THE BEES (1978) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Alfredo Zacarias
Vinegar Syndrome

Nature attacks on a grand scale via much stock footage in Alfredo Zacarias' THE BEES, on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

At an American agricultural center in Brazil, Dr. Miller (Claudio Brook, ALUCARDA) has been crossbreeding African bees with other species in an attempt to make them less aggressive and increase honey production. After a farmer's son is killed by the "devil bees" trying to steal honey, the locals storm the farm and burn it to the ground with Miller among the casualties of the unleashed experimental bees. Miller's young wife Sandra (Angel Thomkins, ALLIGATOR) manages to sneak a queen bee and some drones to New York where her "bee communication expert" uncle Dr. Hummel (John Carradine, VAMPIRE HOOKERS) and Dr. John Norman (John Saxon, BEYOND EVIL) have been working on the same project. When they are approached by a trio of greedy businessmen (GREEN ICE's Delroy White, LICENSE TO KILL's Roger Cudney, and Chad Hastings) who want to corner the market on honey and royal jelly (which they are told killer bees do not produce), Hummel tells Sandra and Norman that they had better change their goals to destroying the bees before the businessmen can smuggle them into the country. The businessmen have already started bribing people to smuggle bees into the country, with one fatality causing a New York-bound plane to land in Mexico city where the bees start their journey north. As attacks increase on the west coast and the bodies start piling up, Norman and Sandra develop an experimental pheromone that causes the bees to attack each other (actually, it confused them and they try to mate with each other) but Hummel discovers that the mutated bees are more intelligent than they thought.

The spread of African killer bees to North America in the 1970s and the fear that they would invade the USA sparked a subgenre of "when nature attacks" movies including the TV movies THE SAVAGE BEES and TERROR OUT OF THE SKY as well as Irwin Allen's big budget THE SWARM which Alfredo Zacarias' ambitious but impoverished effort almost beat to theaters. While most films in which bugs or animals attack en masse at least produce a creepy crawly sensation in the viewer, THE BEES never really delivers on a visceral level despite the heavy body count. The attacks are staged as almost comic vignettes with light-hearted music switching to suspenseful strings as opticals of coffee grounds floating in water or swarms that look like wood chips or dry leaves cause extras (and even stock footage extras) to run, scream, and fall in death throws that look more like pratfalls. Zacarias has a sense of scope that is not quite met by the budget (although one of the attacks does take place at the Tournament of Roses parade). Saxon plays things straight (and gets to demonstrate some martial arts moves) but Carradine and Thomkins seem to be acting in a parody, as do the villainous businessmen and corrupt undersecretary (George Belanger, BEYOND THE LIMIT) and the delegates of an international commission which plays like a bad SNL sketch. The idea of intelligent insects was better explored in PHASE IV but is rather laughable here as they lie in wait to give a villainous character his just desserts and communicate warnings via radar. Mexican soap actress Alicia Encinas gets prominent billing here for a single scene as Saxon's girlfriend. Zacarias' next directorial effort aimed at international audiences was the more entertaining DEMONOID (also available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome).

Released theatrically by Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1978 (and premiering on CBS two years later), THE BEES was released on VHS by Warner Bros. (who paid Corman to delay the theatrical release after their own release of Irwin Allen's THE SWARM). The American theatrical cut ran just over eighty-six minutes while Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo version runs just under ninety-two minutes. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen version is mastered in 2K from the original camera negatives and is a spotless presentation when it comes to the original cinematography in which detail is crisp (even if the macro close-ups of the bees are not quite Oxford Scientific Films quality) and the image as colorful as the 1970s décor allows. The stock footage is even more apparent in terms of differing amounts of graininess, color stability, and damage, and makes the film look even more patchwork than the old video master. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track has also been cleaned up, with the music having a bolder presence than the buzzing, explosions, and shattered glass. The optional English SDH subtitles have occasional transcription errors.

Producer/director Alfredo Zacarias (DEMONOID) appears in a video interview (11:12) in which he discusses his inspiration for the project and how the ending distinguishes it from other nature attacks films. He also reveals that Corman sent him a check for $90,000 which he used on additional special effects and post-production work. The lack of graphic violence was an intentional choice. Whereas DEMONOID had different harder American and softer international versions, THE BEES had two negatives with alternate takes of scenes because he did not want the English or Spanish versions to look dubbed. The disc also includes the film's hyperbolic theatrical trailer (1:15). The cover is reversible (both artworks are rather misleading). (Eric Cotenas)