6WH: Week 2.5 – No, Not The Bees, Ahhhh!

There’s a phenomenon known as Twin Films, wherein two films with suspiciously similar plots are released around the same time by two different studios. Canonical examples include Deep Impact and Armageddon (well, for people my age, I guess) and Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe (to give a much earlier example).

In the midst of preparations for the 1978 Project, I noticed one such pair of films, this time concerning killer bees. Combining the 70s penchant for disaster films with the general fascination and panic around the Africanized Honey Bee, these are only two examples of many others tackling the vaunted killer bee (there’s even another one from 1978, a TV movie called Terror Out of the Sky). I’m guessing they were also trying to capitalize on the When Animals Attack trend ignited by Jaws and its many imitators. But wait! There’s more! The 70s also saw the rise of the eco-thriller, and these movies certainly glommed onto that trend as well..

  • Nicolas Cage: No, not the bees! (clip)
  • Animals Attack Trailers
  • A Message from the Bees (Robot Chicken)
  • The Bees – As killer bees migrate through South America and eventually reach the United States, researchers seek to understand and end the threat before the swarms attack high population cities. But the bees are changing, becoming more intelligent. Will our intrepid heroes figure out a way to defeat the vicious, unstoppable bees and their blasphemous hive minds? This one has a really poor reputation, but it showed up on Shudder last year and I caught the end of it, which made me want to revisit it this year. It’s… not a good movie, but I suspect its blatant anti-corporatism and eco-thriller elements would go over reasonably well with certain audiences these days. I mean, this is some truly hamfisted stuff, but it sorta rockets past unbelievable and pedantic into so-bad-it’s-good territory. Genre mainstay John Saxon (Black Christmas, Nightmare on Elm Street, Enter the Dragon) anchors the cast, delivering his hammy lines with the proper amount of authority. John Carradine lends some gravitas to the proceedings as well, and Angel Tompkins holds her own too (though at first, she’s saddled with an… unlikely relationship partner). The plot gets more ridiculous as it goes on, mostly reserving its ire for greedy corporate types but also putting the United Nations and general governmental bureaucracy on full blast. By the time Saxon figures out the mutated hive mind’s hyper-intelligent plans and starts relating it to the United Nations, it’s almost laughable, though again, I feel like today’s general climate of environmental advocacy might actually get an earnest kick out of this sort of wish fulfillment. Of the two movies in this post, this is clearly the lower budget take. Apparently it was completed first, but Warner Bros. paid the distributor to postpone the release to allow more room for The Swarm… I don’t think that has any real impact on the legacy of either film, really, but it’s interesting and does prove the Twin Movie theory (some things labeled as Twin Movies have more dubious connections). **
  • Does God Hate Bees? (Robot Chicken)
  • The Killer Bees: Home Invasion (SNL)
  • The Burns and the Bees (The Simpsons)
  • The Swarm – Producer/Director Irwin Allen led the charge on disaster films in the 1970s. After his initial successes, he announced a slew of projects, including this one, which lingered for years and eventually came out in 1978. It flopped hard and pretty much signaled the end of the disaster movie era. It’s a lavish production though, featuring a star studded cast (including Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, amongst many others), lots of special effects and explosions. But it’s also incredibly bloated and sloppy, with a sprawling but rather silly narrative about a scientist overseeing a military effort to combat the bees (this is basically the same thing as the other movie – deadly new strains of Africanized honey bees are coming to America and must be stopped!) Caine is always fun and does his best with poor material here, quickly flying off the handle every time he has to justify himself to the military. There’s some pure entertainment value here in terms of spectacle, and the higher budget definitely helps, but the overlong running time really sinks this one. Both of these killer bee movies have a degree of sensationalism and panic about them that is fun, but the svelt 90 minute The Bees never really overstays its welcome the way that The Swarm does… *1/2

When I was a young, I distinctly remember seeing a sensationalist documentary about how the killer bees were gonna get us all, but we’re still here, so I’m guessing we did something right. Anyway, stay tuned, for we’ve got a Creature Double Feature coming on Sunday… if I can find the time to write it, as I’m traveling at the moment (i.e. it may come a bit late).

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