“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Director: Freddie Francis / Actors: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman, Catherine Finn, John Harvey ... / DVD released 2008-09-23 at Legend Films / Features of the DVD: Colour, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC „
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A film-only review. A region 1 DVD can be imported for about £7, but it has no extras.
This is an early (1967) example of the kind of killer bug movies that proliferated in the 1970s. Killer bee films are a bit more sensible than some revenge of nature movies, as they can at least sting you, unlike frogs, ants, worms, slugs and various other creatures that unaccountably turned on man in the 70s. Unfortunately, as the makers of the big-budget disaster flick The Swarm would later learn, bees just aren't all that scary. Especially when your film doesn't even have the budget for half-decent special effects.
A pop starlet, Vicki Robbins, has a nervous breakdown in the middle of recording a TV show. She is prescribed compete rest, and is packed off to Seagull Island to stay at a farm. Unfortunately, the island is anything but restful. The farmer, Hargrove, hates his shrewish wife, and is only really interested in his bees (it is also implied, but never quite stated, that he's knocking off the daughter of the pub landlord). Vicki makes friends with Mr Manfred, who lives nearby, and also keeps bees. And then a deadly strain of killer bees starts attacking people...
It cannot be stressed enough how bizarre the plot of this film is. A pop star falls ill, gets sent to an island, and ends up being used as a pawn in a battle between two rival bee keepers. Who on earth thought that would work? It is never made even remotely clear why the guilty party would want to genetically engineer a breed of super bees. I mean, sure, a chap's got to have a hobby, but this is ridiculous. The fact that the heroine is a singer is completely irrelevant - after a terrible opening song she is never seen singing again, and a subplot involving her agent trying to get her back to London to record a Christmas single fizzles out, never to be mentioned again.
This feels very old-fashioned, as the idea that sticking a crap pop song into a movie would automatically appeal to the kids was old hat by 1966. And the songs we hear (one by 'The Birds', who are nowhere near as good as 'The Byrds', who would probably have sued them, and Vicki's sub-Cilla warbling) are complete rubbish. The film was made by Amicus, Hammer's main rival, but a company with a maddening tendency to churn out misconceived nonsense alongside their occasional classics. The Deadly Bees most definitely falls into the 'rubbish' category, although you might get a few cheap laughs out of it.
Suzanna Leigh is too posh and polite as Vicki. She's a totally bog-standard English horror heroine, which would be fine, but she's meant to be a pop star. She doesn't behave like a person at all, really, existing purely to drive the plot, which as noted, is complete twaddle. She has a stuffed toy and doesn't seem to show any interest in sex - frankly, she might as well be an eleven-year-old girl, and it might have been better if she had been. At least if this had been a children's film we could cut it a bit of slack.
Guy Doleman is constantly annoyed as the suspicious Hargrove, and Catherine Finn plain unlikeable as his wife. Frank Finlay does what he can with Manfred, but that isn't much. Apparently they wanted Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff for Hargrove and Manfred. I can't imagine why they turned the film down. Hammer perennial Michael Ripper has a good part (by his usual standards) as a pub landlord/special constable.
It all might be just about OK if there were some good bee-related death scenes to pep things up. Unfortunately, there aren't. There are only about six characters in the film, which rather reduces the threat of killer bees - who are they meant to kill? The bee attacks when they come are atrocious -bees superimposed over actors gamely trying to look like they're being stung to death, with the occasional fake insect stuck to their faces. The film isn't gruesome enough - it's only a PG - so it fails as a horror film, but is far too stupid to be anything else. It certainly isn't a compelling drama about the cut and thrust of beekeeping in a small island community, although that might have made for a far more interesting film.
It's directed by Freddie Francis, one of the stodgy journeymen of British horror. He occasionally made very good films (The Skull, for instance), but he obviously doesn't see any reason to exert himself here, and the film is visually tedious to go with the stupid plot and poor pacing. The music is a bit hysterical, which adds some much needed camp, but not enough.
And just when you think it can't possibly get any worse, we have the villain (when finally revealed) spend five minutes explaining everything he's done to Vicki, with flashbacks to things we've already sat through - just like in Scooby Doo! This is a huge insult to the audience's intelligence, and is probably a desperate bit of padding to bring the film up to length.
What we're left with is a bizarrely specific film about beekeeping, with a few unimpressive bee attacks thrown in along the way. I'd like to think this has some kind of crazy cult status among beekeepers. Perhaps they dress up as the characters and join in with the dialogue, Rocky Horror style. If you've no interest in bees, though, I don't think you'll want to see this.