Amicus Productions often seemed like the poor man's version of Hammer Films, lacking the explosive colours, sets, and décor typical of Hammer's top-tier gothic thrillers, as well as their high-caliber stock company (regulars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), but they were more open to sci-fi – like their pair of Dr. Who films, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Dalek's Invasion Earth: 2050 A.D. (1966) – as well as having fun with old-time icons like werewolves, as in the gimmicky The Beast Must Die (1974), where a clock would give audiences time to guess the next victim before a character was gnawed off.
The company is probably best-remembered for a series of fun anthology films - Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – as well as the E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973) productions, but the success of each film largely depended on a combination of a good cast, a decent budget, and a solid script – the latter of greatest importance.
The Deadly Bees is unfortunately a great big mess, but it's an amusing mish mash of concepts drawn from H.F. Heard's novel “A Taste for Honey” folded into an undercooked script by Robert Bloch and Anthony Marriott, and stitched together with very blatant editorial seams that scar what could've been a very simple tale of a madman's efforts to sadistically torment mankind on a village level.
Having not read the novel, it's impossible here to cite what changes were made for the film, but Deadly Bees is clearly an effort to take a horror concept and reach youth and veteran horror audiences.
Suzanna Leigh (The Lost Continent, Lust for a Vampire) plays singing sensation Vicki Robbins (who?), a modish pop singer who collapses after a horrendous lip-synching performance for a live TV broadcast (watch for Rollings Stones' Ron Wood in the background), and takes some advice by heading off to a remote village on Seagull Island (amazingly bereft of gulls) to recuperate at the small farm owned and operated by weirdo bee keeper Ralph Hargrove (played by stiff Guy Doleman, best-known for playing the character Ross in the sixties Harry Palmer films).
Vicki begins to sense Ralph is up to some strange experiments when she finds the horse in the stable scarred from deep puncture wounds, and sees Ralph fiddling with blood-filled syringes in his quaint study. There's also his neglected, chain-smoking wife who later tries to burn the hives to a crisp, and the creepy neighbour, H.W. Manfred (Frank Finaly), who jealousy keeps his own hive adjacent to the tea room.
The big mystery is whether Ralph or Manfred is responsible fro a series of killer bee attacks, but a pet rock could decipher the wacko who's breeding bees that go wonko when they sense “fear.”
The real draw is picking out the dreadful technical and creative blunders that render Deadly Bees into a major guilty pleasure. The acting tends to hover around moments of Annoyance, Terror, and Suspicion, the editing is ragged due to some extraordinarily poor camera coverage (was director/ex-ace cinematography Freddie Francis imbibing between setups?), and the film is horrendously padded with outtakes: footage shot for specific sequences is divided to extend the opening titles as well as bee attacks, and there's one central moment where a car chase is slam cut into the film without any reason.
After a bee assault blatantly patterned after Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1962), Vicki collapses and is laid in bed. A lengthy and totally unnecessary flashback montage follows, after which Vicki wakes up screaming, runs from the house, and takes Ralph's Rover on a gonzo tour through a forest. Ralph takes a second car and follows Vicki to where she crashes, after which she's later seen waking up in the same bed.
These reshoots were also followed by what's clearly material shot over a few hours: largely filmed in one shot, Ralph meets and chats with a handful of characters by the wrecked Rover (junk piled onto the windshield and bonnet), and we're exposed to characters exchanging dialogue that's utterly meaningless to the narrative. The whole charade becomes more amusing when a copper from the film's throwaway city police station scenes – designed as comedic relief – arrives during the end credits in the same car Ralph used to chase Vicki.
Even better is Vicki's idiotic attempt to photograph documents in Ralph's desk for weirdo Manfred. Not only does she wastefully take pictures of documents she ultimately takes with her, but like a half-blind ostrich, she repeatedly knocks over objects and presumes no one is wise to her clamorous midnight foraging.
There's also Frank Finlay (The Three Musketeers), quite a young man in 1967, made up to look twenty years older with rice flour in his hair, and his lurid looks that Vicki just doesn't see as signs of a dirty old fart who may have more on his minds that bees. The fact Vicki keeps returning to Manfred and regards him as a trusted confidant and fellow tea drinker increases our delight as her mounting stupidity finally brings her closer to the danger she ought to have been exposed to several reels earlier.
Director Freddie Francis does exploit the bees' creepy side with some extreme macro footage of the bugs, and the DVD's excellent cover art is somewhat inspired by a grisly attack that has a woman (played by a different actress) smothered in bugs quite fast. The score by Wilfred Josephs (ITV's The Prisoner) is a good mix of screaming hysteria and all-around doom, and manages to accent the film's more effective bug attacks without delving into cliché and overtly mimicking buzzing bee sounds.
Like any good B-movie, it's the journey through cinematic fromage that's the reward, and there's plenty of nonsense and ill-rendered drama that elevates this misfire to ideal late-night viewing fodder, and it is worth noting that for all the millions producer-director Irwin Allen blew on his own bee misfire, the inept The Swarm (1978), The Deadly Bees delivers way more fun in its compact running time.
Legend's DVD uses a decent source print, and is part of a handful of Amicus films from Paramount's catalogue making its DVD debut, which includes Freddie Francis' The Skull (1965), and The Deadly Bees (1967).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan