The Deadly Bees (Freddie Francis, 1967)
After collapsing with exhaustion during a music promo shoot, comely pop star Vicki Robbins (the gorgeous Suzanna Leigh) is advised by her doctor to take time out to relax, recommending she spend some recovery time on the secluded Seagull Island, with his friend, Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman), a local beekeeper. Arriving on the island, Vicki soon settles in and it isn’t long before she strikes up a friendship with another beekeeper, H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay) whose calm demeanour is the antithesis of that of the uptight and edgy Hargrove, who spends much of his time verbally sparring with his overbearing Wife, Mary (Catherine Finn). However, the serenity of Vicki’s break is suddenly superseded by anarchy when a swarm of genetically-enhanced bees begin to claim victims; the first of which is Mary’s beloved pet dog; a nosey pooch with “he’ll be the first” written all over him, and it’s not long before the insane insects are stalking human prey…
Directed by Genre veteran Freddie Francis, written by Robert Bloch and hailing from Britain’s “studio that dripped blood”, Amicus Productions (the three of which had previously collaborated on THE SKULL and the excellent portmanteau flick TORTURE GARDEN), THE DEADLY BEES certainly has a pedigree of what would be considered by most genre fans to be sterling credentials, and the former cinematographer certainly orchestrates some nice visuals, fully utilising the secluded island for all its cinematic worth. However, the film suffers from poor writing and characterisation, and it really doesn’t take the brain of Britain to deduce where its surprises are coming from. That said, most genre fans don’t watch horror films for heartfelt performances and Dylan Thomasesque prose; at the end of the day it’s all about the set-pieces, and it is here that the film falls down further. Considering the premise plants the film firmly into the “creature feature” subgenre, one would expect an emphasis on the fear and dread that said creatures create. What we witness is something more akin to comedy than that of horror, with poorly superimposed bees hovering over the surface of the print. The bees were clearly added in post production, and Francis and co made no effort to marry the footage of the actors with the fake foes.
For all its bad points, THE DEADLY BEES remains eminently watchable, probably because it ventures straight into the middle of “so bad it’s actually rather good” territory. Once you come to terms with the fact that the film cannot be read as a serious attempt at fright filmmaking, there’s a lot of fun to be had from its woefully misconceived elements, not least from the hilarity that the bees inspire. With all said and done, most genre fans will want to revisit Francis’ film as it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece, even if it isn’t for the reasons that its makers intended.
The DVD itself is excellent and represents another in a line of releases issued by Legend Films in a licencing deal with Paramount Pictures (which also includes THE SKULL). The film is presented in its original ratio: 1.85:1 and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting great things from this disc, as it was the first of Legend’s releases that I viewed upscaled to 1080p on my 46″ TV, but I can categorically state that the image is excellent throughout. Though lacking the depth of field found on HD releases, this standard definition disc does an amazing job, with detail consistently sharp throughout. The close-ups on actors’ faces are marvellous, revealing a level of detail that is exemplary. The colour palette is a little muted, though this is to be expected of a film shot in the sixties and is not a fault of the DVD transfer. The original mono soundtrack is served well by the disc, with dialogue, sound effects and music score clear throughout.
While THE DEADLY BEES falls massively short of ‘horror classic’ status, it’s camp enough to sustain multiple viewings and probably best seen with a bunch of like-minded folk and plenty of beer. The disc itself is another fine example of Legend Film’s commitment providing the highest quality transfers for their catalogue releases. If you’re a fan of the film or goofy sixties’ kitsch, buying this disc is a definite no-brainer. (Paul Alaoui)
THE DEADLY BEES is sold exclusively through Best Buy’s website and is unattainable to those outside the US. It is recommended that those looking to purchase the disc should keep an eye on eBay and Amazon Marketplace.