The Savage Bees (1976) (part 1 of 6)
Summary: As the video box tagline puts it, “A swarm of death is on the loose—And it’s heading for New Orleans!” No, it’s not a horde of Girls Gone Wild cameramen. Instead, it’s a colony of easily pissed-off killer bees, and they’re heading straight for the Crescent City just in time for Mardi Gras. The only ones who can stop them are a grizzled old sheriff, a medical examiner with a bad accent, his plucky entomologist girlfriend, and a guy who likes bees way, way too much.
The Savage Bees is one of several movies about killer bees that came out of the late 70’s. At the time, the threat of Africanized honey bees (AKA “killer bees”) seemed imminent, with local news broadcasts routinely reporting on the encroaching threat. It seemed like the invasion was almost upon us, and yet, here we are, nearly thirty years later, and I’m wondering what the heck ever became of those bees. Either we did a great job of dealing with the menace, or the threat was over-hyped and over-sensationalized by the media. Gee, which do you think it was?
Nevertheless, all that over-reporting led to the production of several killer bee movies, the most infamous of which is Irwin Allen’s classic bomb The Swarm. (The Swarm was penned by Stirling Siliphant, the screenwriter who inspired Hal Warren to make “Manos” The Hands of Fate, so there’s another thing we can blame on him.)
The Savage Bees is not as dumb as The Swarm, but let’s face it: Very few films are as dumb as The Swarm. Having not seen The Bees, another entry in the genre starring past Agony Booth targets John Saxon and John Carradine, or The Killer Bees starring Gloria Swanson, I can’t comment on either one of them, but I’ll wager they probably aren’t Oscar-worthy material either. So, as far as killer bee movies go, The Savage Bees is most likely the best of the bunch, but really, that isn’t saying a whole lot.
The video begins, and in another installment of Bizarre FBI Warnings, the one in front of The Savage Bees has got to be the clearest sign of trouble yet, because the word “WARNING” is actually blinking [!].
Then the movie itself opens on a Brazilian banana boat slowly moving down a river at dusk. We scan around the inside of the boat and find that it’s completely deserted. We see a map of the Mississippi River Delta, a Brazilian flag, and random stuff scattered all around, like a chess board, playing cards, and a broom. And in the background, there’s this odd buzzing sound…
Then we cut to an American ship, where the captain and first mate are hanging out on deck, in uniforms swiped from the set of The Love Boat. Renowned bit player Eliott Keener, also in a Love Boat uniform, is somewhere else on the boat, and we see him noting something on a clipboard. I think he’s updating his resume. Before long, the American ship slams into the deserted Brazilian ship. Since there’s still plenty of daylight left, I have no idea how the American captain could have possibly missed the other ship, but collide they do.
Obviously, there’s no way a movie on a budget like this one could afford to wreck two boats, so the “collision” is accomplished by cutting back and forth between zooming close-ups of the bows of both ships. This is then followed by Shakycam footage of Captain Stubing and Gopher lunging forward in that patented Star Trek method of flinging yourself around to simulate movement. Hey, at least they didn’t use a toy boat, toy boat.
Eventually, we cut to a Coast Guard ship reeling in one of the Brazilian sailors, who’s currently floating in the river on half a life preserver. On the ship is a Coast Guard guy who’s a dead ringer for Chris Parnell from SNL. Another Coast Guard guy tells him he’s contacted the owners of the Brazilian ship, who want to know how many survivors there were. Chris Parnell Coast Guard Guy turns away and says, “So do I!” Must you be so non-responsive?
Back on the Love Boat, Captain Stubing learns from Eliott Keener that two of their crewmen have disappeared, and are presumed to have gone overboard. We see Chris Parnell’s Coast Guard boat appear next to their ship, and hear a radio request for “permission to come alongside” the Love Boat. Do you really need permission for that? Anyway, the credits roll, and we see the very interesting credit “Special Appearance by Horst Bucholz as Dr. Jorge Meuller”. You sure don’t see one of those everday.
Okay, don’t write in. I’m fully aware that Mr. Buchholz (spelled “Bucholz” here for some reason) has had a long, storied acting career in B-movies. I know this because he died just recently, and was honored in this year’s Academy Awards ceremony as part of their schmaltzy “Death Roll Call” segment. I really hate this segment, because every year the audience only feels obliged to applaud for the people they recognize. This means that several actors and writers and directors who did great work but weren’t as well known get, at best, a smattering of applause. Needless to say, there wasn’t even that much of a response when Horst Buchholz appeared on screen. Which is not to say he necessarily did great work, if his appearance in this movie is any indication.
Anyway, this movie. Captain Stubing and Eliot talk to Chris Parnell Coast Guard guy. Chris Parnell wonders why the Brazilian ship was so far off course. Eliot says he heard the Brazilian mate on the radio right before the crash, and he sounded “scared and muffled! Like he had something in his mouth! Get away, he said. Get away!” Unfortunately, this isn’t a clip I’d put on Eliott’s career highlight reel. Anyway, that’s all the info the Love Boat crew have about what happened to the other ship.
Cut to a crusty salt of the earth Southern sheriff speeding down a backwoods road. You wanna hear something scary? I mean, really scary? Sheriff Salt of the Earth is being played by Ben Johnson, which, first of all, fulfills the requirement that every low budget killer animal/insect movie made in the 70’s must feature at least one former Oscar winner slumming it. But not only that, just two years later Johnson would appear in the The Swarm [!!], vying with Fred MacMurray for the affections of Maureen O’Hara. So he’s the closest anybody has ever come to making a career out of killer bee movies.
He drives past an animal carcass on the side of the road, and makes a big dramatic U-turn to pull over right next to it. He’s overcome with emotion when he discovers a dead dog. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s the Sheriff’s dog. The Sheriff casts a enraged glance to the heavens, and we can tell by the look on his face that whoever hurt this dog shall never know peace again.
Cut to the American freighter, where Chris Parnell Coast Guard Guy has finished interviewing the crew and is now disembarking. Once he’s gone, Eliott wants to know if the men will still get “shore leave” but Captain Stubing points out that they still have a couple of men overboard, and maybe finding them should take priority over getting a little R and R. “We’ve still got two men out there,” the Captain says, “Mardi Gras or no Mardi Gras!” Yep, that’s right. Not only does this movie take place in New Orleans, but it also happens to take place right during Mardi Gras. What are the odds, huh?
The Coast Guard boat cruises off, blaring its foghorn so we can “artfully” segue into a little black girl blowing into a party favor on her front porch. Her mother comes out and tells her to put the party favor away, and this woman is the worst kind of small-town, po’ momma, black-folk, honey-child, lawdy-be kind of stereotype you’re likely to ever see. Her dialogue informs us that the little girl is about to go off to church all by herself and sing in the choir or something. PoMommaLawdyBe tells her to “Mine that dress!” and the child walks off, still happily blowing into her party favor.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Salt of the Earth drives to his house, and his wife spots him loading the blanket-wrapped doggie corpse into the back seat of his cruiser. “They killed Zeth!” he cries. “Poisoned him. They killed my dog!” He’s sure that the dog was poisoned because he’s “all puffed”.
He says he’s going to take the doggie corpse down to New Orleans, and his wife yells out, “During Mardi Gras?!?” Geez, calm down. The Sheriff says he’s going to get the coroner to do an autopsy to figure out what kind of poison was used on ol’ Zeth. Speaking very slowly and deliberately with a very Hank Hill-like accent, he says he’ll use that information to track down the people who bought the poison, and then beat the living shit out of them. Or words to that effect.
Then we see Party Favor Girl skipping along through a grassy field, still on her way to church. Gee, you don’t think something terrible and bee-related is about to befall her, do you? Or rather, “bee-fall” her? Okay, that was bad. I promise not to make anymore bee-related puns. At least, not for the next couple of paragraphs, anyway.