Cult Movies: Original 'bee movie' The Deadly Bees not quite a classic

Suzanna Leigh swapped Elvis for buzzing terror in The Deadly Bees
Ralph McLean

The Deadly Bees

THESE days the humble wasp is generally considered to be the grade one git of the airborne insect world, universally reviled and swatted on sight. There was a time however, cinematically speaking at least, that the good old bee – beloved by all these days, it seems – was just as detested.

The 1970s were beset by – sorry about this – a veritable swarm of evil 'bee movies' that included The Killer Bees in 1974, The Savage Bees in '76 and perhaps the Queen of the hive, The Swarm in '78.

However, if you want to track down the first film that utilised our yellow and black flying friends for horrific purposes, you have to go back to 1967 for a low-rent production from Amicus studios, The Deadly Bees.

Suzanna Leigh, who the previous year had been swinging alongside Elvis in Paradise, Hawaiian Style, is pop singer Vicki Roberts. She is burnt out from her showbiz life and is therefore sent to a little island farm in the back of beyond to recover her sanity.

There she stays with a bickering couple Ralph and Mary Hargrove (Guy Doleman and Catherine Finn) and soon discovers Ralph has an unhealthy obsession with bee keeping that could well be spilling over into full blown mania.

There is, however, another interested party on the island in the form of the eccentric Manfred (Frank Finley): when animals and people start to die from bee stings, it's clear someone is developing a new strain of 'super bee' and Vicky finds herself in real trouble.

Directed by the great Freddie Francis – a man with an impressive CV for helming cheap British horror and sci-fi flicks, despite being better known as the Oscar-winning cinematographer who lensed The Innocents and The Elephant Man – and adapted by genre legend Robert 'Psycho' Bloch, The Deadly Bees should be a cult classic. It's not though. The story fails to grip and the characters are so flimsy they'd blow away if someone turned on a desk fan.

Freddie Francis, usually a director who can lift the most mundane material, fails to light up things on a visual front and then there's the tricky subject of the special effects to consider.

Invariably the deal-breaker with films like this, the effects here are miserable in the extreme. Real bees were used, flown in daily from warmer climes to the chilly confines of Shepperton studios, but they look as bewildered and drowsy as you'd expect. The onscreen impact is minimal and more likely to raise a smile than a shiver.

That said there's much fun to be had in this under-achieving adventure. Leigh gives it her all and sturdy character actors liker Finley and Doleman always deliver the goods with a, thankfully, straight face.

Fans of 1960s Britrock should keep an eye out for a rare early appearance of future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood with his modtastic band The Birds in a brief musical interlude, but those seeking insect horror with a nasty 'sting' in the tail may 'hive' to go looking elsewhere.

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