The Film (2/5):
The Bees was released in 1978, near the end of the cycle of “nature gone amok” disaster movies that reflected people’s fears about the consequences of pollution and genetic research. In this one, a Mexican production directed by Alfredo Zacharias (Demonoid), the titular threat is unleashed when a father and son sneak into a UNESCO research facility in attempt to steal honey, ignore the many large warning signs posted everywhere and unleash a strain of experimental killer bees. After the head of the facility is killed by the bees, his wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) travels to the US with the bees in tow in the hopes that researchers Dr. Norman (John Saxon) and Dr. Hummel (John Carradine) can help find a solution. But before long, the bees are loose in the US, and all hell breaks loose in hilariously entertaining fashion.
The many bee attack sequences in the movie are far from convincing, a combination of low-budget optical effects and shots involving live, presumably non-killer bees swarming actors that look like they must have been a real pain to pull off. Zacharias keeps things moving at a fast clip; the scenes in between bee attacks are pretty flat, but Saxon’s natural charm makes them a lot breezier than they would’ve been otherwise. The movie’s attempts at an epic scale on a low budget are charming, especially the use of stock footage of plane crashes and the Rose Bowl, where Gerald Ford can be spotted (there’s also a pretty good Jimmy Carter impersonator that appears near the end). There’s a possible solution involving bee sperm, and a climactic scene where Saxon speaks to the U.N. (no spoilers, but it’s a hoot). What The Bees lacks in tension of exploitation shocks - it’s a PG, and a pretty mild one - it makes up for in enthusiasm.
The Bees was released the same year as Irwin Allen’s big-budget disaster movie The Swarm, and Zacharias explains on the Blu-ray that Warner Bros. actually paid New World Distributors to delay his movie’s release by several months to avoid confusion. As for which is the better movie, it’s a close call. The effects in The Bees are on par with the much bigger movie, and while Allen’s movie is a bloated two and a half hours, Zacharias wraps things up in about eighty minutes, which seems the right length for a killer bee movie. However, The Bees doesn’t have a subplot involving Fred MacMurray, Olivia DeHavilland and Ben Johnson in a polyamorous triad, so I’m going to call it a draw.
The Bees is presented by Vinegar Syndrome in a 2-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo set. The film was scanned and restored in 2k from a 35mm interpositive, and it looks fantastic. Colors, contrast and detail are solid throughout, with minimal print damage and a pleasantly filmic layer of grain. The Bees has been unavailable since the early days of VHS, and it’s hard to imagine it looking any better than it does here. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio is clear throughout.
An 11-minute interview with Zacharias that was shot for this release is included, as is the movie’s original theatrical trailer.
For fans of this long-unavailable oddity or fans of environmental horror looking to discover something new, Vinegar Syndrome’s release of The Bees is well worth seeking out.