The Deadly Bees (1967) dir. Freddie Francis
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Nigel Green and George Coulouris
Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw
Can any movie featuring a whole passel of deadly bee attacks AND a cameo appearance by the inimitable Ron Wood be all bad? The answer is a resounding, “No!” That said, “The Deadly Bees”, a fun Freddie Francis-helmed thriller for British Hammer Horror rival Amicus Pictures is one of many pictures that received derisive scorn from those agog alien movie critics on the legendary spoof show “MST3K - Mystery Science Theatre 3000” (where, for the uninitiated, a feature length movie is screened whilst the aforementioned non-humans barf out a steady stream of mocking verbal wisecracks as the picture unspools). Frankly, I’ve never understood the appeal of MST3K. It’s a one-note joke and not an especially funny one – ridiculing a bunch of supremely easy targets like Grade Z horror and sci-fi and even occasionally mocking genuinely good fantasy pictures like Alexander Rou’s exquisite Russian fairy tale, “Morozko”.
“The Deadly Bees”, another in a series of pictures from the Paramount library that have been farmed out to the cool, little company Legend Pictures for DVD release, is not, I suppose, an especially good picture, but it does pass the time amiably and is definitely not without entertainment value.
Vicki Robbins (played by a scrumptious Suzannah Leigh, Elvis Presley’s squeeze in “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” and the girls’ school dance teacher in the immortal Hammer Karnstein classic “Lust For a Vampire”) is a British pop star suffering from exhaustion and ordered by her doctor to a rustic locale on an island in northern UK for some much needed rest. While there, she becomes embroiled in a strange rivalry between her host Ralph (Guy Dolman), his harridan wife Mary (Catherine Finn) and their neighbour Professor Manfred (the always-great Frank Finlay). Ralph and Manfred, it seems, are rival beekeepers. I kid you not. On an island – in northern England, no less – with a population that appears not to exceed the low budget the picture allowed, there are two – count ‘em – two beekeepers. One, Ralph, appears to have no reason to raise bees. The other, Manfred, is a scientist who is studying them. And what of the rivalry between them? Well, it appears as if both are accusing each other of raising strains of psycho bees to attack and destroy their respective bee farms – and ultimately, each other.
Excuse me, MST3K, but why, pray tell is such a picture worthy of your pea-brained, one-note derision? This is rich material. Stupid, yes – but it is most certainly entertaining and often so ludicrous that there really seems no point in mocking it. In fact, I always find people who dump on pictures like these to be snobs who get off on shooting fish in a barrel. “The Deadly Bees” is NEVER boring and is ALWAYS engaging.
It is, as I said though, unbelievably stupid – especially when our comely pop star turns into Nancy Drew and begins to delve into the mystery of the bees and their decidedly odd keepers.
The team behind this picture has obviously done better work. Freddie Francis, the legendary cinematographer and director will not be forever remembered for “The Deadly Bees”, but he handles the action with considerable proficiency. Co-writer Robert Bloch can rest assured that he’s written better pictures than this, but the plot and dialogue in this one are still exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to genre amusement-value. The special effects, while old fashioned, have a fun retro quality to them and frankly, I found the bee attacks to be reasonably effective with the blend of makeup and optical printing.
“The Deadly Bees” is not, in any way, shape or form exceptional work. It is, however, not worthy of mockery and if one has 90 minutes to waste, there are many other ways to spend them less entertainingly. Its sting is definitely intact.
And have I mentioned that Ron Wood cameo yet?
“The Deadly Bees” is available on DVD from Legend Films.