Though 1978 saw two killer bee films with The Swarm and the title under question here, The Bees, the potentially deadly insect had already wreaked havoc ten years earlier in The Deadly Bees and would continue to terrify via TV movies like 1995’s Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare and 2002’s Deadly Bees! And let us not forget the all too meme worthy scene in the Nic Cage remake of The Wicker Man, or Tony Todd’s oral bee fixation in Candyman; the black and yellow guys are all over genre cinema and last year – though more so in the form of wasps – we even got a strange, future double bill of Mr. Holmes and Stung, which are at opposite ends of the genre spectrum yet utilize stingers in ways that can only be deemed deadly. But, lets get back to The Bees, shall we?
The Bees was the second of the killer bee flicks to be released in 1978, following The Swarm‘s well timed summer release with a one closer to Thanksgiving. Makes sense. And it would be the harder sell with only the more genre savvy audiences being drawn to names like John Saxon and David Carradine as opposed to The Swarm‘s winning marquee names like Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, Slim Pickens, Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland. It was as in the 70s mega disaster mold ala The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure as you could get, where The Bees looked like the grimy, cheap B-movie afterthought version that audiences could buy tickets to out of confusion. Yet – obvious budget and star power short comings aside – the films are surprisingly different in their approach to both the subject and genre and, for my money, The Bees comes out on top.
The Bees comes to us courtesy of Alfredo Zacarias who is mostly well known in the states for his possessed hand opus Demonoid: Messenger of Death, which was released a few years after The Bees and is decidedly more excessive. Though Zacarias may feel a bit restrained here by comparison, things move quickly and bluntly with well choreographed stunt work and effects that are impressive considering its low budget. What really sets it apart from The Swarm is how funny it is. At first, I wasn’t sure if the humor was intentional and/or meant to be a parody of the genre but as it went on it felt entirely sincere. Zacarias’ film doesn’t come off as goofy but, rather, as self aware and intent on bridging a gap between comedy and genre cinema that was very much in place in the mid 1970s. I wouldn’t go so far as to call in the best disaster movie of the 70s or even the best of the aforementioned bee movies (I have a soft spot for The Deadly Bees) but it’s got John Saxon spouting science babble, a ridiculous could-only-be-from-the-70s soundtrack, John Carradine trying to be German (I think) and some inspired use of stock footage. It’s definitely the most fun bee movie of 1978.
Vinegar Syndrome have brought The Bees to Blu-ray and the result is really great. We get a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative, which appears to have been really well kept for almost forty years. There is some minor wear, mostly showing as faint scratches and only momentarily. Colors are sharp, blacks are deep and there is a natural layer of grain throughout. That aforementioned stock footage doesn’t fare as well, but that level of damage is inherent in those source materials and not that of The Bees. It really just adds to the charm anyway. Audio is only present as a 1.0 DTS HD MA track and even in mono the sound is quite bombastic. The fun 70s soundtrack is front and center with dialogue represented clearly with plentiful – but wanted – buzzing coming through as strongly as it should. If you live with someone who is allergic to bees, you should probably keep this one turned down.
Supplements are light but we get an 11 minute interview with Zacarias who is candid and happy to discuss The Bees. He mostly discusses the production but also goes into distribution issues as well, which naturally involve issues regarding the close release of The Swarm. It’s a great talk and I only wish it were longer. A theatrical trailer is also included.
The Bees doesn’t break the mold of 70s disaster films but it definitely puts its own spin on it. It’s a lean, fun genre exercise with solid (though maybe a tad confounding) performances by genre mainstays John Saxon and John Carradine and Vinegar Syndrome have given it a wonderful A/V presentation. Recommended.