Shocking, eh? Makes you wanna close your eyes. The above image is the notorious poster for The Nest, a horror film from 1988, which was the main thing this film had going for it. Cheap horror, as I noted in an earlier post, frequently relies on sensational poster art to sell its product. And this one, of a giant roach apparently performing a Fate Worse Than Death on the body of a beautiful model, is an eye-goggler. Just what film could live up to the suggestiveness of that image? Just what film would dare to?
But that’s all part of the fun and games of watching horror movies. It’s the “Can-You-Take-It?” aspect: the person, thing, scene, object, or action that you just can’t bear to watch, but that the film dares you to—and that you dare yourself to see. And which once seen can’t be unseen. Such as that roach-ravished lady above; somewhere in your subconscious that image will burrow down and tuck itself in and then, like a chicken-pox scar, never quite leave you.
(And for you daredevils who would like to see an even grosser poster for this film, click here. Can you take it?…)
Taking-It might the central idea in cinematic horror—do you, and I mean You, have the guts to look at what’s so horrible? That canniest of showmen, William Castle, consciously exploited both the Taking-It challenge, and the audiences willing to be taken, in movies like Homicidal and House on Haunted Hill (Do you DARE enter…?), with such gimmicks as The Coward’s Corner (for those who can’t take it at all). You might argue that films daring you to see what can’t be unseen has been a part of cinema since its beginnings, if the stories about audiences shrieking in terror when witnessing Lumiere’s celluloid train rushing into a station are to be believed. Can you watch that train barreling down on you? Can you take the horror?
So what’s your Taking-It threshold? For Castle audiences, Taking-It was what lay behind that spooky door in that spooky house where lurked—what horrors? For viewers who flocked to the 1979 sci-fi film Alien, it was watching a Thing burst out of John Hurt’s chest. For 1980s slasher-film aficionados, it was seeing teenagers get offed by the guy in the mask. For The Exorcist fans, it was the pea-soup moment (a scene which needs no further explanation). Those were more innocent times. Today, it’s the blood, torture, and dismemberment of the Hostel and Saw franchises, or the constant jump scares of Insidious or The Conjuring, or the unnervingly faux-found-footage of a low-budget sleeper like Paranormal Activity (a genuinely frightening movie, by the way).
Well, for me, it’s—roaches.
I have a real horror of roaches. Especially those big ones, that are the size of mice, and that come out of nowhere and scuttle over rugs like evil Matchbox cars that have sprouted legs (hairy legs), and Oh I can’t even go into it. As I have written here, I shriek at the sight of roaches. I just can’t—take ‘em, I want them as far away from me as possible (if there’s a roach-exorcist out there, please contact me). Those little horrors do something to me. I mean, they’re so—icky. You know, the whole BUG thing. I wrote a post about Bug movies, in which I highlight just that. The Ick Factor, I call it. You don’t scream or cringe or gasp; you go—ewww… And then leave the theater knowing you’ll never be able to open that kitchen cabinet again without quivering like a blancmange in a hurricane because who knows what might come crawling out…
But as with most fears, there’s the opposing attraction, to see the horror that repels. A kind of mental masochism, I suppose; or maybe an idea that by facing one’s fear, one can manage it. So, even though I hesitated to watch it, I was curious about The Nest. Could I watch this film, could I take a movie about—you know, THEM? (Ewwww…) What the hell. I decided to challenge myself. Yessir, I was gonna prove to myself once and for all that I could…take it.
And my reaction after finally sitting through The Nest? It wasn’t horrible enough.
Now you ask: how can a movie about genetically altered, flesh-eating roaches that take to munching on humans to expand their dietary horizons not be horrific? I mean, they crawl around floors, they crawl onto people, they eat people, and then they morph into what they eat. Meaning, into these ooey-gooey icky bug-human combos. EWWWW. Like, this is the stuff of Grossville, man. It should send us roach-wimpies into catatonic shock, making us never leave home without a cartload of roach motels, to scatter round like vampire hunters sticking garlic into every keyhole, lock, and door jamb. We have a serious Ick Factor here.
The film certainly has its Taking-It moments: humans are swarmed, chomped, slimed, bitten, bloodied, ripped, and penetrated into every orifice possible. It’s a gross-out fan’s dream. Unfortunately, much of the plot gets bogged down in the characters’ romantic and familial problems. We have a dull hero, the sheriff of a Pacific Northwest island community, who’s dating an attractive waitress but who’s reattracted to his former girlfriend who’s returned home to come to terms with her estranged father, the island’s mayor, who’s trying to come to terms with the comely young scientist who’s genetically altered the roaches in the first place (remember them?)… Too much Talking Things Out and not enough Grossing Out. The one character I found interesting was the stout-hearted waitress, who battles a horde of ravenous Blattaria in her restaurant with materials at hand, including spatulas, frying pans, hot coffee, and a microwave oven. I like a lass with pluck, and I was sorry she was killed off so soon.
Look, I don’t watch movies about homophagic roaches for the soap opera. I don’t care about dating or daddy issues, that’s not what horror is for. I’ll take a film like George Romero’s masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead: a group of people holed up in a little space and battling nonstop to survive. Who has time for Days of our Lives? I want the shudders, the creeps, the BUGS; I want to see if I can TAKE it.
As a side note, why in the film are they creating flesh-eating roaches anyway? That’s often a horror flick’s sticking point, the Macguffinish “Why do that in the first place?”, which needs to be dealt with and then forgotten, so audiences can get back to shrieking and ewwing. Per the movie’s scientist, “they” (the ever-mysterious “they” in these films) are disturbed by how roaches eventually acquire immunity to poisons and traps; and so “they” get the idea to develop a breed of roach that will eat other roaches and thus act as cannibalistic insecticides. Gosh, what could go wrong there? Didn’t anyone ever think that these creatures might get a yen for species outside their own? But nothing like this could happen in reality, right? After all, it’s just a dumb movie…
But then I came across this YouTube video on mutant-animal experiments, which has a section (beginning at the 2:10 mark) on how “they” are developing a breed of malaria-resistant mosquitoes, which are then meant to dominate weaker breeds of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and thus take over in the wild … fact, not a film. Now just what could go wrong with that, I ask. (Don’t these “they” people ever watch movies?)
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking of stocking up on spatulas and frying pans. You never know what an epic bug battle might take.