I think that everyone has some mild type of fear of bees. In the same way that we don’t like snakes, or spiders. These things can hurt us, even kill us. It’s only natural to have some unconscious fear of them. But bees can’t kill you. Or can they?
Some fun facts about bees before we begin. Although bee stings are one of the largest killers of humans within the animal world, this is primarily due to allergic reactions to the venom and not from the number of stings a person is inflicted with. The average person who is not allergic to bee venom can take as many as ten sings per pound of body weight. This means that most human adults can withstand upwards of 1000 bee stings. That being said, I would steer clear of a large swarm of bees if you ever happen upon one.
The story goes that a biologist working with various species of bees decided to cross breed the European and the African honey bee in order to possibly produce more honey and be able withstand the warmer climates of South America. The result was the Africanized honey bee, or “killer” bee, we have come to know them as. In 1957 a bee keeper accidentally let some swarms of these hybrid bees loose. Word spread about deaths related to stings inflicted by these killer bees. Fear grew when it was predicted that swarms of these bees would reach North America by the 1970s. Although Africanized bees did reach the United States, it was not until the mid-1980s. However, national buzz about killer bees was loud enough to catch the ear of filmmakers. And swarms of bee movies ensued.
Creature features were very popular during the 1950s. Films like Them! (1954), Tarantula (1955), and The Black Scorpion (1957) reflected the public’s growing fear of the atomic age. For some reason radiation always increased the size of the animal. From giant ants to Godzilla, this idea that the things we do have a profound effect on the world around us permeated popular culture. From film and television to other media like that of comic books.
Disregard to multiple threats marks the opening of The Deadly Bees (1967). An unidentified British ministry, no not the Ministry of Silly Walks, gets a letter from a beekeeper threatening to harm people if not taken seriously. Which is exactly what they do not do. I mean a person who claims to have bred a hybrid killer bees must certainly be insane. No one can breed a hybrid killer bee. Or can they?
Vicki Robbins is a pop singer who is shooting a television spot when she collapses from exhaustion. The doctor says she needs to get some rest and relaxation. Her manager is not liking this of course. The doc knows a guy who owns a farm on Seagull Island. So he immediately calls him to confirm that Vicki can stay at that stranger’s house alone on an island named after the most annoying bird ever. At least she wasn’t going to stay on Albatross Island. Once at the farm of Mr. Ralph and Mary Hargrove Vicki settles in enjoyable couple of weeks in the country. Immediately Vicki notices strange happenings going on at the Hargrove farm. Other than the fact that there’s not a lot of farming happening. Mr. Hargrove is a beekeeper, much to the dislike of Mrs. Hargrove. Who seems to only enjoy chain smoking and feeding her dog. At the first introduction of the character I actually thought that Mrs. Hargrove was Ralph’s mother. Ah, the effects of smoking. Vicki meets the Hargrove’s neighbor, Mr. Manfred who is also a beekeeper. Mr. Hargrove is doing some strange things with large needles at night. This activity along with the death of Mrs. Hargrove’s dog from a bee attack leads Vicki to become very suspicious of Ralph Hargrove.
She begins to meet and discuss this with Mr. Manfred. The death of Ralph’s wife only solidifies Vicki’s suspicions. Although the official cause of death is determined to be “death by misadventure”. It is doubtful Vicki shares the ruling of the court. On a side note, I think I’ve found what is going on my tombstone.
Vicki does some snooping, finding some notes of Hargrove’s. She snaps some pictures of them and takes them to Manfred. Hargrove is aware of this as he has been lurking outside in his bathrobe watching Vicki. The next morning while Vicki is getting ready the swarm of bees attacks her in her room. She only escapes by lighting a towel on fire that has been stuffed in the door of the bathroom. Before dying of smoke inhalation she is pulled from the room by Ralph. Waking up later in her room, she is determined to leave and takes Ralph’s truck. He pursues her and catches up after she has crashed into a tree. Vicki wakes up again in her room still with an immediate desire to leave. Doris grabs her clothing from the bed post offering to wash it. If the audience hasn’t caught on to the deliberate camera movements indicating it was her dress that was attracting the bees, they know now as Doris is attacked while walking home with it.
The Deadly Bees (1967) was released by Amicus Studios. Directed by Freddy Francis of Hammer fame and with a screenplay by Robert Bloch the film was poised to be something of a hit when in pre-production. However, once it was released it was a critical and box office flop. The film has the aesthetic feel of that of a Hammer or other Amicus films. Even the Hammer regular Michael Ripper. But with a slower pace, the film doesn’t seem to strike the amount of fear it was going for. Maybe this is because Brittan wasn’t expecting killers bees to arrive on their shores so the fear was not as palpable. The idea that someone could use bees as a weapon brings up a lot of questions. Why was he not trying to sell this to the highest bidder? Why did he not become a hit man? Did any of those bees make it out of Manfred’s house? If so what is the impact of this on bee populations throughout Great Britain?
So Captain Peters holds a Town meeting. Probably one of the worst town meetings ever put to film outside actual town meetings. Captain Peters breaks down the list of eight dead men so far, “…Two scientists, a policeman, a cannery worker, a barber, a gas station attendant, a real estate broker, and a grade school teacher.” He reiterates the fact that all of the deaths have been male and that they are not occupationally specific. Peters then refers to Dr. Murger. Dr. Murger advises the locals to abstain from sex as a precaution just in case these deaths are related to a new unknown STD. That “Venereal disease has swelled to epidemic proportions…” This does not bode well with the fun loving free spirited peoples of Peckham, CA. As one local put it “These guys are dead from balling and you don‘t even know what’s causing it.” Later he is given a chance to find out when he happens upon the widow Grubowsky outside the bar. In order to try and keep the people safe a curfew is enacted, which no one adheres to whatsoever.
Per Agar’s suggestion, a military quarantine in put in place blocking all the residents of Peckham from leaving. The number of employees at Brandt dwindles. This is reflected in the lunch room where Dr. Kline is approached by the normally standoffish Dr. Harris. He asks her to dinner, which she graciously accepts. Dessert, coffee and sex lead to his demise. His body is discovered the next day at the cannery. The body count, well I’ve lost tract of the body count by this point, but it’s high. Dr. Harris calls the recently deceased man’s wife to lure her to her hive. We finally get to see the bee girl transformation in action. This is long process. First the woman is covered entirely in Cinnabon frosting. Then she is put into a chamber where thousands of bees enjoy the icing. When she comes out the frosting has become a thick layer of dried Elmer’s glue, which is peeled off here. She is then subjected to some gelled light. Finally a kiss from the queen and she is a black eyed beauty in search of a mate. This makes all the other bee girls very excited. Her first victim, Captain Peter’s who has come by to inform her that her husband is dead. A fact she doesn’t seem to upset about. The Captain makes it out alive though. Epic fail for her first attempt at mating.
Julie Zorn is the film’s “final girl” who is saved from being turned into a man eating she bee. Yet she is actually involved in the first death having balled Dr. Grubowsky until he dropped dead. The film begins and ends with sex in a way. What would have been more fitting end would be if Julie was a bee girl the whole movie and only revealed right at the end. The final shot of the bee on the flower right at the end almost visually hinting that while the score to 2001 plays. The use of this track is probably where all of the film’s budget went.
All of the men in this film except for Agar and Captain Peters sink to there most base instincts and are killed because of it. Not one man can resist the lure of a beautiful woman, even after it’s proven that sex kills. Even a solider guarding the road block is lured away by a random woman into the woods and killed. The death toll is nothing compared to the impact bees have in the next film.
After a search of the base, Flame Thrower Team 6, find the medical doctor who as locked herself along with some other men in the medical wing. She confirms that it was in fact bees that attacked the facility. In an attempt to figure out how to help the men who are still alive but severely stung she brings up a paper she recently read. Which just so happens to have been written by the good Dr. Crane. General Slater is not buying any of Dr. Crane’s story even after two of his helicopters go down from a bee attack. Needless to say after some credential checking, the President put the doctor in charge of the whole operation. Although the operation will never be given a cool name like Operation Pollinator or Operation Buzzkillington without the government in charge. The doctor tells the military to bring in a number of scientists to help him. They begin to test how the venom of the sting works on the human body.
When the bees attack a nuclear power plant and subsequently make it blow up, on a small number of people die from this. 36,422 to be exact. Whether its from the explosion or some sort of radiation poison is unknown. Dr. Crane is kicked off the operation. The military has reduced itself to simply torching the bees as they invade Houston. Eventually torching their office, but comes a little later.
For now the doctor has come up with a theory as to why the bees initially attacked the military base. It was because of the sirens that the base uses sounds just like the mating call of the bees. It always has to do with mating. Therefore the bees were drawn to the military base in the first place by the sound of the sirens during a drill. They decide to dump all the oil they can into the Gulf of Mexico. This makes the BP spill look like a drop in the water. Sirens are placed in the water to attract the bees. Then missiles are launched blowing up the bees and anything else living in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Crane and Dr. embrace. Credits role thanking the armed forces for their help in the making of this film.
Just as in The Deadly Bees, it is sound that brings the bees to kill and eventually brings them to there fiery demise. Whereas in Deadly Bees the insects are being subdued by sound, in The Swarm they have been attracted to the sound. It is attraction that kills in all three of these films. Whether you have the smell of fear on you, or you are a horny guy, or just unfortunately make the same sound as a mating call. Once you have attracted the bees you are pretty much dead. In some sense all three films have to do with over population and even perhaps the over sexing of the western world. While Invasion of the Bee Girls comes right out and makes this a clear point, the other two films do this more subtly. The Deadly Bees uses weaponized bees which have been bred intentionally for this purpose. It is mating that first brings the bees in The Swarm to the military base in the first place. Just as Dr. Krim notes to Dr. Crane “The raunchiest thing I ever read. That paper of yours on the mating habits of Bombus Madaros.” “Yeah those queen bees really are something.” Mating has a purpose in all of these films. Those who wish to mate without a purpose, as seen in the horny men of Bee Girls, are punished for it. In the end mating also kills the bees themselves.
In this day and age Genetically Modified Organisms, pesticides, global warming, hydro-fracking and colony collapse are hot button topics within the realm of environmental studies. How we as humans impact the world around us is debated in coffee shops and classrooms around the world. It's nice to take a look back to a time when nature brought a swarm of fear in the hearts of man.
For your viewing pleasure the MST3K best moments for The Deadly Bees