Thursday, September 19, 2013

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

Welcome to the wacky world of "Invasion of the Bee Girls", where certain honeys are more than they seem to bee, and even the very act of sexual intercourse can result in your death at the...hands?...of a woman mutated with the genetic material of bees. Hear me, true bee-lievers, it could happen to you just like it did in Peckham, California. Let me tell you all about it.

"Don't look right away, but that woman behind us....why does she have her sunglasses on inside?"
Neil Agar (William Smith, "Grave of the Vampire", "Maniac Cop") is a state agent investigating the death of a bacteriologist who was found dead in a cheap motel room. The scientist was associated with the Brandt Research center, a government-sponsored lab in the small town of Peckham, and his death seems to have been caused by a heart attack that occurred during a moment of sexual intercourse. His female partner is unknown. Before Agar can decide the death isn't suspicious after all, more bodies start turning up that look a lot like this:

It seems that Peckham has a strange epidemic on its hands, and the exclusively male victims all suffer the same symptoms: fatal thrombosis during sexual intercourse. Neil meets the Brandt center's chief librarian Julie Zorn (Victora Vetri, "Rosemary's Baby"), who tips him off about the important scientists working at Brandt. The sudden rash of deaths has the locals panicked, and by "locals" I should say stereotypically piggish semi-thugs who do things like sexually assault women in alleys, attend rabble-rousing union meetings and drink a lot of beer. The local sheriff holds a town meeting to warn everyone to be celibate, although the men are not about to put on any purity rings, and more of them wind up dead after coming into contact with several suspiciously beautiful women who like to wear large dark sunglasses. At night. Brandt's sex expert, Henry Murger, announces that he has a bizarre theory to explain the deaths, but he is conveniently run over by a car with a mysterious (and we presume beautiful) driver before he can meet with Neil and Julie to discuss his theory.
They also have this suspect honeycomb-vision, accompanied by a buzzing sound.
Your showcase contains this beautifully complicated instrument panel, essential for any world domination plot!
The figure who keeps appearing in the background at all these points of interest is Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford), a lovely entomologist whom the horny male scientists describe as an 'iceberg'. It's not long into the movie where we start to realize women are deliberately and literally screwing these men to death, usually after they reveal that their eyes have turned completely black. This naturally never deters any of the men from screwing them, leading to this epidemic of sexually exhausted male corpses. Neil discovers that Murger, the one man not to succumb to this strange phenomenon, was gay and had a secret male lover. Could this bee the reason someone had to resort to the more patently boring method of vehicular homicide?
"Would you like some coffee with that sugar, Dr. Harris?"
Ha! Now my sunglasses are actually ON my EYEBALLS.
Another scientist named Herb Kline falls victim when Susan Harris suddenly warms up to him and invites him to her house for dinner, where she seduces him and then kills him with sex, her eyes turning black. SHOCK-she's ONE of them! Well, not only is she one of them, she's the creator of them! Harris has developed a way to transform ordinary women through a process of controlled mutation. After Kline is dead, she phones Mrs. Kline and lures her to her laboratory, where she has this strange hive-like dome equipped with what appear to be giant ray guns. Harris and the other "bee girls" force Mrs. Kline into their bee-o-dome (har har) and bombard her nude body with gamma rays, a gooey substance that looks suspiciously like marshmallow topping, and the final key ingredient: a swarm of irradiated bees. After her transformation is complete, her eyes are black too, and we presume she is now equipped with a killer bee-vagina like the others. Hvvvvvvvvvvvv....

So that's how it is in their hive....
Stay calm, sheriff...don't bother her and she won't bother you.
After Mrs. Kline becomes part of this insidious insect plot, the sheriff goes to inform her of her husband's death, at which point she attempts to seduce him right then and there while he's telling her about it. Perhaps only her bizarre sense of timing foils the plan by spooking the sheriff, who bolts. Proving that a bee girl is not invulnerable is another incident where Brandt geneticist Stan Williams is attacked by his recently transformed wife, but he manages to strangle her with her own stocking before he dies, resulting in one of the most bizarre crime scenes that any investigator has ever stumbled upon:
It's all about to come to an abrupt end for Dr. Harris and her bee girls, however, bee-cause super agent Neil is hot on their trail, assisted by the lovely librarian Julie. Neil connects all the dots in the nick of time and races back to Harris's lab, where Harris and her deadly women have kidnapped Julie and are attempting to turn her into one of them. Neil rescues Julie and fires a bullet into Harris's bee-machine, breaking it and saving the day. The bee girls die, and the mating process in Peckham can finally go back to normal.

Although it doesn't really work as a horror movie or even a science fiction film, "Invasion of the Bee Girls" is a true gem, a wild time capsule full of 1970s decor, politics, and attitudes. Like "The Stepford Wives" which came a few years after, this movie makes a dark satire about the power struggle between men and women of this era, seemingly stoking men's fears that women were gaining the upper hand and had malicious intent once they gained power. Anitra Ford is great as the film's female villain, although the script doesn't really bog down with too many details, ensuring that her character remains a cipher. The film is lacking a scene where she explains her motivation for doing what she's doing, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. The movie plays it safe by making both sides of the issue into caricatures; although the obligatory romance blossoms between Neil and Julie, when they first meet she gives him an unsmiling, hostile greeting. Dr. Harris herself is the very definition of a frigid bitch, warming up only when it's time to seduce a man and kill him. The men in the movie are almost all foolish boors--the local townspeople are even depicted as sexually aggressive and violent, and there's a scene where no less than four of them attempt to gang rape Julie. The Brandt scientists are not much better, despite being stuffy brainiac types. Even when men are dropping dead after having sex, they are rendered powerless by any woman who wears provocative clothes. I found it hilarious that the bee girls had to run over Murger with a car because he was gay and therefore immune to their seductive charms, but did the movie have to tell us this via a scene where Neil finds a secret sex room in Murger's house, full of whips, chains, crossdressing items, greek statues, caged birds, an aquarium, and...lava lamps? Who knew a blue lava lamp meant you were gay? Hey, I love lava lamps, so maybe it's true. Hmm!

Any high-tech laboratory is not complete without an ice cream cooler.
It's best not to think about these things too much though when you're watching a B movie (get it?), and my only real complaint with "Invasion of the Bee Girls" is the abrupt, lifeless conclusion. Despite being completely outnumbered by about 10 to 1, Neil is able to easily infiltrate Dr. Harris's lab--she doesn't even lock the door--when Julie is in danger of being transformed. Not only that, all he has to do is fire a single shot into the giant instrument panel and the ENTIRE HIVE is conveniently killed. Dr. Harris is one of the most fascinating characters in the movie, but we know so little about her. It's disappointing that when she's faced with the complete undoing of her evil scheme, she can't even muster up the strength to fight back. Considering she's a mad scientist, she could have at least had a scene where she proclaims her manifesto. Since her vendetta is against men, it would have been interesting to hear her views firsthand. But the worst indignity the movie heaps on her is her death scene. OK, I get it...she's a mad scientist. She wants to take over the world (or at least Peckham) by murdering all the men. She must be stopped, which in horror movies means she must die. But couldn't they have at least given her a spectacular death scene? Did she die when someone threw her into a bubbling cauldron of molten beeswax? Did she get accidentally sealed inside a honeycomb and asphyxiate? Was she burned alive while being embraced by the spirit of Joan of Arc? No, actually this happens:

She just sort of stands there in a daze while her bee-o-dome goes up on a flurry of sparks, and then she is engulfed by a bloom of white light (radiation?), after which she scratches her own face and collapses.

Not very fitting for a mad genius, I say. I liked Dr. Harris, even if she was a little more Valerie Solanis than Naomi Wolfe. 

"Invasion of the Bee Girls" doesn't have much in the way of horror, with the exception of the murder of Henry Murger, during which an unseen Harris drives a car into him and crushes his midsection, then while he is lying on the ground dying, violently crushes his entire body by running right over him. There are a lot of beautiful naked women of varying ages and body types, and if this movie had been made in 2013, there wouldn't be a bee girl over the age of 23 in the film. One of the sexiest women in the movie is Beverly Powers, who appeared as Beverly Hills in "Brides of Blood". Beverly was in her mid 30s when she made "Invasion of the Bee Girls", and her character is made to appear slightly older than that, but her seduction scene is one of the best in the film: earlier in the film we see her putting cold cream on her face while snapping at her husband before bedtime, and after being transformed she performs an erotic strip tease for him. Anitra Ford is an interesting lead as well, she has an exotic quality to her and her limited dialogue in the film makes her seem even more mysterious.

I really must have that mirror for my own. My life may depend on it.
Technically, "Invasion of the Bee Girls" is about what you'd expect for a cheap exploitation film from the 1970s. The film stock is often grainy, the editing sometimes rough, and there's nothing in the way of special effects that will make you say "Wow, man!" But the cinematography is endearingly 70s, with a lot of zooms and focus pulls. The decor is even more outrageously, wonderfully dated, as are the clothing and hairstyles of the male characters. The soundtrack is a lot of wakka-wakka funk, especially one piece that features frantic ethereal "bee girl" vocals that sound like a nightmarish B-side (bee side?) to the Three Degrees "When Will I See You Again".

Furthering my love for "Invasion of the Bee Girls" is the fact that it was re-released in the early 1980s as a double-bill second feature under the title "Graveyard Tramps". I can't imagine where the hell anybody came up with that title, as only one scene in the movie takes place in a graveyard and that's during a funeral--but I love it.


Jay Shatzer said...

I picked up this one a while back, but haven't had the time to check it out. I think I'm going to have to remedy that one now after checking out the review. Looks like a hell of a good time! Great write-up!

GroovyDoom said...

You'll love it, Jay. It's the "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" of drive-in horror!