The Savage Bees
Year of Release: 1976
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 90 minutes (1:30)
Director: Bruce Geller
Ben Johnson ... Sheriff Donald McKew
Michael Parks ... Dr. Jeff DuRand
Paul Hecht ... Dr. Rufus Carter
Gretchen Corbett ... Jeannie Devereaux
Horst Buchholz ... Dr. Jorge Meuller
Bruce French ... Police Lieutenant
James Best ... Pelligrino
David L. Gray ... Coast Guard Lieutenant
Norman Gary ... Caziot
A Brazilian freighter runs aground in Louisiana - and a cargo of stinging death comes ashore!
As he investigates a series of bizarre deaths, medical examiner Jeff Durant begins to suspect that something strange and horrible is happening. His worst fears are realized when he discovers the truth - a swarm of South American killer bees that attack by the thousands and kill within seconds!
As the colony of bees moves across the countryside, destroying everything in its path, Durant tries desperately to convince government officials of the peril. He races against the clock, as every minute brings the deadly insects closer to their destination - New Orleans, at the height of Mardi Gras!
The Savage Bees, reminding us that even insects hate the VW Bug. I mean, who wants to be associated with that metallic monstrosity? You'd be plenty savage too if somebody made a car that looked like a slouchin' middle aged virgin with poor personal hygiene. I know, I'm still personally bent outta shape about the 1970 Gremlin Hunchback. But anyway, I promised myself I wouldn't let these reviews turn into blog where I whine about all my own personal shortcomings that should be attributed to other people. I'm sure every last one of you knows who hates this one. But I'm not here to talk about people that have to go through life carryin' around an EpiPen in their pocket even after they move to Nova Scotia out of cripplin' psychological fear. That's the kinda observation an IMDB reviewer would make an nearly crack all their ribs after the swelling of pride finally came to a head. Slutty, drunken party girls hate this movie. Now, try to put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. Not that they spend much time with their shoes on, those five inch heels become pretty hazardous when you spend that much time with your toenails pointed at the moon. Anyway, try to put yourself in their position... this isn't working either. Okay, picture this; you're out havin' a good time, don't know the names of any of the guys grindin' on you, beer in one hand, spare beer in the other, don't know where your top is, an you've got so many strings of beads around your neck you're startin' to look like Mr. T's twin sister. Now I realize that in the movie the bees never actually make it to Mardi Gras, but the IDEA bein' put into play is that they're headin' north faster'n illegal Mexican immigrants during potato harvest season an they could very easily get to Nah'Leans if they feel like it. There's so many discarded FEMA trailers layin' around that it'd be a pretty sweet spot to build a hive, too. So anyway, you're swingin' your assets around, buildin' interpersonal relationships that're guaranteed to last at least until you get pregnant, when the bees descend. Your first instinct is to run, and that'd make sense, if you weren't hammered to the point that you couldn't run ten feet even if there was an 80 year old Texas oil millionaire standin' at an alter waitin' to marry you. An even if you had the sobriety needed to make a break for it, within moments you'd be knocked unconscious by your own meal tickets as they flop around like Miley Cyrus' dilapidated butt cheeks. An I dunno about you but, even though there's alotta women out there that could stand some swellin' in the chest region, you can imagine what that moment of terror would be like when you've no idea where your bra is an a swarm of belligerent insects with a chip on their collective thorax shows up. Your tits end up lookin' like Sly Stallone used 'em for speed bags. The depressin' part is there's really nothin' to be done to prevent this from inevitably happenin', cause that'd mean discouragin' one night stand material from showin' their jigglies in public an the day we do that, the bees have won.
But anyway, as one of the top four killer bee movies to be made between 1976 an 1978, I think it might be a good idea to go over anything that may not be covered by Terror out of the Sky, The Bees, or The Swarm. You never can be too careful when it comes to learnin' new things, cause every movie has its own subtle nuance. Even remakes aughta get their day in court, even if it's just to perform an autopsy an try to figure out what killed it. So anyway, first thing, it's perfectly safe to drive around the countryside lookin' for killer bees with the window down. You may think it's dangerous, but in reality, it's a sign to the bees that you're not afraid of 'em. Sometimes the only thing that stands between you and thousands of painful welts an poison coursin' through your veins causin' you to see your dead Mama is masculine bravado. Second, contrary to what you might think before watchin' the movie, bringin' thousands of drunken, loud, obnoxious people together for a poorly policed party doesn't really cause any serious adverse effects, an so if you decide to take your dead dog into the Nah'Leans coroner's office during Mardi Gras, you'll find them sittin' around playin' Solitaire just waitin' to help you out with an autopsy. An this last one I'm sure everyone knows about, at least to an extent, an that is that the token black character's deader'n pro immigration legislation in Arizona. But what you may not know, is that this rule of cinema is so important that sometimes you've gotta axe the minority CHILD, just to give everyone a refresher. Hollywood doesn't wanna get too hard nosed if they don't gotta, it's just that sometimes they just get so mad that a warning shot doesn't get it done. But one of the more critical plot points in this one really bugs me. The idea that you can breed the aggression outta something? Come on. Now, it kinda works with humans, at least in the sense that the guy's too tired afterwards to do much of anything, but it's short lived. An even if you could do it with bees, the queen's gonna have to be the Jasmin St. Claire of the insect world. You realize how many bees make up a swarm? Then when that's done, if the queen doesn't die of exhaustion, all the drones figure out they're not her one an only an they're twice as pissed as they were before an start lookin' for old women workin' their vegetable gardens just to work some of that aggression out. This is to say nothing about the poor queen. It's bad enough gettin' nailed by tens of thousands of dudes consecutively, but to breed out the aggression of the African bees, you need a European queen for it to work, an have you seen the size of the stingers on the African honey bees? These beekeepers have no idea what they're sentencin' this European queen to. They aughta be ashamed of themselves.
The movie begins with a Brazilian party boat headin' up to Nah'Leans for Mardi Gras so all the guys can check out the different shades of titty the U.S. has to offer. Only when the coast guard finds said party boat it's been abandoned, leading them to the belief that it must be owned by Jamie Rohrs. After a thorough investigation the coast guard determines that ain't nobody home an that the crew probably jumped overboard when they realized they'd forgotten to pack their green cards. Elsewhere, a sheriff (McKew) is comin' home from work when he spots his dog stretched out in the lawn lookin' like Spuds McKenzie after failin' to drink responsibly. Upon closer examination, it appears to have gone to the big PetCo in the sky an the sheriff vows to get to the bottom of the homicide an tells his wife he thinks somebody poisoned the dog by feedin' it stuff from the McDonald's value menu, an since it's kind of a slow law enforcement day, McKew heads for Nah'Leans so he can get the dog autopsied. About that time, a little girl is headin' off to church to pray for her mother who seems to think that stayin' home an doin' the laundry is more important than bein' one with the Lord, when a POV swarm descends from the sky an stings the bee-jezus outta her an leaves 'er layin' out in the field for John Coffee to find. WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW? Meanwhile, the coast guard pulls a body outta the water that looks like the victim of an unlicensed amateur acupuncturist. Elsewhere, McKew's brought his dog into the coroner, only he doesn't seem to realize that even receptionists at the morgue aren't desensitized enough that you can just heave rottin' dog carcasses on their "ring for service" bell an pretty quick the assistant coroner (Jeff) has to come down an ask 'im nicely not to toss corpses into the customer service center. There're rules an regulations, it's not like goin' into a Wal Mart where you can toss your dead hamster on the counter an claim it was defective. So Jeff, who looks like the love child of Conan O'Brien an Thomas Haden Church, starts askin' McKew if he's gotten lost lookin' for the Korean restaurant next door or what cause ain't nobody got time for this. Then the sheriff settles down a little an asks real nice if Jeff'll see what killed his dog an since the morgue's apparently pretty slow during Mardi Gras, he agrees, an after he roots around in the dog's stomach for awhile he starts pullin' out handfulls of bees an gets this look on his face like he needs an adult. So he calls up his ex-girlfriend (Jeannie) an after she makes 'em feel about three inches tall (which you get the impression she may be right about) he asks her if bees can kill a dog. She says they can, but that they wouldn't cause there's no honey profit in that, but when he tells her he's got so many dead bees in his lab that he thinks Tony Todd may be involved she agrees to come take a look.
About that time, the coast guard brings in the catch of the day an Jeff an McKew head over to the NOPD an try tellin' 'em that somebody down in Zimbabwe pissed off a swarm of killer bees an got chased all the way to Bourbon Street before they finally caught 'im an now they're gonna make themselves comfortable if nobody does anything about it. Which is exactly what the NOPD's gonna do cause they've got all available officers out arrestin' the ugly women that're liftin' their shirts an if they want somethin' done about it they're gonna need more corpses. So Jeff an McKew take the dead bees over to Jeannie who tells 'em that there are bees that act this way, but they're the backwards, uncivilized, savage African bees that refuse to act like the polite European bees an that if they don't do somethin' quick they'll have all the European bees listenin' to hip hop music an wearin' their pants down around their ankles. So everybody heads over to the Center for Da Bees Control an go on a tour of the bee testin' grounds where scientists spend all their time tryin' to build a better bee. The head bee guy (Rufus) knew that eventually the African menace would arrive, so he's prepared a video for everyone to watch on the history of man meddlin' in things he probably shouldn't have, which includes interviews with the guy that had the African bees imported to Brazil an then accidentally left the gate to the institute open, allowin' 'em to escape. Seems these bees attack anything that causes an annoying sound or that bear certain colors. So essentially they really hate blacks, Native Americans, an Justin Bieber. Then Rufus tries to assure them that lettin' the cat outta the bag is a terrible idea cause then people might be able to prepare or defend themselves somehow an since he's got a PHD in advanced bee studies they take his position under consideration. Elsewhere, McKew drives around town lookin' for bees to arrest an finds a lady that's got a hive on her back porch, an after eyeballin' it for a minute tries to warn the woman's son about the hive, but the kid passes right underneath an tells McKew these aren't the bees he's lookin' for an that he can go about his business. While that's goin' on, a farmer's out near his riverfront property havin' a one man tractor pull with the Creature from the Black Lagoon so he can drag 'im out an open up a sideshow, when he angers the swarm that's been hangin' out on a branch just above his head an has to make like Greg Louganis, only he can't figure out that he needs to swim away rather than surfacin' every few seconds for air in the same spot an eventually ends up lookin' like a summer sausage that got left on the dash board for about three weeks.
Meanwhile, Jeff an Jeannie head over to city hall to talk to the deputy mayor who's completely flabbergasted that there could be an emergency today, due to the utter inconvenience of it all. But not to worry, good ole government's got a plan set up for just such a complication. Of course, there's more hoops to pass through than a Ringling Brothers performance before they can really get it goin', an when Jeff gets a little P.O.'d about it the deputy mayor pretty much makes it clear that he'll turn this city into a cemetery just to spite 'em if they even think about bypassin' the system. Jeff's really gonna hit this guy where it hurts now, right in the ole slush fund dispensary. So he heads outside an immediately starts lookin' for a reporter while Jeannie grabs the phone to tell Rufus that Jeff doesn't handle politics very well an is about to blow the lid off this thing with the glee of a cheerleader on prom night. Rufus tells 'er she'd better think of somethin' to stop 'im quick, so she thinks to herself... what would Dahmer do? An then it hits her, tell the reporter Jeff's crazy an drag Jeff outta there. Naturally, it works, an by now Jeff looks like he's about to go O.J. Simpson on 'er til she explains that the guy that left the gate open in Brazil's gonna be there soon an he'll fix everything an that there's really no need to pound the tar outta her... she hopes. Back over to McKew, where he's just about to get to take his shoes off for a minute when the little girl's mother comes runnin' up to the car blubberin' about the kid never makin' it to church. I don't see what she's so upset about, she's with God now, after all. But she insists that McKew put together a rube squad an go find the kid. So McKew raids Strickland propane an equips his bumpkins with flame throwers, not that there's anything dangerous goin' on here that the kid's mom aughta know about, an heads out into the field directly in front of the lady's house to find the kid. Seriously, if the grass wasn't so high the kid's mom could probably see the corpse from her front porch. But anyway, they eventually find the body, which by this point has swelling on top of the bloating an she pretty much looks like a Macy's Thanksgiving parade float. McKew'd love to stay an comfort the mother but pretty quick some more goobs show up an tell 'im that Elmer Fudd's gone missin' an that they've looked nowhere an they're all outta ideas. So McKew deputizes the dumpiest lookin' dudes he can find an they head out to the river to ask the Creature if he knows anything about Fudd. The Creature's not in, so they drag the area til they finally find the guy an realize the water didn't do diddly to dissuade the bees an ever so slowly the bottom of the boat starts to fill with urine.
Elsewhere, the Brazil nut (Meuller) shows up an he an Jeannie sit around watchin' the Mardi Gras festivities as he explains his plan is to kidnap the queen of the killer swarm an replace her with a Stepford queen so she can breed the anger outta the boys with her feminine wiles. He explains that they have to do it this way cause if they just killed the queen they'd spread out like a Tijuana hooker in a donkey show an then there'd be no stoppin' 'em. Time out here for a second. The Brazilian scientist's name is Meuller? Brazilian scientist with a German last name, that's some nice writin' there guys. Thought that through really well didn't ya? Oh, well isn't that interesting, actor was born in BERLIN too. Well, at least he looks like he could be Brazilian. What the hell you guys, seriously. Anyway, that evening, Jeff goes over to Jeannie's place an apologizes for whatever it is he's done that broke 'em up an they make out so the climax of the movie'll have more emotional impact. Then Jeff goes over to the sheriff's station an McKew tells 'im about dredgin' up Fudd out in the Mississippi, along with a few dozen other bodies. Course those were in the trunks of cars, so he's probably not gonna be able to pin those on the bees, but he figures the bees'll cross the river in the mornin' after they've had their coffee an wage all out war on Mardi Gras. We're talkin' Beeitnam. So Jeff spends the night in the clink cause it'd just be too embarrassin' for a man of his significance to be seen sleepin' in his car, besides, tryin' to get a hotel room during Mardi Gras is like tryin' to find a bathroom in Beijing without a pile of shit in the corner. So the next morning, Meuller assembles the main cast an sends 'em out to find the bees to the tune of 1970s cop drama music, only after about three minutes of fruitless searchin' he gets impatient an goes out with Jeannie to find 'em 'imself. Then Jeff finds a headless chicken next to a crop circle an McKew tells 'im to leave it alone cause it was probably just voodoo aliens from Rasta-five completin' their biology assignment. Eventually, Meuller an Jainnie find the bees holed up in a hot dog stand an Meuller dresses up like the cast of Lost in Space an heads inside. Then two inbred plebes go flyin' by the police blockade (that word, I do not think it means what they think it does) an when the derputies tell McKew what happened the whole team converges on the hot dog stand. So while Meuller's peelin' off layers of bees so he can install a puppet monarchy, the plebes pull into the stand an try to order a couple foot longs til the bees get angry an start givin' 'em unsolicited injections til one of 'em (did I mention they were dressed like pirates? Cause they're dressed like pirates) slashes open Meuller's suit with a scimitar an the bees pile in an have a pain party all over his face. Naturally, Jeannie freaks an lays on the horn, which then draws the attention of the bees an pretty quick her Volkswagon Bug becomes immensely ironic.
Alrighty, well, The Savage Bees was part of the 70s' wave of eco-horror films, generally involving otherwise normal animals that'd been pushed too far by mankind. They were actually a popular enough subgenre at the time that a few were even made for TV movies, of which The Savage Bees was one. The 70s weren't as likeable a decade to me personally as the 80s, although these eco-horror movies are a big part of what I liked most about the 70s genre offerings. The Savage Bees even spawned a sequel, Terror out of the Sky, and was followed up by The Swarm in 1978 which, while not related to the other two titles, came out during that period where everyone was flippin' their shit about the killer bees comin' up into the U.S. Which wasn't exactly unfounded, when you take a look at how far north they've moved thus far, having spread out among at least seven states to date. And unlike a lot of the plotlines to these types of movies, this one actually has its head screwed on straight, as they went back and explained how the bees originally came to be in Brazil, what the purpose of that was, and how they escaped an started doin' things to inspire B horror movies. Of course, some of these types of movies are better than others. On the high end of the spectrum you've got Jaws, an on the low end, you've got The Giant Spider Invasion, and not surprisingly, it's the ones that remain somewhat grounded in reality that tend to not reek. The realistic plot and accurate scientific facts presented in The Savage Bees help keep it from sinking into the bog of eternal stench. And watching a movie like this one also gives us a glimpse into the past, where not all made for TV movies were guaranteed to be garbage. The 70s might well have been the best decade for made for TV horror movies as well, even though movies in general were a little dry back then. It was a simpler time, back when you could use the ingrained biological fears of man to make a movie based, at least mostly, on fact without having to jazz it up with something that hadn't seen before like a Piranhaconda, for instance. I guess you've gotta at least admire their desire to do something that hasn't been done before. Course I've never tried to iron the wrinkles out of my scrotum before an I think I can probably manage to go through life without trying it. So there's also something to be said for a filtration process. And I mean a real one, not the one Syfy uses where their only requirement be that the script is printed on paper. I'm kidding, of course. Those movies don't have scripts.
Well, lets slice this thing open an see how many points're inside its stomach. The plot is pretty standard, but when age is taken into account, it wasn't quite the cliched premise that it is now, and the fact that it's got some scientific merit in terms of the facts presented counts for something too. Certainly less impressive today than it was at its time of release, but taking what was a very real concern (and still is) at the time and making it into a movie, where it's not given all kinds of bells and whistles to make it unrealistic and therefore fictitious, works rather well. Nicely done. The acting is pretty decent as well, particularly for a made for TV movie where they generally just cast people the studio happens to have under contract at the time to fill the roles. Ben Johnson's been pretty well type cast for this style of role throughout his career, but that's only because he was so good at it. Generally a cowboy or a sheriff, or some other western style roughneck. Character actors will always be my personal preference when making out a list of my favorite actors. Gretchen Corbett is also effective at conveying genuine emotion and generating authentic sympathy, something that's more often than not missing from horror movies. Not that I need it to be present, but it does count for something. Here's who matters and why: Ben Johnson (Cherry 2000, Terror Train, The Swarm, Locusts), Michael Parks (The Dead One, From Dusk Till Dawn, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Sorceress, Nightmare Beach), Beth Corbett (Jaws of Satan, Time Warp, Lets Scare Jessica to Death), Horst Buchholz (Dead of Night), Bruce French (Jurassic Park III, Star Trek: Insurrection, Martians Go Home, Christine, Terror out of the Sky, Ants, Curse of the Black Widow, Helter Skelter), James Best (The Killer Shrews, Return of the Killer Shrews, Death Mask, Forbidden Planet, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Don Hood (Ed Wood, Fear, Alien Nation, Cat People), Carol Sutton (The Last Exorcism, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Mirrors), Lyla Hay Owen (Interview with the Vampire), Christine Ellsworth (The Town that Dreaded Sundown), Wayne Mack (Mardi Gras Massacre, Crypt of Dark Secrets, The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus), Norman Gary (Terror out of the Sky). Normal people may be interested to know that Gretchen Corbett played the part of Beth Davenport from The Rockford Files, and James Best played the goofy Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane on the long running Dukes of Hazzard.
The special effects, while few, aren't bad. All you've really got are a few corpses with gigantic venom filled zits all over 'em. All of which look as good as they need to to appear convincing. But being a made for TV movie, it was never going to have a lot of disgusting effects, nor were the effects that they do have ever going to be displayed on the screen for lengthy periods. So under the circumstances, it's about what can be expected, which is to say, lacking in volume and general ickiness. Shooting locations, well, it's New Orleans. And if nothing else, probably the only movie ever to feature a police car pushing an incapacitated Volkswagon Bug out into the middle of the Superdome. There's nothing wrong with any of the shooting locations, they're just not the kind (for the most part) that I personally enjoy. Though New Orleans certainly has more interesting architecture than a lot of other cities in the U.S., so there's that. It's mostly just city shots, with a few outskirts of town thrown in whenever the bees are present to keep people not involved with the film out of stinging range, lest they sue the studio. Nothing particularly memorable, but all perfectly effective for what they were going for. The soundtrack is probably one of the more surprising aspects in terms of overall quality for a TV movie. It's enjoyable and effective, with some of the standard 1970s piercing noises thrown in for dramatic effect. With the exception of the 70s cop drama music during one sequence, most of it holds up really well and doesn't reek with age. And of course, just as important, are the moments when it's critical that there be no music playing at all, lest it overshadow the events on the screen, and they didn't commit any infractions there either. The climax could have been very easily ruined by an out of place musical score taking precedence over the buzzing of the swarm, and thankfully, that didn't happen. Well done. Overall, one of the best made for TV movies I've ever seen. That said, it is from the 70s so the pacing is a little (seriously, just a little) slow, it's a little talky at times, but it tells a good story, has decent production values, and doesn't drag as much as I had expected it to. Check it out if you're a fan of the eco-horror subgenre.