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Nesting, The

Nesting, The(1981)

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Horror movies were at a crossroads in 1980-81. The success of Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976), John Carpenter's Halloween) (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) knocked the genre demographic down a peg, lowering the average age of spookshow ticket-buyers to below the age of consent. Despite the sophomoric excesses of the slasher cycle, there remained an audience for more traditional Gothic fare, boasting supernatural themes and featuring more seasoned actors than could be found in the average teen-scream body count flick. Stuart Rosenberg's The Amityville Horror (1979), Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), Peter Medak's The Changeling (1980), George Bowers' The Hearse (1980), John Irvin's Ghost Story (1981) and the Italian import The House by the Cemetery (1981), directed by Lucio Fulci, all focused on mature, professional characters encountering the unknown not as an unwitting rite of passage but in an elective bid to make some sense of chaos and calamity. Falling squarely into the latter category, Armand Weston's The Nesting (1981) finds acutely agoraphobic novelist Lauren Cochran (Robin Groves) quitting Manhattan's discomfiting Upper East Side for a quiet place in the country that, as happens, turns out to be haunted.

Relegated to footnote status for being the last film of Gloria Grahame (who died of cancer four months after the film's May 1981 premiere), The Nesting feels like the work of a horror enthusiast who lacks a grasp of the principals. Making a bid for legitimacy after years as an adult filmmaker, Armand Weston secured a unique location in the 120 year-old octagonal Armour-Stiner House in Irvington, New York (this architectural style was all the rage in the mid-19th Century, thanks in large part to phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler) and the services of Grahame and legendary monster man John Carradine but The Nesting remains the runt of the 1980s haunted house litter. For a former porn director, Weston takes too much time getting to the point while much of his film feels cribbed from existing courses, such as Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965), John Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and Curtis Harrington's Ruby (1977). Grahame and Carradine are required to do the expositional heavy lifting, beaching Weston's two leading men with little to do. Star Robin Groves screams like a champ but her fully committed performance cannot elevate a plodding script by Weston and Daria Price.

At a time in which horror movies were pulling out all the stops in terms of onscreen violence to orchestrate a new school symphony of terror, The Nesting is frustratingly demure. The film's first third is taken up with a latticework of odd sights and sensations for the frazzled heroine, reserving for the 30 minute mark the first moment of full-on horror- which turns out to be an accidental death unrelated to the unfolding paranormal situation. Things get more interesting three quarters of an hour in as a supporting character whose relationship to the eerie octagonal house may be more complicated than he admits is pulled to his death in a forest pond by pallid, bloody hands - a startling, effective moment that has, unfortunately, no analog elsewhere in the film. Though the moment is explained by the final fade-out, it commits the cardinal sin of establishing an expectation for balls-out horror that is never met or satisfied. Revealing itself as a tale of justice from beyond the grave, The Nesting never seems to be in command of its own plot mechanics, throwing everything at the wall in its final act - including a bassinet and a Ford pickup truck - in the vain hope something will stick.

A VHS perennial during the video cassette boom (at which time it tended to occupy one of the lower shelves in your local video store's horror section), The Nesting has long been out of the public eye. Making its digital debut under the auspices of the niche DVD label Blue Underground, the film looks surpassingly fine, with satisfying black levels and vivid chromatics - although it takes a longish while for the first splash of blood to assert itself and prove this conclusively. Shot with diffusion filters to soften, it would seem, the appearance of leading lady Robin Groves (an attractive New York theatre actress who went on to a principal role in Silver Bullet in 1985), the source materials for Blue Underground's widescreen (1.85:1) and anamorphic transfer are variable in sharpness but flesh tones are natural and the abundance of New England greenery is the film's cheapest special effect. The film's original mono soundtrack is offered with the options of a 5.1 Dolby and 6.0 DTS remixes. Extras on BU's disc run to extended/deleted scenes, US and Spanish theatrical trailers, three 30-second American TV spots and an image gallery comprised of posters, pressbooks, behind-the-scenes candids, newspaper clippings and documents relating to the legal tangle with John Huston's film company over the proposed title Phobia.

For more information about The Nesting, visit Blue Underground. To order The Nesting, go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith