Air Date: Nov. 22, 1976 (NBC)
Production Companies: Alan Landsburg Productions, Don Kirshner Productions
Running Time: 90 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Guerdon Trudblood
Directed by: Bruce Geller
Cast: Ben Johnson, Michael Parks, Paul Hecht, Gretchen Corbett, Horst Buchholz
Rating: 7 vintage televisions (out of 10)
Granted, the bar is low, but The Savage Bees is the best killer bee movie I’ve seen. It’s far better than one we’ve discussed earlier, the ridiculous Killer Bees (1974.) But it’s also better than two theatrical films, The Deadly Bees (1966) and The Swarm (1978.) It’s the tropes of 1970s disaster movies avoided in The Savage Bees that make it a good 1970s disaster movie.
Primarily, the scope is smaller. There’s not a giant swarm of bees the size of an entire continent; instead, there’s one small swarm just large enough to cover a Volkswagen Beetle (more on that later.) That means the filmmakers can avoid those horrible processed shots that look like black specks have been made with a marker and superimposed over the action.
With everything good The Savage Bees gives, it also takes. While we have more practical effects and realistic depictions of bee attacks, we also have fewer bee attacks. Although Mardi Gras is happening in the background and a crisis is discussed, the only time the bees travel through town is on Ash Wednesday, conveniently the quietest day of the year for New Orleans.
This journey is both silly and smart. If our heroes can get the bees inside the football stadium where they can lower the temperature, they can debilitate them. So, it’s good that Jeannie Devereaux (Gretchen Corbett) is traumatized by witnessing a mini-swarm and plops her head on the steering wheel. The horn sounds and the bees cover her car…
…so that she can drive them right into the stadium. A simple drive from here to there is fraught with danger, though. It’s hard to see when the windshield is covered with bees. Then, the car runs out of gas, which means it has to be pushed, guided by verbal direction over a walkie-talkie. It’s surprisingly effective, mostly because of the sense of claustrophobia.
Sheriff Donald McKew (Ben Johnson) discovers the killer bees when he takes his dog for an autopsy and – gross – its stomach is filled with them. The fact that the authorities don’t want to listen to him until after Mardi Gras is as close as The Savage Bees comes to resembling Jaws. Plus, there’s no all-star cast or personal drama to drag it all down.
Sometimes simpler is better. Intimate threats can be as impactful as worldwide disasters. In this case, I think even better. There’s nothing wrong with epic stories; I love ‘em. However, no one has ever cracked the code on how to use killer bees. I’m not saying The Savage Bees is perfect, but it is refreshing.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Savage Bees as well as all the great movies from this series...