AUGUST 24, 2012
Since I was no fan of Eight Legged Freaks, I wasn't really expecting much out of Creepy Crawlers (aka They Nest), the killer cockroach film that got director Ellory Elkayem the gig on that unsuccessful attempt at bringing back Gremlins/Tremors style horror-comedy in the summer of 2002. But since it starred Thomas Calabro, who played Michael Mancini on Melrose Place (aka the GREATEST CHARACTER IN TELEVISION HISTORY*), I figured I'd keep an open mind.
Well, as it turns out, it's not too bad for a USA original movie. Being from the olden days of the year 2000, they didn't have to cater to today's short attention span, and thus it's actually paced pretty well for the most part, favoring character development and an increasing risk of danger for the town as opposed to random isolated attacks. At first we just see a couple of the bugs, and then the swarm increases, and then they mutate, so just when the movie has run out of ideas for crawling scenes, they start flying around to create a new risk. So many of these things hit the ground running, and thus after 45 minutes they've exhausted their entire bag of tricks; it's nice when a film gives you something new and builds toward things you haven't seen yet.
It's also got some decent humor (part of what killed Eight Legged Freaks for me - I didn't find any of it that funny), most of it at the expense of Maine stereotypes. The locals are pretty much all drunk or incompetent; Calabro's character falls for the only woman in town who seems to be able to perform her job and get through the day without whiskey (she's also played the gorgeous Kristen Dalton, so that's a bonus for him). I particularly liked the harried general store clerk who didn't know how to run the register and seemed to think someone's personal schedule for the week was common knowledge (he looks at Calabro - a newcomer to the town- like he's an idiot for not knowing that the assistant manager went to her mother's school on Tuesdays). It's borderline xenophobic at times, as the locals seem about one step away from shoving him against a tree and making him squeal like a pig, but it's good natured.
And this stuff is nowhere near as upsetting (but darkly funny) as a scene where a hamster is trapped in a maze with a handful of the cockroaches. It's shot like any slasher movie chase, as the hamster makes its way down "corridors" and turns every which way looking for an exit, only to hit a dead end as the roaches close in. It's kind of horrifying seeing the look on the poor thing's face as he faces his doom, and is legit one of the few times in history where I had to remind myself that it was just a movie (and made me glad my childhood hamster Nosey simply died of old age).
But there's only so much you can do with cockroaches, so there's a pretty hefty subplot about Calabro's feud with a character named Jack, played by John Savage. Seems Calabro bought the house out from under him and his brother Eamon, so the two men harass him, cutting his power and what not. And one of them dies at the end of the first act, so naturally the other thinks Calabro did it, upping the tension as he certainly doesn't believe his stories about killer bugs. There's a bit too much to this stuff, and it lacks a proper denouement as both of them die without Calabro present, and thus there's never a "You were right!" moment. You can remove them from the movie entirely and it wouldn't really have much effect on Calabro's arc, making it all feel like padding at the end.
I was also a bit puzzled why it stopped being funny. There's a lot of humor in the first half, and while not all of it works, there's NOTHING in the second half, successful or otherwise. The closest would be the climax, when a badly aimed flare causes an explosion that inadvertently kills all of the bugs, but it doesn't seem to be played for laughs. And even if it was, I'm not sure why they'd have the hero kind of Jar-Jar his way to victory, since he's been pretty competent throughout the movie (in fact, the ONLY one who was) - it'd be like having one of the rebels trip over a lightsaber and accidentally blow up the Death Star at the end of Star Wars.
Elkayem and one of the producers provide a pretty dry commentary track that offers up some minor trivia (the bug species is fictional, the bugs are a mix of practical and CGI, Calabro improvised one of his better lines, etc) but isn't really essential to anyone but die-hard fans of the film. They don't fall silent too often, thankfully, but what they're saying just isn't always that interesting ("that's real smoke... (next shot) but that's digital smoke."). The producer guy also takes time to list all of his fellow execs at USA, as if anyone listening gives a shit about who signed off on the film. A trailer and some cast/crew bios are also included, making this a fairly decent "special edition" for a fairly decent TV movie.
What say you?
*He cheated on his wife with his coworker, and then cheated on HER with his sister-in-law. Later, the coworker (now his wife, I think) arranged for him to bang a prostitute to keep him happy while she was sick or something. He also had a great beach house. I mean, holy shit.