The Bees (1978) Review

The Bees Poster

The Bees was directed and written by Alfredo Zacarias (Crime of Crimes, The Pearl), co-written by Jack Hill (Foxy Brown, Isle of the Snake People), and stars Angel Tompkins (Walking Tall Part II, How to Seduce a Woman), John Saxon (New Nightmare, The Evil Eye), John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath, Evils of the Night), and Claudio Brook (Cronos, Viviana). It’s about a new hybrid species of bees that have spread across the globe, forcing a scientist to find a way to stop them while competing parties try to gain their function.

The Plot: Creature features and man’s frivolous interest in the material often go hand in hand. The Bees essentially takes the attitudes of all of these pictures – alongside animal horror – and tries to create a disaster film out of the mix. It’s stupid. Delightfully stupid.

Narration (from the ether, evidently, as this is the only time a floating voice is present) informs the audience that African honeybees mated with Brazilian bees and made a violent new species that’s been spreading upwards into the US with nothing to stop them. Sandra (Tompkins) and her husband Franklin (Brook) are genetics professors trying to figure out how to stop the spread before it reaches America. The locals aren’t happy with the presence of the bees and take it out on the couple, even though they aren’t bringing them down there or letting them out. To say the script makes no sense would be an understatement.

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Before Sandra goes back to the US, Franklin is killed, luckily before he could bring evidence of someone skimming from the top of the project. Bizarrely enough, this sets up a hitman subplot that’s about as sensible as the rest of The Bees. When Sandra returns to continue her research with John (Saxon) and Dr. Hummel (Carradine), money-hungry investors hire a smuggler to bring the killer bees into the country for industrialization. It goes as well as you’d think it would, making the researchers fight the clock and save the US.

Zacarias and Hill pack cliches and scenes of Carradine making buzzing sound so tightly into the feature that The Bees have very little connective tissue; scenes don’t flow into each other, with plenty of throwaway snippets as a replacement. It’s awful, and the finale is all the better for it.

The Characters: Efforts to create vivid characters are low, as the movie doesn’t bother much with internal character logic or basic personality traits; instead the writers forced in romances and caricatures that hardly gel with each other when juxtaposed.

Sandra wants little aside from carrying on her dead husband’s research, though it doesn’t seem like she much cared for the man himself, as a mere few hours after his death she’s making more bee jokes than references to her husband, which doesn’t line up with her agony at witnessing his death by a thousand stings. At least her staunch attitude towards stopping the bees is consistent though, as she berates those who’d seek to use them to make a quick buck and those who think the threat isn’t real.

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John isn’t much of a character. He’s a womanizer with nebulous military connections, thus justifying his appearance in The Bees on a surface level. However, beyond this vague influence, he just acts as a mouthpiece for Sandra and Hummel, even though they’re both entirely capable of articulating the dangers of commercialized killer bees. Realistically, he’s just here to be a forced-in male interest, as within days he’s sleeping with Sandra instead of doing just whatever it is that he’s supposed to.

Hummel is a special kind of scientist. He can translate the language of the insects, which is all kinds of hilarious B(ee)S. He’s off to the side in the scheme of things, but the bizarre supporting characters which include warmongering G-men, mustache-twirling businessmen, and poorly acted extras are, along with Hummel, the true heroes of The Bees.

The Horror: Invasive species are certainly credible threats, but Zacarias makes mistake after mistake in attempting to make these bees scary. Fleeting moments of terror are present, but most shocks result in laughter, not terror.

Some South American locals infiltrate Sandra and Franklin’s hives containing the lethal bees, and their reactions are a prelude to the nonsense that will soon unfold. A father and son try to steal from the clearly marked containers, and when the insectoid inhabitants are released, the son is killed. In response, the father leads a band of civilians in burning down the research hub and releasing more bees in the process – all because of his own mistake. Self-reflection was in order.

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Swarms of bees are eventually unleashed upon the unsuspecting public, and the large, flying black masses in the air are imposing, as millions of angry bees begin their buzzing assault. This is where the terror ends, as almost all of the spliced-in sequences of panic only last as long as they do because the humans in them do just about the least intelligent things possible; from gawking at the incoming bee-talion to jumping through glass panes in an effort to escape. None of it works out for them, especially the guy who smuggles the bees to the US, which he does by putting them under his belt.

Bees are scary in angry swarms, but this movie fails to capture that, as the titular animals are rarely present; instead replaced by fans blowing what appears to be coffee grounds and beans onto the sets and actors, who rarely sell their reactions effectively. It may not be successful at scares, but The Bees can pull some laughs.

The Technics: B-grade bee movies seemed to appear from nowhere in the mid to late 70s, most of them being made by amateurs, and none of them were above par on a technical level.

Obviously sporting a low budget, Zacarias was faced with few options in illustrating the buzzing antagonists. Whatever method he used may have passed in 1978, as HD was nonexistent, but technology came back to sting the director with clarity. Other choices are harder to forgive, such as a poorly implemented picture of the American Capitol building and suboptimal optical effects. Stock work is also plain as day, with apparent extra sound effects and decade-old stock footage to show assets the production didn’t have available to it.

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Just about everything in The Bees is in flux, from the pacing, which is handled without much balance, to the score by Richard Gillis (Schlock, Crime of Crimes), which always results in whiplash be(e)cause of the way it never builds; instead opting to hop straight into overbearing dramatic cues or jovial brass background sound between scenes. The tone is mishandled in the same way, with Zacarias and Hill’s script occasionally recognizing the camp value of the premise, only to revert back to straight-faced science a scene later.

Even the rules of the bees themselves aren’t given continuity, as Sandra makes clear that the killer bees are only killer en masse, only for a beachgoer to get taken out by a single bee a few minutes later. Maybe she was allergic.

Nothing works the way it should in The Bees. Not the story, the characters, or the horror. It does, however, work excellently as a comedy, so if you’re easily scared and want to skip out on true terror, this movie will bee loads of fun.

Originally released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Vinegar Syndrome as well as on Tubi.

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