The Deadly Bees (1966)
Known more for their anthology films like Vault of Horror and The House That Dripped Blood, Amicus Films produced this feature length terror directed by genre stalwart, Freddie Francis. At this point, Francis was on a roll with Amicus having already directed The Skull and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors as well as feature films for that “other” studio, Hammer.
From Robert Bloch’s screenplay, we find beautiful Suzanna Leigh as a singing star who suffers a breakdown due to exhaustion as the film begins. Just as she’s filming a TV show along with the group The Birds, she collapses on camera and awakens in a hospital bed. The good doctor and former Frankenstein creation, Michael Gywnn, prescribes rest on the isolated Seagull Island at a bed and breakfast. She’ll get anything but rest as the plot develops.
She’s staying at the home of Guy Doleman and his wife Catherine Finn. He’s kind of a hard ass and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Least of all his neighbor Frank Finlay. Turns out that Frank and Guy are both beekeepers. They each have hives resulting in honey making operations. Miss Leigh isn’t exactly a fan of the hard nosed Guy but takes to the kindly, gentle Frank.
Now if you were on a small isle and hanging out at the local inn, who would you expect to be the barkeep in an Amicus or Hammer production? If you said Michael Ripper than you’d be correct and the recipient of a free pint. Yes Ripper has gone over to Amicus like his famous costars, Lee and Cushing in what is essentially the same role he’d been acting at Hammer though this time it’s a bit more fleshed out and he does get ample screen time once the bees start to claim some victims.
Sadly victim number 1 is the pet dog where Miss Leigh is staying. The fact that Guy could care less doesn’t sit well with Suzanna though poor Catherine is distraught over the loss of her shaggy dog. Suzanna finds a kindred spirit in Finlay and confides in him something is amiss at the home of Guy and Catherine. Next up is poor Catherine herself. Killer bees leave her a bloody mess and again Guy doesn’t seem all that distraught at the loss of his wife. During her demise do your best to ignore the special effects. Truthfully I found them lazy and unimaginative but I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
Coroner reports and inquests do little to uncover some evil plot by Guy to rid the world of his wife. It does leave tongues wagging with what’s left of the rather small cast. I refer to Leigh, Finlay, Ripper and Katy Wild as Ripper’s daughter. All innkeeper’s have daughter’s don’t they?
Finlay and Leigh are convinced that Guy is behind the attacks and set out to prove it. The closer Leigh gets to the truth, the more her life is in peril. So much so that she is nearly savaged to death by the bees when they begin to attack her in her room. For production purposes, she’s wearing just a bra and slip. Plenty of exposed flesh for the viewers, I mean the bees to attack and sting.
Ok, that’s all you get. I’m ending this right now with Miss Leigh barley clothed and in serious trouble.
By the way, have you ever seen the Lugosi/Monogram classic, The Devil Bat? If the answer to that is yes than I’m sure you’ll see a key similarity between the two films and just how the victims are marked for death. Could a low budget poverty row picture possibly have influenced Robert Bloch? Who knows but I got a kick out of the similar plot devices.
Miss Leigh, who I had the good fortune to meet about a year before her death in 2017 was coming off two higher profile films before signing on for this nature strikes back tale of terror. She had just starred opposite Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis in the hilarious Boeing, Boeing and played leading lady to Elvis Presley in Paradise, Hawaiian Style. She’d move over to Hammer following Bees for The Lost Continent and Lust For a Vampire once the 70’s came around.
Frank Finlay is for me the musketeer Porthos. He starred alongside Oliver Reed and company in the wonderful trilogy of Dumas’ story from director Richard Lester. Horror fans may know him best from Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce or the BBC production of Count Dracula where he starred as Van Helsing in what is likely the closest adaptation of Stoker’s novel yet to be filmed.
As for director Freddie Francis, he would mainly direct thrillers including Torture Garden for Amicus and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave for Hammer among many others. Though he never won any Oscars for his directing, he would claim two for his cinematography. One for 1960’s Sons and Lovers and a second for Glory in 1989.
The Deadly Bees turned up on blu ray from Olive Films and can also be found on DVD if you’re looking for a copy. An original half sheet? That you’ll have to hunt down yourself as I did.