Tuesday, November 15, 2016

#2,251. The Deadly Bees (1966)

Directed By: Freddie Francis

Starring: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman

Tag line: "Hives of horror! - Excited by the smell of fear, they inflict their fatal stings!"

Trivia: The male leads were written for Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff

Killer bee movies were all the rage in the 1970s, from Irwin Allen’s 1978 big-budget spectacular The Swarm to the underrated Made-for-TV film The Savage Bees. Released by the UK’s Amicus Studios, 1967’s The Deadly Bees pre-dated those other movies by a decade, and while the special effects aren’t anything to write home about, the film itself has a few strong scenes, as well as one very peculiar performance by Frank Finlay, that make it worth your while.

After collapsing on-stage during a live television performance, pop singer Vicki Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) is ordered by her doctor to take a two-week vacation. So, she heads to the normally docile resort of Seagull Island, where she rents a room in a cottage owned by Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman) and his wife Mary (Catherine Finn). Though her hosts spend most of their time bickering with one another, Vicki is determined to take it easy, and get the rest and relaxation she so desperately needs.

During a walk in the country, Vicki stumbles upon a small house owned by H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay). As it turns out, Mr. Hargrove and Mr. Manfred share the same hobby: beekeeping. In fact, they’ve become rivals, and, as Manfred tells Vicki, Hargrove has been “experimenting” with his bees in an effort to create a new, more aggressive breed. The singer learns for herself just how aggressive these insects are when a swarm of killer bees sweeps across the island, killing the Hargrove’s family dog before setting its sights on the human population. To prevent further deaths, Manfred asks Vicki to help him gather information on Hargrove’s breeding techniques, which can then be turned over to the authorities. But is Hargrove to blame for the recent outbreak of violence, or is the guilty party someone else entirely?

Directed by Freddie Francis, The Deadly Bees features an all-star British cast; aside from those listed above, Hammer regular Michael Ripper has a small but effective role as a barkeeper; and keep an eye out for Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, who appears briefly at the beginning (as a member of the band that plays just before Vicki Robbins takes the stage). As for the leads, Suzanna Leigh is perfectly believable as a burned-out pop star, as are Guy Doleman and Catherine Finn as a married couple who’ve grown tired of living together. But it’s Frank Finlay who steals the show, playing Manfred as an ever-so-polite gentleman who likes to drink tea and brag about his bees. You can’t help but like the guy, even if he does give off a creepy vibe (he’s just a little too proud of his hive).

As for the bees themselves, the “swarming” effect that director Francis employed wasn’t particularly good (footage of actual bees was superimposed over the actors and the landscape, and as a result, the insects look as if they’re attacking the camera, and nowhere else). That said, there’s one death that’s absolutely brutal (thanks in large part to a few close-ups of real bees, many of which were in the process of stinging someone), and a later sequence where Vicki finds herself trapped in her room is truly nail-biting.

When it comes to killer bee movies, the bar hasn’t exactly been set high: The Swarm is no classic, and even though it has some sentimental value for me, The Savage Bees is far from a perfect film. So when I say that The Deadly Bees is one of the better movies of this ilk that I’ve seen, it’s certainly not high praise. But it is the truth, and I have no problem whatsoever recommending this picture to others.

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