A case could be made for the late 1980’s being Roger Corman’s last real era as a major independent film distributor on the theatrical level. Simply put, the 1980’s weren’t as kind to him as the 1970’s were: changing film distribution patterns and the ever-rising cost of film production meant that his company Concorde Pictures had less room in the marketplace than his previous, better-known company New World. That said, he still managed to get a number of films into theaters before the nature of the film business forced him into the straight-to-video/direct-to-cable ghetto.
The Nest is one the best films to emerge from New Concorde during this twilight era. Based on a novel by Eli Cantor, it follows the “revenge of nature” template so popular in ’70s horror, right down to a number of Jaws-esque elements in its plot. As with Jaws, the hero is a small town’s local sheriff: Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) keeps a watchful on the tiny island hamlet of North Port. His two big problems seem to be dealing with a cockroach infestation inevitable in a location like North Port and making up his mind whether to continue a romance with local waitress (Nancy Morgan) or Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois), the recently returned daughter of local mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing).
However, a more lethal problem looms on the horizon: Elias made a deal with the Intec Corporation to provide funding for a set of condominiums that will help build up the town. In exchange, Intec was given permission to perform some experiments on the island – the kind that lead to the problematic local cockroaches suddenly becoming predatory, intelligent and hungry for human flesh. As the cockroaches commence taking down victims, Richard tries to figure out the problem while Elias calls in sinister, vaguely kinky Intec scientist Dr. Hubbard (Terri Treas) for help. There will be a lot of creepy-crawly menace before the problem is settled – and the cockroach problem presents an additional threat that no one but Dr. Hubbard knows about…
This plot might sound familiar but it is crafted with skill: screenwriter Robert King would eventually graduate to big-budget features and television and his work here deftly hits all the appropriate marks. His script avoids the temptation for camp humor and instead works hard at making its familiar character types likeable and/or interesting. There are some nice unexpected touches here and there, like the town’s exterminator sizing up the problem by going off on a philosophical tangent or Dr. Hubbard creeping out Elias by getting turned on when she is bitten by the bugs.
It also helps that the cast does above-average work: Lansing brings some complexity of shading to a familiar “ambitious mayor” archetype, Treas is deliciously creepy as the film’s sexy variation on the usual mad scientist and leads Luz and Langlois give down-to-earth, earnest performances that make them easy to cheer for. Also of note is Stephen Davies, who slyly underplays his comic relief characterization as the town’s exterminator.
Finally, the film benefits from brisk direction by Terence Winkless. He would go on to direct several films for New Concorde during the late 1980’s/early 1990’s and his work here makes it easy to see why. He works well within his low budget, delaying his big special effects scenes until the end and investing in suspense and good performances to keep the audience interested. When pay-off time arrives, he delivers some enthusiastic shock sequences, including a skillfully-staged bit that borrows from Cronenberg’s The Fly remake in an effectively gooey manner.
In short, The Nest is a fun throwback to the creature features of olden times, polished up with a bit of 1980’s-style gruesomeness for the Fangoria brigade. It’s easily one of the best productions to roll out of New Concorde and the kind of thing that fans of Corman’s New World era will find easy to enjoy.