The Deadly Bees (1967)
“Hives of horror! – Excited by the smell of fear, they inflict their fatal stings!”
Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman
Synopsis: Trouble strikes when an exhausted pop singer, sent on a vacation to a farm, realizes that the farm’s owner grows deadly bees.
While The Deadly Bees was never going to win any awards, it’s fair to say that winning awards never really figured too highly in its makers list of objectives. Produced by Amicus, the low-budget rival to the better-known Hammer studios, the omens for box office success weren’t good when director Freddie Francis decided that Robert Bloch’s adaptation of the 1940 Gerald Heard novel didn’t quite come up to scratch and asked Anthony Marriott to carry out a re-write. You know Anthony Marriott — he wrote such classics as the teen-tastic music fest Every Day’s a Holiday (1965) and the Children’s Film Foundation’s Ghost of Monk Island (1967). Who would think it unlikely that he would be able to improve on the work of the guy who wrote Psycho?
Suzanna Leigh stars as Vicky Robins, a highly-strung pop singer who’s sent to Seagull Island by her doctor so that she can recuperate after collapsing while recording a pop show. Like the audience, Vicky doesn’t get to see a lot of the island due, presumably, to budget restraints. She divides her time between the farmhouse of her hosts, the Hargroves (Guy Doleman and Catherine Finn) and the cottage of the friendly but eccentric H. W. Manfred (Frank Finlay). It doesn’t seem as though Vicky’s missing out on much though because, apart from the pub landlord (Michael Ripper) and his daughter (Katy Wild), the island seems strangely deserted.
The Hargroves’ welcome is a reserved one. Ralph is a typically gruff gentleman farmer who exists in a perpetual state of curmudgeon, while his chain-smoking wife Mary seems equally unhappy, both with Ralph and his beekeeping, and finds comfort only in their pet dog. Manfred, a kindly figure who seems older than his years (largely because Finlay was made up to look, well, older than his years), is also a beekeeper, and when people start being attacked by the eponymous bees, he informs Vicky that he believes that they are a new and deadly strain created by Hargrove. The farmer has a habit, you see, of transfusing blood from his horse in the dead of night for unexplained reasons…
Let’s make no bones about it — The Deadly Bees is not a great movie. But then, it’s not a particularly bad one either, and is certainly undeserving of its inclusion in an episode of the over-rated MST3K. It’s true, there’s not much of a plot to speak of, and what there is has been padded out, despite the movie’s relatively brief running time. At one point, Vicky’s manager frets that, if she doesn’t cut short her vacation she won’t be able to record a hit single in time for Christmas, and is then never heard from again. We see the same shot of bees being released from their hives at least half-a-dozen times, and when the villain of the piece summarises the key points of his dastardly plot in true Bond-villain style, we’re treated to a replay of certain scenes.
The acting varies from ok to terrible. Suzanna Leigh looks pretty despite a bad hairdo and make-up, but she has no acting range at all and spends most of her time simpering and swooning or looking confused. She does undergo one bee attack while dressed only in bra and slip, which is nice to see, but other than that she delivers an instantly forgettable performance. Ironically, Doleman’s surliness, intended presumably to make him an unlikeable character, becomes quite endearing in a strange sort of way. He greets every incident, whether having to lend his irritating neighbour a book, or pick up the body of his dead wife whose face has been transformed into pizza by death from a thousand bee stings, with the same air of stoic resignation. Finlay, of course, gives an accomplished performance, but is called upon to give too many shifty glances to prevent the eventual revelation of his true nature to come as any real surprise. And Michael Ripper is, of course, Michael Ripper which is, and always will be, an oddly reassuring thing.
So, not a great movie then, but The Deadly Bees is a passable time filler, and in this age of SFX dominated by computer-generated imagery, there’s something curiously likeable about the way the bee attacks in this movie are established by shots of a dozen or so randomly flitting bees superimposed over a shot of an actor plucking plastic models from their hair.
(Reviewed 28th December 2012)