Amicus, the British company that was Hammer Film’s chief rival in the 1960s and early 1970s, produced a plethora of interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) horror and science fiction programmers, many using the same personnel as their competitor. Directed by legendary cameraman Freddie Francis, THE DEADLY BEES was released a full decade before the “killer insects” craze swarmed cinemas, and it was actually scripted by PSYCHO author Robert Bloch (who had an ongoing relationship with Amicus), based on the novel A Taste of Honey by H.F. Heard, but re-written by Anthony Marriott at the director’s demand. In the U.S., Paramount released the film on a double bill with the laughable (and MIA on DVD or Blu-ray) THE VULTURE, and Olive Films here presents its Blu-ray debut.
Exhausted pop singer Vicki Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) collapses on stage while lip-synching her latest hit on a “Top of the Pops” type TV program. Her physician recommends a few weeks of rest in the country, prompting her to visit the quiet and remote island farm, “Seagull Island.” There, Vicki lodges with a middle-aged couple, Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman, THUNDERBALL) and his wife Mary (Catherine Finn, THE CREEPING FLESH), who are constantly bickering. Mr. Hargrove seems more interested in his bee cages more than anything else, and is suspected when swarm of killer bees offs the family dog and then Mrs. Hargrove. Peculiar neighbor Manfred (the great Frank Finlay, A STUDY IN TERROR) also has an interest in bees, and befriends Vicki (who just can’t seem to get any peace and quiet) to get to the bottom of things.
Disenchanted with Robert Bloch’s screenplay and the production as a whole (not to mention the uncooperative bees which were flown in from Australia), THE DEADLY BEES was not a fun experience for director Francis, who even thought about leaving the business when it was over (luckily for us, he didn’t). When fans and critics discuss the best British horror and sci-fi films, THE DEADLY BEES will never come up in any conversation, yet it still can be considered an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable B movie (pun intended). Despite being disengaged with the project, Francis at least keeps the proceedings interesting, with excellent cinematography and making adequate use of Twickenham Film Studios. The bee attacks are satisfying, though antiquated by modern standards. Real bees are shown buzzing around their victims using a superimposed optical technique, and there are also some gruesome close-ups of the insects penetrating human skin. The aftermath make-up on actress Catherine Finn is impressive, but you can get a better look at it in photos which appeared in numerous books and monster mags than in the actual film.
Suzanna Leigh is a charming enough leading lady, but she would give better performances in Hammer’s THE LOST CONTINENT and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. In one sequence, she is pursued indoors by the pesky insects wearing nothing but a white bra and slip, and this sexy image was utilized for the exploitive advertising campaign. The supporting cast is another “Who’s Who?” of British character actors, including Hammer Films perennial Michael Ripper as a pub landlord, Katy Wild (EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN), James Cossins (THE ANNIVERSARY), Michael Gwynn (REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN), Maurice Good (THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE), Alister Williamson (THE OBLONG BOX) and Tim Barrett (THE MUMMY’S SHROUD). The fine music score is by Wilfred Josephs, who also composed the score for the “director’s cut” version of Gordon Hessler’s CRY OF THE BANSHEE.
Making a brief appearance early on in the film is the British rock group The Birds (not to be confused with the American hitmakers, The Byrds) performing “It’s Not What I Need You For”, a great tune never properly issued on an LP. Although they never had a record contract, their appearance here is notable as you get a glimpse of a very young Ron Wood, who went on to play guitar for The Jeff Beck Group, The Faces and of course, the legendary Rolling Stones, which he has remained a member of for over 40 years now. In his autobiography, Ronnie, Wood makes mention of appearing in the film: “The film was called THE DEADLY BEES, and we were extras playing a band in the background. A very forgettable scene. It was years later before I actually saw the film, and there I was, wearing a horrible polo neck, holding a guitar decorated with Fablon (a frightful sticky plastic covering). But who cares, the Birds were doing their best.”
First released on DVD through Legend Films a few years ago, THE DEADLY BEES now receives a Blu-ray facelift from Olive Films, with the film being mastered in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The image is sharp, clean and displays a nice level of detail, with colors having pop to them and fleshtones looking natural. Paramount must have kept the film’s element in very good condition, reflected in this transfer which exhibits very few age related blemishes, aside from a few minor anomalies and a drop in quality when the optical effects are on display. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is free of any noticeable distortion, with dialogue and music being cleanly reproduced. There are no subtitle options or any extras on the disc. (George R. Reis)
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