DOUBLE FEATURE RETROSPECTIVE – Bug (1975)/The Nest (1988)

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Bug (1975)

SUMMARY
An earthquake releases a bunch of mutant cockroaches that can create fire by rubbing their cerci together. Eventually, most of the bugs die because they cannot survive in the low air pressure on the Earth’s surface, but a scientist, Professor James Parmiter (Dillman), keeps one alive in a pressure chamber. He successfully breeds the mutant cockroach with a modern cockroach, creating a breed of intelligent, flying super-cockroaches.

DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
Filmed in Panavision and Technicolor by cinematographer Michel Hugo, “Bug”, based on Thomas Page’s novel “The Hephaestus Plague”, is brought to the screen as a William Castle Production for Paramount Pictures. Jeannot Szwarc served as director. The assignment marks Paris-born Szwarc’s second credit as a theatrical film director. Szwarc also has a long list of credits as a writer, producer and director of television shows and made-for-television movies. The screen adaptation of “Bugs” was written by author Thomas Page and producer Castle.

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In “Bug”, a deadly force is loosed among us. Not Martians or lethal bacteria from outer space, but fire roaches, thousands of them swarming, black and eyeless from a chasm opened in California by an earthquake.

As old as the dinosaurs and intelligent as the primates, they feed upon carbon, creating their dinners instantly by burning cars, houses, people, animals, whatever is in their path, with a flame that spurts from their exhaust. Moving by an ingenius method and shrugging off all attempts to destroy them, the bugs threaten to ignite the entire city of Riverside, California, before moving on to take over and destroy the rest of the country.

The plot becomes increasingly tense with the slow realization that something is terribly wrong. Events slide imperceptibly from what is real to what is conceivable and then perhaps beyond. Then, the fascinated scientist, who has come to identify himself with the dreadful bugs, discovers how to kill them, and they are killed-except for one that he breeds to a common roach. Then emerges the second generation: more deadly, alarming, intelligent and versatile than before.

The principal cockroach actors playing title roles in “Bug” are laboratory-grown cockroaches trained for their screen chores by an entomology scientist at the University of California at Riverside. Two weeks of location scenes were filmed at Riverside and its surroundings. Numerous outdoor sites were utilized by the camera as background in this historical territory, including the University of California (Riverside). The script called for the story to be laid in a small university town, and Castle felt that Riverside was an absolutely perfect choice.

The location filming generated extreme interest with the local residents, with many natives and UC college students hired to work as actors in the film.

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Hollywood has a stimulating effect on a town whenever a film unit arrives to shoot location scenes. To begin with, a record fleet of equipment-carrying vehicles, including an $85,000 Chapman camera crane truck, rolled into Riverside for the shooting. Almost 100 studio technicians scurried about, changing local landmarks to fit the script’s requirements.

“Bug” was a real event to the residents of this quiet, agricultural center, which is the home of the first navel orange grown in America, and the filming meant a huge financial boost to Riverside. Motels, banks, restaurants, sporting goods stores, gift shops, etc., were all the recipients of a financial bonanza as the result of the movie company locating there. Producer Castle estimates that a half million dollars was spent in Riverside before the company headed for home and the interior scenes filmed on the sound stages at Paramount in Hollywood.

The living room and kitchen sets from The Brady Bunch were reused in this film, although the living room set was rearranged slightly to a smaller footprint. Aside from a paint job, the kitchen set was otherwise unaltered.

CAST/CREW
Directed
Jeannot Szwarc

Produced
William Castle

Written
William Castle
Thomas Page

Based
The Hephaestus Plague
(1973 novel)
by Thomas Page

Bradford Dillman as Professor James Parmiter
Joanna Miles as Carrie Parmiter
Richard Gilliland as Gerald Metbaum
Jamie Smith-Jackson as Norma Tacker
Alan Fudge as Professor Mark Ross
Jesse Vint as Tom Tacker
Patty McCormack as Sylvia Ross
Brendan Dillon as Charlie

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Quasimodos Monster Magazine#07

 

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The Nest (1988)

SUMMARY
The sheriff of this small island town called North Port has a roach problem in his house. According to the local exterminator Homer (played by Stephen Davies), it turns out the whole town is about to have a big roach problem. Pets, and then people, begin to disappear or turn up dead and mutilated.

Although Sheriff Richard Tarbell (played by Frank Luz) is dating Lillian, the owner of the local eatery, his high school sweetheart Elizabeth Johnson returns to the island after a four-year absence and their romance blooms again. Elizabeth (played by Lisa Langlois) happens to be the daughter of the town’s mayor, Elias Johnson (played by Robert Lansing), who is in cahoots with an evil corporation called INTEC that has been secretly breeding mutant roaches that are immune to normal insect repellants. They also seem to have the ability to assume the form of anything they kill, leading to some animal/roach hybrids and even 2 roach/human combos.

DEVELOPMENT
Made by Concord Pictures, directed by Terence H. Winkless, who will be making his debut. He is a co-author of The Howling (1981) script and a horror movie freak. Kelly Howe, who is also a member of the SFX team “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)” is in charge of SFX. He is a newcomer and creates a powerful monster that is as competitive as a real cockroach flock.

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The filmmakers utilized 2,000 flying cockroaches during filming at Quicksilver Studios in Venice, Los Angeles. When some of the insects escaped into nearby dressing rooms, the American Humane Association were unable to assist them as the organization must be contacted prior to shooting on matters concerning insects.

The result is yet another first: the first solid, quality horror film from Concorde, which usually turns out campy cheapies like Munchies and Chopping Mall. Not only is it gut-level effective, but it sports a surprisingly slick, polished look for its budget of less than $1 million. Based on a novel by Eli Cantor (published under the pseudonym Gregory A. Douglas).

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What attracted Winkless to Robert King’s screenplay, however, was not the horror as much as the story’s potential for humor. “What I liked about the script was the fact that you could do some comedy with it,” he explains. “If you try to take the bugs completely seriously, you’re going to fall on your face. I think the movie bears that out. Life gets really absurd sometimes, and what better way to talk about how absurd it is than when the fat lady is lying in bed and the bugs are crawling down her cast? You can’t take it seriously; it would never be true horror like Halloween or ALIEN, but it could be sort of comic horror.”

The movie’s best comic achievement is the character of Homer (Stephen Davies), the island’s resident exterminator, who prefers to be called a “pest control agent” and is barely fazed by the horrific goings-on around him. “Ostensibly, the hero of the piece is the sheriff (Franc Luz), but I’ve always been sort of a closet anarchist, so my hero in the movie is Homer. He’s really the guy who winds up saving the island.” Winkless reserves special praise for Davies, an old friend he fought Concorde to use. “He’s a brilliant actor,” raves the director. “One of these days he’s going to be a big star.”

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Winkless first met Davies through fellow USC film school alumnus John (The Razor’s Edge) Byrum, who wasn’t the only classmate of his to become well known; John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon and Nick Castle attended the school at the same time. Prior to working behind the camera, Winkless’ first professional job was as an actor of sorts, playing the gorilla in the kids’ TV show The Banana Splits. He went on to become a scriptwriter, his best-known credit undoubtedly the one he shares with John Sayles for the screenplay adaptation of Gary Brandner’s The Howling.

According to Winkless, though, this work was not collaborative; he has never actually met Sayles. “I worked only with Joe Dante and producer Mike Finnell,” Winkless recalls. “They had bought the book, and all they kept was the title. They threw out the book, and we started from scratch. I did my draft, and then they had Sayles do another draft after me. I admire his work – and I hope he admires mine!”

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Winkless had been in constant contact with Concorde president Roger Corman since then, and his agent was a friend of Corman’s wife Julie, who produced The Nest. When said agent found out that the Cormans needed a director for the buggy saga, he advised Winkless to go for it, and Winkless found himself attaining every scriptwriter’s dream: directing his first feature. He describes the experience as “my greatest fantasy and my worst nightmare. The scariest thing about it was that, to a certain extent, I could predict what the actors would do, what the cameraman would do and what the editors would do, but you couldn’t at all predict what the bugs were going to do. For a first-time director, having this great unknown factor was a thrill.

“Actually, that was more humorous than anything else,” Winkless continues. “I was constantly shouting, More bugs! More bugs! Of course, there were never enough bugs, and they were always escaping. I kept stooping down and picking them up, and I’d get pissed off finally and start stepping on them because I was angry that they were getting away. Then I would stop and think, ‘My God, I’m stepping on my stars!

As the movie’s roaches continue to mutate, they begin to genetically combine with the creatures they eat, resulting in a number of grotesque hybrids. FX man Cary Howe was responsible for creating the monsters, including a feline roach creature and a man transformed into a humanoid insect. There’s also a giant roach/human “queen” that is faced down by the sheriff and the mayor’s daughter (Lisa Langlois) in the finale.

Originally, this last monster was to have lurked in the shadows, but Winkless found Howe’s work impressive enough to bring it out into the light. “Cary had put an arm on it that would move, and the producers said, “Gee, that’s terrific, can you put another arm there, and there, and over there?’ So they kept adding appendages. It was all for the same money, so Cary had his work cut out for him. But it worked out great.”

The genesis was that I had the type of assistant everyone needs, and that is someone who comes in Monday morning and says, “You haven’t read this script, you need to have this meeting” and gives you the agenda for the week. Her name was Lynin Whitney. She came in one Monday morning and said, “Hey, wanna make a bug movie?” and I said, “Only if you do all the work.” The Nest was a novel [by Eli Cantor, using the pseudonym Gregory A. Douglas] Lynn found. We acquired the rights, and the screenplay was written by Robert King, who went on to create the series The Good Wife with his wife, Michelle. The director, Terry Winkless, was originally an actor-a clown, in fact-on television, so he is very good with actors. He went to film school and became a director. I think The Nest is underrated. – Roger Corman on The Nest

CAST/CREW
Directed
Terence H. Winkless

Produced
Julie Corman

Written
Robert King

Based on The Nest
by Eli Cantor

Robert Lansing
Lisa Langlois
Franc Luz
Terri Treas
Diana Bellamy

Music
Rick Conrad

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Gorezone#02
Fangoria#328

2 thoughts on “DOUBLE FEATURE RETROSPECTIVE – Bug (1975)/The Nest (1988)

  1. Nice! The “cheese moving” makes me think of Slugs (that was 1988, I believe). A woman sliced a head of lettuce in the kitchen and “sliced up” the slug imbedded in the head of lettuce. And tossed the salad.

    I didn’t eat lettuce for a month — and feverish clean lettuce ever since!!

    Liked by 1 person

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