named Lauren Cochran (Robin Groves) who suddenly starts suffering from agoraphobia. After years of analysis, she hopes leaving the hustle and bustle of the big city will help, so along with boyfriend Mark Felton (Christopher Loomis), she heads out to the countryside. Running across a familiar looking mansion owned by an aging eccentric (John Carradine), she decides the massive home is a perfect place to recuperate.

It's not long before Lauren comes to realize her mistake. The decaying manor is awash in spirits, ghosts that seem to want revenge on the local population and are using their newest human contact to help them. Turns out, the place was a brothel during World War II and the scene of a horrible massacre. Now, the dead prostitutes are seeking out their killers, and Lauren is caught in the middle of this supernatural slaughterfest...or is she? After all, with her rampant psychological issues and lack of viable proof, this could all be happening in her highly imaginative head.

The Nesting (now out on DVD and Blu-ray from Blue Underground) is an unusual fright film for a lot of reasons. It was co-written and directed by porn impresario Armand Weston, a shadowy figure of questionable credits (and various pseudonyms). His peculiar presence offers an air of mystery this already enigmatic movie practically exudes. Then there is the link to Italian horror films. The Nesting often feels like Lucio Fulci's far superior The Beyond, using the isolated setting and woman in peril device to draw out many meaningful scares. The octagonal house is a major coup, delivering the kind of sinister found location liveliness a set could never create. Similarly, because of its unusual set-up and structure, we buy the various oddities that occur within. Only in a strange place would such strange things happen.

Then there is the story. Agoraphobia was not a common talk show tenet way back in 1981, so everything that The Nesting needs has to be explained and examined. We get the standard shrink explanations, as well as Lauren's laments and other character critiques. While our heroine has several relapses (all shot with a strangulated fish-eyed lens), the mental aspect is more of a gimmick, a way of working in some possible personal links. Finally, there is the whole prostitute subplot, a weird amalgamation of flawed family reputation and unnecessary blood revenge. The two come together to form a psychic struggle, one that we never quite recognize until the final denouement. Sure, Lauren seems to be putting the pieces together, but we never get the whole story until the final moments (the false start opening doesn't help either).

Add in the performances, Ms. Groves ever-changing hairdos (they seem to get worse, scene by scene) and a nice amount of bloodshed, and you've got a wonky little effort that shouldn't work, but somehow manages the task with expert efficiently. Because Weston - or whatever his real name was - makes the most of the creepy mansion dynamic, we are compelled to follow wherever it goes. Similarly, by keeping the elements of the mystery well at bay, the narrative has a real sense of discovery. Every corner of this movie has hints as to where the story will go, but we really can't see the connections and are shocked when zombie arms rise from a local lake or a grubby handyman turns homicidal. Part of the fun of The Nesting is seeing where things will go next. We're never sure how they add up in the grand (Guignol) scheme of things, but the reveals are a lot of fun.

Of course, The Nesting has its flaws. It is far from perfect. Instead of going overboard with the atmosphere and sense of unease (or gore, in the case of Fulci's Beyond), the movie keeps trying to make sense. It wants the audience to understand and sympathize with Lauren, even as she whines and whelps her way around situations. Similarly, the supporting players are nothing more than a series of red herrings in a whodunit no one really asked for. Since we are dealing with a haunted house, and not a current crime, offering up such obvious usual suspects is pointless. Then there are the inconsistencies. Lauren apparently has feelings for Mark, but then seems to take up with Carradine's physicist grandson. The sex scenes also seem to be stuck in randomly, offered to provide the necessary nudity the '80s version of fear required.

In the end, The Nesting succeeds more than it stumbles. It's the kind of movie that requires you to embrace it halfway, to accept its off kilter claims and concepts and simply move on. Weston works a kind of dizzying magic here, a way of reframing familiar shock ideals in a way that seems new and novel. Granted, we occasionally grow tired of hearing the horrific screams of the various actresses and there's a car chase toward the end that so awful it argues for the snip of an editor's shears. Still, the location alone sells this material, and Weston finds a way to more or less make it his own. As the vaults run dry and we see fewer and fewer lost gems from the era, the '80s continue to argue for their horror superiority. The Nesting may not be one of its best, but it definitely defines the decade's import quite well.






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