The Curator of Schlock #2 by Jeffrey Shuster
The Swarm: Bees Kill!
I know there are some of you out there that find the idea of a zombie apocalypse preposterous beyond belief. Okay then. How about bees? African Killer Bees! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1978’s The Swarm directed by the “master of disaster” himself Irwin Allen.
Let’s start off with the cast. It’s huge! We have Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Fred MacMurray, and Henry Fonda. I know this because there are all of these little mug shots at the bottom of the poster. People needed to know what they were getting for their $2.34 back in 1978. Of course, the real star of the film is the swarm itself and we get to watch with horror and delight the havoc they wreak on this impressive cast.
What’s the plot? A swarm of African Killer Bees has decided to invade the United States and kill every American, starting with the charming, small town of Maryville. It’s up to Dr. Bradford Crane(Michael Caine,) a quirky, sunflower seed munching etymologist to save the day. Dr. Crane hates it when people call insects bugs, especially when said people are General Slater as played by Richard Widmark. General Slater wants to kill all of the bees with deadly pesticides, but Crane wants to use environmentally friendly pesticides so as not to kill the American bee. Richard Chamberlain plays Dr. Hubbard who doesn’t like Dr. Crane because Crane calls them African Killer Bees instead of Brazilian Killer Bees. Hubbard also has a bee in his bonnet about nuclear power plants because of the nuke factor. Henry Fonda plays Dr. Walter Krim, a scientist who is desperately trying to find a cure for the African/Brazilian Killer Bee venom. Dr. Krim tries the cure on himself and his heart explodes so I guess that didn’t work.
That’s not to say that the ladies in The Swarm have nothing to do. Patty Duke plays Rita, a pregnant waitress who falls in love with her doctor after he delivers her baby. We even have a love triangle between school principal Maureen Schuster(Olivia de Havilland), bad boy Felix Austin (Ben Johnson), and droopy town Mayor Clarence Tuttle (Fred MacMurray). Both Felix and Clarence ask Maureen to marry them, but we never find out who she chooses since the three of them get evacuated on a train out of Maryville, only to die soon after as the swarm derails the train off a mountain.
Dr. Hubbard seems convinced that the bees will attack the nearest nuclear power plant next. As he argues with the plant manager, the swarm attacks, killing every power plant worker which results a nuclear explosion. The President of United doesn’t like nuclear power plants blowing up so he takes Dr. Crane off the taskforce and puts General Slater in charge as the swarm heads towards Houston. After General Slater’s deadly pesticides have no effect on the Killer African/Brazilian Bees, he sends out a bunch of guys with flamethrowers to set the bees in fire, but his men just end up setting the city of Houston on fire instead. Who knew?
Dr. Crane finally has his eureka moment when he realizes the bees are attracted to sonic vibrations. He lures the bees out to sea with helicopters that emit these sonic vibrations. Once the bees are out to sea, Crane sets the ocean on fire, destroying the swarm in the process. Now how come fire works for Dr. Crane, but not for General Slater? Doesn’t seem fair to me. Neither is the fact that we never find out which suitor Maureen would have chosen. What can I say? Mother Nature can be cruel.
Things I learned from The Swarm:
- African Killer Bees hate America!
- African Killer Bees are really Brazilian killer bees.
- Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, low in sodium.
- American bees are good. They pollinate our crops and stuff.
- Ambulances explode whenever they crash into anything.
- Rail cars explode after trains get derailed.
- Pregnant women fall in love with their doctors.
- Bee stings cause one to hallucinate about giant bees.
- Setting a city on fire is not a best way to save a city.
- Setting a man on fire who’s being attacked by Killer African/Brazillian Bees causing him to jump out of a forty story window is not the best way to save his life.
Jeffrey Shuster is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.