Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch and Anthony Marriott
Starring: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, and Guy Doleman
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“You know it's most unusual that Hargrove should allow his bees to get out of control like that. He's a very
experienced beekeeper. Strange.”
experienced beekeeper. Strange.”
Among the "nature-runs-amok" sub-genre, there have been quite a few insect movies produced. Though some deal with small insects that have been made huge by whatever means (Empire of the Ants) others choose instead to feature hundreds and thousands of the creatures in their normal, everyday size. In particular, there have been several films about bee attacks: the Irwin Allen disaster flick, The Swarm, the John Saxon starrer The Bees, and the Amicus-produced Freddie Francis classic The Deadly Bees. Yes, when Amicus wasn't making horror anthologies, they tried their hand at gothic chillers and monster movies.
A madman claiming to have created a swarm of killer bees threatens to send them out to kill someone as proof. A lovely singer performing on TV passes out during the taping. Sent off to an island to recuperate, she soon encounters the bee-keeping madman and his swarm of well, deadly bees. See, the madman has discovered a chemical that can be used to aggravate and control bees into attacking whoever has come into contact with it. A fellow neighbor who survived a bee attack on his life is also a beekeeper (guess that's the thing to do when you live off on a private island) and helps the singer to unravel the mystery of why the bees are attacking and who is responsible.
The Deadly Bees is an interesting film, if not altogether successful. It has that understated British quality that made The Birds such an enjoyable film. The action is more localized than a widespread disaster like The Swarm, which leads to more personal attacks, as opposed to just showing scenes there people are running and screaming from masses of bees. Although The Deadly Bees was released years before, in a way, it plays a lot like Willard... only with bees instead of rats. At times, the film moves at a sluggish pace, but there are some entertaining moments for horror fans. Freddie Francis continues to show why he is one of Britain's all-time great horror filmmakers. I was hesitant at first to see how a guy who is so accomplished at crafting engaging anthologies would do if given the task of directing a nature-runs-amok flick, but he manages to pull it off. Instead of the typical nature-runs-amok plot that the animals are attacking for revenge against humanity or for no apparent reason, The Deadly Bees seems to be inspired by the mad scientist type of monster movies. There is someone very human (or inhuman, depending on your perspective) behind the bee attacks.
The cast is generally good, if a little dry. Guy Doleman and Frank Finlay are engaging as rival beekeepers. Everyone else seems to be on auto-pilot. Suzanna Leigh is beautiful if dull as the film's leading lady. I'm sure it is no coincidence that she is a striking blonde, given that the film was released in the wake of Hitchcock's The Birds. We never really get to see much of the island. For a place to be named "Seashell Island" you immediately imagine it being a beautiful, tropical paradise. However, it looks dull, and I don't recall seeing much of the ocean. The cinematography is disappointing for a movie by Francis (who later went on to become one of Hollywood's most popular cinematographers).
Being PG, the film offers little in the way of blood or nudity. However, the bee attack on Hargrove's wife provides probably one of the best cinematic bee attack sequences ever filmed. Though the effects are dated, the editing is frantic and intense. In particular, I liked the close-ups of the bees stinging real human flesh. I'd really like to know more about how they were filmed. Whenever a film features the injury or death of an animal or pet, the filmmaker always runs the risk of losing the audience. Freddie Francis takes such a risk early on in the film by having a playful dog being stung to death at the hands of the bees. The attack on the dog is tragic, for sure, but not mean-spirited.
In an homage to the Alfred Hitchcock film of that practically started the nature-runs-amok sub-genre, there is a cameo appearance by the Sixties British rock group "The Birds" (no relation the American Sixties rock group, The Byrds"). The film also features an interesting twist. Perhaps I was too engaged in the on-screen action, but I really didn't see it coming. Unlike a lot of twists, it's not completely out of left field and entirely plausible. It comes as no surprise that accomplished short story writer and Psycho author Robert Bloch was a co-writer on the screenplay of the film. It is also of note that the film was based on the novel, "A Taste For Honey" by H.F. Heard. I have not read the novel as it has been out of print for years. As of this writing, you can find it used for as low as .10 cents at online book retailers.
The Deadly Bees is often a forgotten film, but I think it's worth a viewing. Luckily, Legend Films has rescued this fun film from the dank vaults of Paramount. Though, there are no special features at all on the DVD, the movie itself has been given such a crisp transfer and clear audio that the lack of bells and whistles can be forgiven. Some scenes are better than others, but there really isn't much to complain about in the way of the transfer. The price is right, as well. You can likely find this online for $15 or under. If you're a nature-runs-amok aficionado, there are better films out there, but this one is moderately interesting. Because of the price and the fact that it's a quality Amicus production, I'm recommending this as a definite rental for any Sixties horror fan. It ain't Frogs, but paired with the right film or films, it could make any marathon or double feature all the more fun. Rent it!
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