JANUARY 28, 2013
The most horrifying thing I've ever seen was probably in September of 2011, when I first checked into my room in Austin (for Fantastic Fest) and saw a cockroach at least 2 inches long just sort of chilling on the counter that I was about to drop my bag on before crashing in the bed (it was quite late). Knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep, I went back to the front desk and got a new room, one I ALSO found a (smaller) cockroach in two nights later. To be fair, I stayed there again in 2012 and didn't see a single one, but still, I will forever be weary when I go there (it's the closest hotel to the Alamo that I can afford), and watching The Nest brought those memories back during a few of its quieter scenes.
Indeed, one of the scariest is the very first sequence in the film, where our hero keeps trying to drink some of his coffee and getting interrupted for one reason or another. Of course, a roach is inside the cup, which would invite cinema's earliest "yell at the characters" moment for an audience - usually it takes a while before we're hoping to warn people that are projected on a screen. There are similar "it could happen to you!" bits in the first half hour; little tastes of what was to come, all of which just brought me back to that terrifying encounter that had me sleeping with my pajama pants tucked into my socks and engaging in full(ish) inspections of my room every time I returned to it. I know anyone who has ever lived in an urban/metropolis area thinks I'm a pussy now, and while they're not incorrect, I've lucked out and never really had to deal with them. Mosquitoes were my nemesis growing up!
Anyway, as the film proceeds it gets less and less "normal" scary like that, as the insects are seen in numbers too high for (I hope) anyone to identify with, and (spoiler!) they start to form hybrids with animals and people to create things that look like Goldblum at the end of The Fly (which, being produced one year after that film, was probably not a coincidence - did I mention this was a Roger Corman production?). The monsters are pretty awesome; the puppeteering isn't the best in the world but they look great and came as a surprise, since I thought this would be straight up cockroaches throughout, with maybe a fast-scuttling queen to deal with near the end to serve as a "boss". They even justify the horrible scene where a cat is used as bait by the evil scientist woman - the cat doesn't "die", it mutates with the roaches and becomes a terrifying monster that I wanted to see dead. Still, poor kitty.
Until those show up though, it's a bit of a clunker. The body count is sufficient, but the characters are painfully generic across the board, complete with stock personal demons to deal with - the hero's girl comes back to town and rekindles their relationship, her dad is the asshole town mayor, they don't get along due to her mother's death, etc, etc. There's even a weirdo exterminator guy, the same character one would find in any bug/pest/rat movie ever. So it all feels a bit too rote, and repetitive to boot - there's only so many times we can see a windowsill or counter fill up with roaches before it loses its power, even on my pansy ass.
Even less successful was the movie's attempt at passing itself off as New England. In fact I had no idea that the movie was supposed to be taking place in Maine or something until the director said so on his commentary. It was shot in California and that's what it looked like to me, and since no one says the location I didn't think anything of it. There's one old guy with a Red Sox hat, but that doesn't mean much; I still wear my Sox and Patriots shirts around town here in LA. The novel that the movie was based on takes place near Cape Cod, but there's nothing about it that HAS to be set there (unlike Jaws, which wouldn't work in LA since the warm weather isn't exactly scarce and thus the mayor probably wouldn't be so worried about closing the beaches), so I'm not sure why they were even bothering to try. Speaking of Jaws, I like that they kept things personal - there's no big town event or gathering, so it avoids the usual template. It's actually structured more like a slasher movie than anything, which is kind of cool.
A slasher with SPLOSIONS! As director Terence Winkless explains on his commentary, Corman insisted that the film make use out of some of his all purpose footage of things blowing up real good, so a character suddenly gets in a blue truck and heads toward a bridge, so when the roaches attack he can lose control and then they can cut to the footage that was probably used for some southern-fried action flick originally. Winkless even points out one that he later reused himself, which is charming in a laughable way, and also one of the few things he points out that's NOT one of his family members playing a background extra, so that's good. It's not the most essential track ever, but it's pleasant enough, and he offers up some of Corman's filmmaking tips that sound like common sense but probably aren't followed by 90% of the directors working today, like how much time is wasted asking everyone on the set if they were happy with the take ("If you're happy, move on! If they're not happy, they'll say so!"). I think every director should be required to make a film for Corman before setting off for bigger game, personally. Probably wouldn't see as much waste as what goes on now. He'd probably die of a heart attack on a Brett Ratner production.
Sadly that's the only extra; no interviews or even the trailer are included. But while this DVD/Blu combo release isn't as expansive as Shout's other recent horror releases, the movie is worth a look - Corman's productions would go downhill shortly after this, and the nutty creature designs are a huge asset to an otherwise by the numbers (but enjoyable) pest movie. And the tagline alone is worth supporting the movie: "Roaches have never tasted meat... until now." Hah! Love it.
What say you?