Friday, April 22, 2016

Something's Abuzz in "The Deadly Bees"

While lip-synching one of her hits on a television show, pop singer Vicki Robbins collapses from exhaustion. Her physician prescribes some rest and relaxation at a friend's quiet farm on Seagull Island. This is not necessarily a good thing. In an earlier scene, Whitehall government officials discuss a series of letters from "some fruitcake" on Seagull Island who has threatened to release his new species of killer bees.

Once on the perpetually gloomy island, Vicki (Suzanna Leigh) discovers that there are two rival bee farmers: her host, Ralph Hargrove, a rather unpleasant sort, and Mr. Manfred, his kindly neighbor who welcomes Vicki warmly. Despite the friction between the neighbors, Vicki finds herself enjoying the island life until Mrs. Hargrove's dog--and later Mrs. Hargrove--are killed by swarms of bees. Hargrove and Manfred accuse each other of not controlling their bee hives. However, the coroner rules that the lethal attack on Mrs. Hargrove was "death by misadventure."

A publicity still with Suzanna Leigh.
Yet, if that were the case, then how could one explain why Vicki appears to be the pestilent pests' next victim?

While it's never surprising, The Deadly Bees (1966) is the best of the "killer bee" movies that appeared in the late 1960s and 1970s. That lot includes Irwin Allen's big-budgeted The Swarm (1978), The Bees (1978) starring John Saxon, and the made-for-TV movies Killer Bees (1974), The Savage Bees (1976), and Terror Out of the Sky (1978).

It's hard to see the bees here as they buzz by.
Much of the film's effectiveness can be attributed to director Freddie Francis and co-screenwriter Robert Bloch (Psycho). Francis, who was better known as an acclaimed cinematographer (e.g., The Innocents), turns Seagull Island into a gray, uninviting vacation spot. The bee attacks, while never looking real, are just convincing enough. My only complaint with his direction is a tendency to have his camera linger too long on important objects. ("Why are we looking at Vicki's red coat...oh, there must be something on it!").

The screenplay lacks Bloch's usual flair, making me suspect that he served only as script doctor. While the dialogue is flat, there are some nice touches: Hargrove is an unappealing hero, there's no hint of romance between Vicki and him, and one character--who would have died in most movies--survives a bee attack.

Like director Francis, star Suzanna Leigh and several other cast members (Michael Ripper, Michael Gwynn) were Hammer Film veterans. Yet, while The Deadly Bees may look like a Hammer product, it was made by studio rival Amicus. The pretty Ms. Leigh was a busy actress in the 1960s, appearing opposite Elvis Presley in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) and as one of the stewardesses in the Tony Curtis-Jerry Lewis comedy Boeing, Boeing (1965). In real life, she was romantically linked to Richard Harris, Steve McQueen, and Michael Caine (who also battled bees in The Swarm).

Ron Wood as a member of The Birds.
By the way, the opening scene in The Deadly Bees features a musical performance by The Birds (that's not a typo, it's not The Byrds). This British group never scored a hit in the U.S., but gained some popularity in its native country. When The Birds disbanded, guitarist Ronnie Wood went on to join Faces, The Jeff Beck Group, and The Rolling Stones.


  1. I had no idea so many bee movies were released. I love the "HIVES OF HORROR!" tagline on the poster.

    1. I agree that it's a great tagline and altogether buzzworthy poster.

  2. It made me smile to see you write about The Birds and The Bees in the same post. Well done!

  3. Interesting that this was several years ahead of the rest of the bee movies.... most of the 70s ones seemed to follow in the wake of the reports of "killer bees" that were supposed to be heading for the US from Central/South America,depending on which article you read....

  4. Recently my wife and I were in the mood for a big-budget disaster movie, and made the mistake of picking The Swarm. We made it all the way through, but were aghast at the over-the-top acting, the anything-but-special effects and clueless silliness of it all. In contrast, The Deadly Bees sounds like a much more watchable UK thriller that just happens to use bees as the killer's instrument.