Sunday, November 10, 2013

Today Dear Readers We'll Spend Some Quality Time Reliving The Terror Of The Imminent Killer Bee Invasion In The DELICIOUS 1978 Career-Killing Cheesefest THE SWARM

Sitting in my mechanic's - erm - for lack of a better term - waiting room, I browsed through the piles of fine magazine's available to read as I waited to have my car's oil changed. Finding anything from the recent decade seemed nearly impossible, until (miracle of miracles) I happened upon a Time Magazine from August of this year.  I turned immediately to the cover story - a cheery piece about the plight of the dying Honeybee causing the world's food supplies to dwindle, bringing about the end of the human race. How nice! With this new bee terror in my thoughts, I drifted back to the mid-1970s when our biggest bee concern was nothing more than being stung to death by swarms of African Killer Bees that were somehow emigrating over to America's shores like immigrants to Ellis Island. And why not. Isn't this the land of opportunity? I decided I had to clear my head, so I went to the last Blockbuster in the country (which happens to be in my neighborhood) and rented the 1978 disaster movie classic THE SWARM.

Arguably the zaniest of all "disaster movies," the threat here isn't fire, flood, sinking ships, or falling planes. It's bees - "African killer bees," to be exact - who can't be tricked into eating poison pellets." Why not? We're told "they seem to sense it's something that will kill them," an instinct for survival clearly not shared by the film's stars when they read the movie's script. (How else to explain Katharine Ross turning down Airport, but agreeing to be in this? Coming off, back then, a formidable one-two punch - The
Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - Ross chose unwisely, inevitably hurtling down the Hollywood Slip `n' Slide to wind up here - indisputably rock bottom.)

This is that rare "disaster" flick to be treasured because most of the hammy stars - from Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, and Jose Ferrer to Richard Chamberlain, Fred MacMurray, and Ben Johnson - get offed. (But not Lee Grant or Patty Duke Astin, presumably because if your career has survived Valley of the Dolls, you can survive anything.) The dead are the lucky ones, for when the bees sting but don't kill, survivors wind up hallucinating giant bees, as if they're trapped inside a cheesy `50s drive-in sci-fi movie (which they are). Never mind that this conflicts with what noted immunologist Fonda has told us, that the bees' poison has "the highest toxic content I've found, even more virulent then the venom of the Australian brown box jellyfish." (You can practically hear producer/director Irwin Allen salivating, "If The Swarm’s a hit, there's my next picture - The Blobbies!") When the bees get up a full head of steam, they can derail speeding trains, knock helicopters out of the sky, and explode a nuclear power plant.

Finally, noted entomologist Michael Caine realizes it's a manmade "sonic alarm system" that `s driving the bees to destroy, for the sound's "an exact duplicate of the duet between the Queen bee and the young Queen bee challenging her domain." (Ah, yes - well, now - that explains everything . . . except, perhaps, General Richard Widmark's response: "Okay, I'm convinced!")

Caine orders up a massive oil spill on the waters of the Gulf, then lures the bees out there , and torches them. The movie ends with a reassuring title card - "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation" - put there at the last minute, we'd guess, to keep angry, politically correct American honey bees from staging buzz-ins outside the theaters.


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