Sunday, August 23, 2009

To Bee or Not to Bee: A Short Primer on Bee Movies

Let us stop and consider the bee, shall we? Whether they are Bumble Bees, Wasps, Hornets, Honey Bees, Yellow Jackets, Queens or Drones, we humans have a love/hate relationship with these fuzzy little buggers. On the one hand, we appreciate their hard work pollinating our crops and flowers. We enjoy the honey they make. Their hives are models of community organization. However, we also fear their stingers, which cause pain and even death. The sight of bees gently buzzing around wild flowers in a spring meadow is a lovely image, but hordes of angry bees dislodged from their nests by a stick or a stray baseball is anything but. The best way for humans and bees to coexist, I believe, is through mutual respect and recognition of personal boundaries.

However, in the mid-1970's, the always tenuous human/bee dynamic was sorely tested when TV newscasts began reporting, with mounting hysteria, that swarms of "killer bees" were heading for our shores. These nasty fellows were leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake and, what's more, they were mating with other bees and spawning a race of natural born killers that no can of Raid could defeat.

Hollywood and Junk Cinema capitalized on the growing bee frenzy by churning out a series of flicks dramatizing the coming apocalypse. Although to be fair, Junk Cinema had seen the potential of "bee movies" long before the major studios got into the act. But whether the picture was an exploitation quickie made for the drive-in crowd or a big budget Irwin Allen release, movies about bees vs. humans had one thing in common: unbridled hilarity. So, without further ado, lets browse the bee movie section and see what all the buzz was about.

"Wasp Woman"(1960)--Cosmetics tycoon Susan Cabot is growing a bit long in the tooth, so she starts giving herself experimental beauty treatments of royal jelly. Naturally, she starts turning into a man killing wasp thanks to Roger Corman's bargain basement special effects. Ms. Cabot was a regular member of the Roger Corman stock company, often playing villains such as "Inga the Dark" in "The Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent" and the nasty, roommate spanking psycho is "Sorority Girl".

"The Deadly Bees"(1962)--An exhausted pop star arrives in the picturesque British countryside hoping for a little peace and quiet. Instead, she discovers a mad man is training bees to attack people on his command. This low budget English import has lots of people screaming in pain from bee stings and even (boo, hiss) has a dog stung to death. This dreary little movie was later lampooned on "MST3K", this highest accolade it would ever receive.

"The Invasion of the Bee Girls"(1973)--Bees are industrious little critters, yes, but they are also as horny as all get out. When the Queen Bee is ready to mate, the guys line up, have great sex with her and then promptly die--but at least they die happy.

This unsavory fact of bee life was no doubt the inspiration for "The Invasion of the Bee Girls", a low-budget sex schlocker about plain housewives turned into man killing sex machines.

Filled with ugly '70's clothes and cheesy special effects, the producers of "Bee Girls" probably thought they were being really racy, but they were just being really stupid.

"The Swarm"(1987)--Probably the greatest bee movie ever made, "The Swarm" hoped to cash in on the mounting public fear that killer bees were heading for our shores. Produced and directed by "The Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen, "The Swarm" assembled the greatest cast ever to act out this menace, with Henry Fonda, Michael Caine and Olivia de Havilland (Oscar winners all) cavorting next to the likes of Katherine Ross, Silm Pickens and Fred MacMurray

The plot of "The Swarm" is deceptively simple. An angry mob of African killer bees swoop down on the good old U.S. of A, derailing trains, downing jets, exploding nuclear power plants and even swiping sandwiches from horrified families out picnicking.

The winged creatures appear to have the upper hand until Michael Caine comes up with a brilliant plan: he lowers speakers into the Gulf of Mexico that blast the Queen Bee's mating call. The horny buggers then dive into the water, then the Air Force--get this--pours oil on top of them, which is promptly set on fire. Completely ignorant about the environmental destruction they have caused, the surviving cast members congratulate each other on a job well done.

Perhaps the best things about "The Swarm" are the special effects and the dialogue. The killer bees, the stars of the show, are aptly played by Styrofoam pellets tossed at the long suffering actors. Even more hysterical were the coordinated bee attacks, in which folks ran about in slow motion, flapping their arms like rabid geese. In one instance, some poor bastard runs straight into a telephone pole.

Then there was the dialogue. I don't know what Allen was paying his cast, but I'm betting it took some serious greenbacks to get his actors to say the following lines with a straight face. To wit:

Henry Fonda: "They're more virulent that the Australian Brown Box Jelly Fish!"

Richard Widmark: "Houston on fire. Will history blame me or the bees?"

Olivia de Haviiland (to school kids, no less): "A swarm of killer bees are coming!"

Fred MacMurray: "Maureen, how long have we known each other? About thirty years? All that time, have you ever heard me beg? Maureen, I'm willing to beg now. I want you to marry me. I know people look at me and think I'm just the man behind the aspirin counter, but inside I love you."

Katherine Ross: "I need an anti-toxin!"

Michael Caine: "I never thought it would be the bees! They've always been our friends!"

In the end, "The Swarm" went down in movie history as one of the worst flicks ever made--and the funniest. In fact, "The Swarm" was a top vote getter in the first Golden Turkey Awards Worst Film poll.

Before we close this posting, it's worth noting some important facts about bees the producers of these flicks may have ignored:

*Bees not only produce honey, but beeswax.

*There are 20,00 species of bees in 7 to 9 recognized families.

*Bees are found everywhere but in Antarctica.

*The menacing killer bees hyped in these movies and in TV news broadcasts have yet to appear.

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