The Deadly Bees (1966)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Robert Bloch (Based on the novel "A Taste For Honey", by H.F. Heard)
Tagline: "Hives of horror! – Excited by the smell of fear, they inflict their fatal stings!"
Run Time: 83 min
“It’s dangerous to involve yourself in matters you don’t understand…like bees!”
- Hargrove the evil beekeeper
We open with a beekeeper shaking bees off of their honeycombs. Why? In order to make them fly around in the back ground of the groovy credit sequence. Cool! (Make sure you see the credit for: "Furs by Deanfield Models"!)
Cut to "The Ministry" (The Ministry of…?) where 2 clerks are going over the daily batch of letters. One happens to catch the attention of Nameless Clerk #1, "A fellow reckons he’s created a strain of killer bees." It turns out the guy who sent the letter ("…nutty as a fruitcake"), has been sending letters claiming that he has created killer bees for some time now. In fact, he’s tired of being ignored and is going to "unleash his bees to kill somebody", if he isn’t taken seriously. (Is this a newspaper office? I’m not sure what these 2 clerks do or who they work for. Whatever their job is, it apparently requires them to open and read lots of letters and either stamp them with a rubber stamp or toss them in the waste basket.)
Cut to a groovy, oh yeah baby!, groovy band lip-syncing some terrible British rock song. (The band was credited as "The Birds"…so you’ve been warned if you’re ever tempted to buy one of their albums.) (I’m really hoping that "The Birds" aren’t to play a major role in this film.) "The Birds" are performing a song for a popular TV show, in case you were wondering why you have to watch them play.
As the band wraps up its performance, 2 women are chatting behind the cameras. One of the woman, Vicki, is wearing a mink jacket (Hey! Furs by Deanfield Models!). Maybe it’s cold in the studio. It turns out Vicki is some sort of hot-shot performer (thus the pretentious mink coat and huge (fake) diamond rings), and poor Vicki is "so tired…" from a hard day of mink coat wearing.
Upon finishing their terribly generic number, a television announcer thanks the band and wishes them luck on the upcoming American tour, their 4th American tour in fact. (Um..yeah, right!) Next up is the guest star, yes, the oh so tired, Vicki Robins! (Applause!) For some reason Vicki sings her song while completed engulfed in her mink coat. (Furs by Deanfield Models!). Oh yeah, baby! Groovy green shower curtain! After hearing Vicki sing you’ll wish for "The Birds" to come back on stage…believe me. But oh, poor Vicki, she’s so tired that she is forced to lip-sync her number. Poor, poor, Vicki.
OK, after 2 complete musical numbers, I’m kind of wondering when the, um, bees, are going to show themselves. I mean, do we need to have 7 minutes of music in an 80 minute film?
Well, you can thank the stars that Vicki’s number is cut short, because she faints from exhaustion and falls to the floor. (In an attempt at poignancy, the tape continues to play her song as she lies motionless on the ground. Oh, the pathos!!!)
Moving right along, Vicki’s manager visits her at the hospital and finds out she’ll be laid up for 3 weeks. (He reacts by tossing the flowers he had brought onto the floor. And people say chivalry is dead!) Vicki’s manager tries to object but the doctor insists on sending Vicki to a "rest" home on Seagull Island…(Hey! Isn’t that the island where the guy with the killer bees is sending all the letters from?) When Vicki’s manager continues to object, citing all the lost profits from her missing performances, the doctor says he will take the law into his own hands if he has to, and the manager backs off. (I’m not sure a doctor can force somebody to take a 3 week rest…but there you have it.)
Yeah, ok. On Seagull Island, we see a beekeeper shaking a honeycomb which has no apparent effect other than to piss off the bees. In fact, there are about 50 bees climbing on the walls of the "rest home" itself. I’m forced to wonder: What kind of place is this?
A phone rings, irritating the cottage owner, Hargrove. (Who shows just how evil he is by shouting "Baaah!" at a duck as he walks inside. Yes. This is British horror at its best.) It’s the doctor calling, and even thought it’s "off season", Hargrove agrees to take the exhausted star as a guest. (I must note that this so called "rest home" is really run down. It’s like some old alcoholic farmer’s "let’s-build-a-farm-house" experiment gone awry.)
Hargrove takes a trip down to the local pub in order to pick up the barkeeper’s daughter, Doris, and bring her back home so she can help out with Vicki during her visit. The barkeeper suspects that Hargrove has the hots for his daughter, but hey, if it’s a mad scientist in control of a swarm of killer bees, then people better just play along and keep your mouth shut.
Anyway, when Doris finds out it’s the Vicki Robins coming to the farm to rest, she agrees to help out. Yippee!
There really is a huge difference in pacing between European and American sci-fi films. There. I said it.
Vicki arrives (in a mink stole: Furs by Deanfield Models!) and is shown to her room by a fawning Doris. Oddly, Vicki is rather surprised when she finds out she has her own bathroom in her room. (Doris: "And here’s the bathroom…" Vicki: "Bathroom!!??") And Vicki is a super-star? Am I missing something here? (I wonder if they mentioned the bathroom because it will play a key role in a bee attack later in the film…oops!)
Light, fluffy, flute music plays, because life is good.
At lunch, we find out that one of the farm’s specialty products is fresh honey, because, you know, Hargrove is crazy for bees and beekeeping. And I mean crazy. Ha Ha.
Well, after lunch, Vicki decides to take the dog on a walk and "take a look at the hives." Uh, OK. I guess if you’ve never seen bees before that might be interesting.
Vicki walks dog. Vicki tosses stick. Dog sees cat and chases cat. Light, fluffy music plays. (Oh, I said that before, didn’t I…) Tess, the dog, chases the cat into a neighbor’s house, Mr. Manfred. Feeling good about life, Vicki has a light-hearted chat with the neighbor and we find out that he is also a beekeeper. (What are the odds, eh?) But you see, he’s had his hives built into the walls of his house, complete with glass windows so he can "keep an eye on them…see that they don’t get up to any mischief." (Does this all seem a bit impractical to you?)
Later that night, Vicki mentions to Hargrove that she has spoken to Manfred and as a result, she too is becoming interested in bees. (Yeah, right!) Hargrove warns Vicki to stay away from Manfred’s place from now on, telling her not to get involved with things she wouldn’t understand…"like bees." (Ohhhhhh! Scary!!!!!)
In the middle of the night, Vicki hears a commotion out in the farmyard. Not able to get back to sleep, she goes downstairs for a glass of milk. Noting a light on in the adjoining room, a quick peek reveals Hargrove with a gigantic syringe, busily measuring out some sort of fluid. For some reason, Vicki becomes terrified and flees back to her room. (Um…just why is she so scared? He does run a farm and is a beekeeper..would it be so unusual for him to have veterinary medical equipment?) Well anyway, all this goofiness is filmed so that we know that Hargrove is up to Something Mysterious.
Vicki snoops some more. Hargrove acts mysterious. Vicki snoops some more. Hargrove acts mysterious. Nothing quite like a good ol’ 1960′s British ‘killer bee’ movie, eh?
Oh yeah. The phone is out of order too. Hmmm. Go figure. Vicki decides to go to Manfred’s house instead to try his phone. When she gets there, she mentions the strange going-ons at the Hargrove place…Including <gasp> "horrible hypodermic puncture marks" on the horse.
Returning home, Vicki reluctantly accepts an offer from Hargrove to go to the pub. (Oh joy! So fun!) As they leave, we see a (superimposed…poorly superimposed), * ahem *, swarm of bees making there way through the woods. The bees attack and kill Tess the dog in a rather unconvincing bee "attack". (By the way, the screen shot to the left, those are ‘bees’…not just another one of my bad screen shots) Well, if seeing small house pets being stung to death is your idea of fun then check out this film. (By the way, if you care, Hargrove (presumably) sicced the bees on the dog in order to spite his bitter wife. She of course knows it was her husband who is responsible…because he’s an evil beekeeper…mwa-ha-ha-ha!!!)
Yes, ok. Hargrove’s wife, in a fury, douses the bee hives with gasoline (if you have the displeasure to ever see this movie, make sure to note the truly awful painted ‘background’ behind her…good grief! Ed Wood, eat your heart out!) Out of nowhere runs Hargrove and puts out the fire with a garden hose. (Literally ‘out of nowhere’…wasn’t he at the pub with Vicki? Did I fall asleep somewhere…?)
No wait. Now Hargrove is at the pub. What the hell is happening around here?
We cut to see somebody shaking bees from a bee hive…who is it?…we don’t know!…mwu-ha-ha-ha!!!! Could it be Hargrove? Could it be Manfred? Could anybody care less?
OK. Bees swarm and kill Hargrove’s wife. (Make sure to note the, *ahem*, bees on her face are those goofy plastic flies that you can be at the local whoopie-cushion store…) Whatever. Bees sting, woman screams. Woman dies. Movie continues.
Hargrove returns to find his wife dead on the front lawn. He picks her up and carries her body inside. Vicki sees Mrs. Hargrove’s body from her upstairs room window and recoils with revulsion. So I have to wonder how in the world she didn’t hear Mrs. Hargrove’s screams for help if she was home the whole time? Is it just me?
Later that day, night, uh, who knows, Vicki as talking with the rival beekeeper, Manfred. He recalls that one time Hargrove’s bees attacked him but he survived because he had made a recording of a Death Head moth (like the ones from Silence of the Lambs). Apparently, the Death Head moth emits a sound which hypnotizes bees, rendering them harmless.
Yes well, a investigative hearing is held (in the pub (!!!)) regarding Mrs. Hargrove’s death. If this all sounds rather uninteresting, then I agree with you. Somehow, the police interrogator (or whatever they call them in England) suggests that Hargrove had his bees kill his wife so he could get ownership of the farm. Alas, proof is lacking, so the whole issue is wrapped up with a verdict of "Death by Misadventure." (Gotta love that verdict!)
With Manfred’s urgings, Vicki snoops around the Hargrove farm, trying to find any shred of evidence that Hargrove has cultivated killer bees and uses them to kill people. She finds some documents of interest and takes pictures of their contents. Hargrove watches the whole thing from afar…peeping through the window…Ohhh!!! Scary!!!
Taking the film to Manfred, he develops it in his darkroom (!) and reads the documents from the pictures that Vicki took. By the way, Vicki gets some sort of slimy substance on her fingers when she turns on the darkroom light. Plot point! Manfred comes to the conclusion that Hargrove has found a chemical that he can use to make the bees attack. (Gee…you think?)
Manfred conjectures that the chemical Hargrove might be using is adrenalin."Have you ever heard of ‘The Smell of Fear’?", he asks Vicki. To make a long story short, Manfred suspects that Hargrove has managed to "concentrate the Smell of Fear," and can put it on his victims (!), then "nobody will be safe." (Yeah, well, I don’t feel too worried to be honest.)
Oh brother. Even though it’s the middle of the night. We see somebody releasing bees from a bee hive in the middle of the day. But time inconsistency is the least of this film’s problems to be sure.
Time for a nice bra-shot. Vicki, in her bra, is brushing her teeth. (It’s really not as exciting as you might think.) Yes, the bees are suddenly swarming outside her window and are now coming inside her room. She locks herself in the bathroom (Hey! That’s the bathroom that was explicitly pointed out to us in the beginning of the film! What a coincidence!) The bees start coming into the bathroom by squeezing themselves under the door. Wait a minute. Here’s a gratuitous bra-shot for you to the left. And you think that reviewing bad movies is all work and no play?
Ok. She soaks a towel in perfume and sets it on fire with a smoldering wad of toilet paper. Of course she forgot that the smoke is dangerous and is quickly overcome by the fumes.
Luckily for her, Hargrove arrives back at home, breaks down the door and carries her to her bed to recover. As she lies unconscious, she starts having nightmares of the bees and their foul attacks of the past few days. Somehow her dreams include shots of things that she wasn’t around to see, so go figure.
Whatever, Vicki wakes up, runs from the house, and takes Hargrove’s car to speed off somewhere. Hargrove realizes what she’s done and gives chase. A terribly unexciting car chase proceeds. A very, very, boring and pointless car chase. Vicki eventually loses control, crashes, is knocked out, and returned home by Hargrove. Wow. That was a great waste of time.
Now I guess it’s Doris’s turn to die. (If you remember, and still care, Doris was the pub owner’s daughter that Hargrove hired to help out around the house while Vicki was convalescing.) Yes, for some unexplained reason Doris is walking through the woods with her jacket in her hand. Suddenly bees swarm around her and she frantically runs to escape their deadly stings. In her panic, she drops her jacket, stumbles a few more feet, then collapses face first into a puddle of water. (We see a shot of the bees swarming on her dropped jacket…A clue? A red herring? A waste of time?)
Meanwhile, Vicki is having tea with Manfred. He’s letting Vicki stay with him until the next boat arrives, since, well, Vicki kind of, sort of, wants to get the hell off this island of killer bees!!! Manfred reassures Vicki that she’ll be perfectly safe at his place until the next boat arrives. In the mean time, he’s going to go over and get a book from Hargrove’s place that will fit the final piece of the mystery together. (The mystery of who is controlling these bees. Now, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but since there’s only 2 freakin’ beekeepers on Seagull Island, I’d be willing to bet it’s either Hargrove or Manfred…)
Manfred drives over to Hargrove’s place and tells him that Vicki has chosen to stay with him. Hargrove is not particularly pleased by the situation, but what choice does he have? Manfred has the audacity to ask Hargrove if he can loan his copy of "A Modern Bee Farm" since he’s misplaced his. Hargrove’s agrees.
Gasp! Vicki, waiting at Manfred’s house, spots a copy of the very book Manfred said he had lost. (Yawn.) Vicki snoops around some more and finds a laboratory in Manfred’s house. She even finds some shocking pictures in his darkroom. (We don’t get to see them of course.)
Vicki is beginning to suspect Manfred is the killer beekeeper. And to be honest, Manfred is really doing his best to act very suspicious. He takes out a bottle from his lab and the bees start buzzing like crazy in his built-in hives.
At this point, Manfred admits that the killer bees are his. Whew. Now that that’s out of the way, I can go to sleep now. But no. I will finish this review for you.
Now we get the huge Bad Guy Giving The Soliloquy scene. Via flash backs and voice overs, Manfred explains how he’s been the one sending the bees to kill everybody. Hargrove has been the target all along, but through pure luck (for him, not for the victims), the bees have targeted the wrong people. (And by the way, he spills the beans that Doris the pub-owner’s daughter didn’t die…she escaped with just a few stings…WHEW!)
Man, this is a long flashback. Yes, Manfred also places the Smell-O-Fear on Hargrove’s jacket, and says that the bees should have killed him by now. (I’m pretty sure he’ll be around to exact his revenge…but that’s just a wild guess.)
Oh yeah. Manfred tells Vicki he’ll have to kill her too.
Back at Hargrove’s place, Hawkins (the bartender) has come to snoop around a little bit. (Why the hell the bartending is snooping around the farm is not clear to me. Maybe he’s pissed because his daughter was almost stung to death.) Seeing Hargrove come out of the house, Hawkins hides in the barn, narrowly avoiding being spotted. Suddenly (well, sort of ‘suddenly’) the bees begin to swarm and Hawkins panics. Grabbing Hargrove’s jacket (which he had conveniently laid on the gate), Hawkins franticly runs to the safest place to be when bees are swarming: right in the middle of the freaking hives! (In fact, he almost knocked over a prop tree while running by, reminding me greatly of the toppling tombstones in Ed Wood’s "Plan 9 From Outer Space".)
Hargrove’s sees what’s happening, and now since we know he’s the Good Guy, he can help the struggling Hawkins without ruining the ‘mystery’. Hargrove grabs a smoke grenade and shoos away all the bees, thus saving Inspector Hawkins. (I especially liked the dubbed in ‘I’m Being Stung’ noises: "Ow! Oh! OO! Ow!")
Back at Manfred’s house, the Evil Beekeeper is preparing Vicki for her murder. He has prepared a batch of Smell-O-Fear "just for you, Vicki…". Manfred turns on the tape recorded sound of the Death Head’s moth, thus hypnotizing the bees. He opens the glass windows that were enclosing the hives and approaches Vicki with the Fear smell. (In case anybody is still reading this review at this point, Manfred is going to throw the smell on Vicki, turn off the recorder, and thus the bees will fly out of the unprotected hives and sting her to death. Can you see where this is all headed now?)
Well, Vicki aint going out like a sucker. She grabs an urn from the fireplace mantle and tosses it onto Manfred’s head. The resulting blow knocks him back, causing him to <sigh> spill the Fear smell on himself AND smash the tape recorder at the same time. <double sigh>
Manfred goes berserk as the bees attack him (Oh…how bitter-sweet irony can be), and Vicki grasps a smoldering log from the fireplace in an effort to protect herself from the swarming bees. Well, she drops the log onto the floor, (instantly) causing a massive fire. Manfred, in the meantime, has obligingly staggered upstairs so he can smash through the banister on the second floor landing and fall into the flames.
What do you know. Hargrove and Hawkins just happen to be in the area and help Vicki escape the bees and the flaming house. Gee, isn’t that nice that the fire destroyed all the killer bees? It sure was lucky that Manfred had all of his killer-bee hives built into the walls of his house, eh?
The next day, Vicki and Hargrove shake hands and say goodbye. Vicki drives off to pseudo "ratta-tat-tat" military music while a guy carrying an umbrella strolls up the driveway with a huge smile on his face. I have no idea who this guy is. I have no idea why I watched this movie.
Dennis Grisbeck (June 2005)
This movie really wasn’t about the bees at all. It was actually a mystery revolving around which of the 2 beekeepers was Evil and which was Good. The bees, of course, were just an instrument for murder. It could very well have been poison blood pudding and the film would have not been any better or worse for it.