Cuckoos are arguably the most interesting of birds one can imagine (feel free to debate this amongst your friends). They are not especially attractive, to be sure, and they are most popularly known as the signal for the start of a new hour on some old-fashioned clocks (you know, those things that used to tell time for us and that made the Swiss so very famous according to Harry Lime [okay, among other things]). Even more striking though, is the connotation attached to these avians as symbols of insanity (and this is even sometimes tied in with their role as alarms; just look at any one of dozens of cartoons for further proof). What a lot of folks don’t think of, or maybe just don’t know, is for some cuckoos’ propensity for brood parasitism. For you non-ornithologists/zoologists/what-have-yous, this refers to their practice of laying their eggs in the nests of other bird types and allowing those suckers to raise their young so the cuckoos can go along their merry way, whooping and partying it up. Naturally, these parasites are something of a danger to their hosts, and if the animal kingdom (and yes, even the humans in it) has taught us anything, it is that nature can be both beautiful and brutal, and often both at the same time.
Cockroaches (maybe not so much like the ones in Terence Winkless’ The Nest) don’t (to my knowledge) engage in brood parasitism, but they do have a much more aggressively invasive policy, and due to their dietary/hygienic habits, they are typically seen as vermin and worthy of extinction. I know I see them that way (especially after the time one scuttled across my face while I was sleeping [many moons ago when I was living in a basement apartment; never do that if you can help it] and then survived my smacking it with the flat of my palm). I’m sure there are those who would frown upon violence to these exoskeleton-having Larry Dallases. I’m not one of them.
In the small Massachusetts (?) town of North Port, hunky sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) maintains homespun order over a plucky cast of characters (read: future victims). When ex-squeeze Beth (Lisa Langlois) arrives back on the island after four years gone, Richard has to figure out just what he wants (and seeing as how he’s dating the island restaurateur Lillian [Nancy Morgan], he would do well to get his shit sorted out). It doesn’t help any that Beth’s dad Elias (Robert Lansing) hates Richard with a fiery passion or that there are flesh-eating cockroaches plaguing the community. Did I bury the lead on that last one?
Being an amalgam of so many films (The most prominent of which being [again] JAWS, with everything from the everyman cop character to the score, to the tourist concern of money over safety, to the coastal town setting, to the spirited secretary doling out the lowdown on various town denizens [and whom we never know as anything other than a voice]), The Nest’s charm lies in its tone as a “summer read”/”beach read” film (not surprising, since it’s based on a novel by Eli Cantor, and no, I have not read it). These are the kinds of stories that don’t require much in the way of heavy lifting (not to say that they’re empty). They are loaded with melodramatic elements, a little (sometimes a lot) of sex, and a little (sometimes a lot) of graphic violence. But more than that, they are largely about stringing together sweet spots into a (usually) coherent whole that passes the time nicely.
Going a large way in accomplishing this is the colorful cast, all of whom are archetypes bordering on stereotypes, and all of whom are individuated by their exaggerated appearances and their firm roles as likable monster chow (again, mostly; there are, after all, exceptions to every rule). So we get folks like Church (Jeff Winkless, who I’m thinking is related to the director somehow), the short order cook who wears a dopey hat and hovers over his grill with a stogie perennially stuffed in his pie hole. We get folks like Jenny (Heidi Helmer), the dimwitted teenager, who flits around on roller-skates, radio headphones plastered to her head (the better to ignore looming danger). And lest we forget, the town lush/cuckoo Jake (Jack Collins), who spends his time cackling, stealing crap, and shooting rats in his junkyard home. Nevertheless, while they’re all cartoons to some degree or another, they are never offensively so. Consequently, they make for memorable victims. We’re not overly saddened to see them go, but we do think back to their time onscreen, and it doesn’t feel entirely wasted. Of course, it helps a lot that the how of their deaths and the aftermaths of them are nigh-equally notable. I don’t know a great many people who can name the old man who first comes into contact with 1958’s The Blob (it’s Olin Howland, for your information), but I do know a great many who can recognize him on sight and could describe in detail everything that happens to him once that meteor splits open. These characters could be anyone, being little more than plot engines, but they are just distinct enough that we remember them to some extent (maybe not forever and ever, but still…).
There is also a nice little psychosexual element, and it’s embodied primarily by the antagonists. The relationship between Elias and Beth is, to put it mildly, icy and awkward. We are given a rather dark explanation for this, but I am convinced there is something else under the surface of it; something more incestuous. This is only augmented by Lansing’s presence in the film (and the man looks as if he would like to be just about anywhere else), his oddly guilty, hangdog performance, and a payoff that makes the threat physical (and just a bit creepier). More overt is the character of Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas), the scientist in charge of the roaches. She delights in thumbing her nose at Richard and Elias, claiming a masculine side to rival theirs (and unlike the other two women in the film, she has no stated interest in any male in the cast). Most intriguing, however, is her interaction with the insects. As they bite into her hand, her expression takes on a gleam of sexual stimulation. Observing the roaches further mutations, she reacts as if she’s taking in a particularly tasty piece of eye candy. This could explain her rather erratic behavior in the film, but between cuckoos and cockroaches, I suppose personal preferences are bound to vary.
MVT: I absolutely adore the physical effects in this movie. They’re gruesome, and imaginative, and just delightful whenever they appear. But I love physical effects, so I’m biased.
Make Or Break: The first kill in the film is the Make for me. Between the solid editing, the bug’s eye POV, and the grisly results, it satisfies like a Snickers. It doesn’t hurt that I found the victim more sympathetic than most. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the film.