Although man has always coexisted with insects, people in general have never lost their loathing of the critters. Despite having been here longer than humans they’re simply too close to being an altogether alien species of life. Films that attempt to capitalize on this natural fear and repulsion have done so with varying degrees of success. Movies featuring giant city-destroying insects (invariably created via atomic radiation) are the least successful in this regard. After all, who’s ever had to deal with ants the size of elephants, or a praying mantis bigger than a B-52 bomber? A horde of normal-sized bugs tends to be more effective… At one time or another we’ve all been revolted by walking into a spider web or spying a roach scuttling across a kitchen counter. The Nest, a late ’80s horror flick from Roger Corman’s production company, attempts to play on natural revulsion; and none too successfully it turns out.
The story, such as it is, concerns a pest problem plaguing the island of Northpoint, off the U.S. west coast. Having bought some land on the island, a scientific research company called Intech has been conducting experiments there with genetically engineered cockroaches, roaches designed to eat only other roaches, then die off. (A form of organic pest control.) Of course the experiment goes wrong, and soon the super-roaches are breeding like… well, roaches and chowing down on the locals. The panicky mayor (Lansing, of 1959’s 4-D Man) is the only person who suspects what’s going on, and he secretly gave Intech carte blanche to conduct experiments on Northpoint in return for promises to help develop the island’s economy. He calls in a snooty, amoral company scientist, Dr. Hubbard (Terri Treas, in a lame performance), who only makes things worse. By exposing the roaches to a powerful insecticide she succeeds only in making them immune to it. Meanwhile, the island’s population continues to dwindle. It’s up to the hunky local sheriff (Franc Luz), the mayor’s estranged daughter Beth (Lisa Langlois), and a hippy-dippy exterminator (Stephen Davies) to find the roaches’ nest – and their queen – and destroy it before everyone is consumed by the ravenous bugs. Yawn.
If you’re going to do a film about normal-sized roaches eating people it would be wise to get enough of them to seem menacing. In many scenes there just aren’t enough on hand to be convincing, particulary the one in which Mayor Johnson and Beth are “trapped” in their house by the roaches…all 30 or 40 of the critters. (Ooooh… Scary!) Some otherwise genuinely grisly gore effects are sabotaged by cheesy animatronic monsters: a cat-roach hybrid (don’t ask), a man-roach hybrid (ditto), and the queen roach within the nest, which looks like a big mass of vasaline-coated rubber glued upright to a board and wheeled toward the camera on a dolly. We’re also treated to that same stock footage of a pickup truck careening off a bridge, crashing in flames below, that can be seen in what must be every Concorde picture of the 1980s (including Humanoids From The Deep and the Not of This Earth remake starring Traci Lords). Fortunately there’s a bit of off-the-wall humor thrown in the mix to keep the movie from being a total roach turd.