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  Deadly Bees, The The Sting
Year: 1966
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman, Catherine Finn, John Harvey, Michael Ripper, Anthony Bailey, Tim Barrett, James Cossins, Frank Forsyth, Katy Wild, Greta Farrer, Gina Gianelli, Michael Gwynn, Maurice Good, Alister Williamson
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The men in the Ministry have received a letter from someone claiming to have developed a strain of killer bees, and he says he's willing to unleash them on the British public if he is not taken seriously, which of course he is not, dismissed as yet another crank. While this is going on, successful pop singer Vicki Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) is at a television studio, complaining to her assistant that she is feeling the strain of all this publicity she has to carry out. When it's her turn to step before the cameras, she mimes half of her latest song, then collapses - it's clear to everyone but her taskmaster of a manager that Vicki needs a holiday, so how about Seagull Island off the English coast?

This was the first killer bees movie, a genre defined by Irwin Allen's disaster movie (in more ways than one) The Swarm of around ten years after this. It's not a huge genre, perhaps because it quickly became a byword for "not very good", and The Deadly Bees certainly kicked things off as they meant to continue by dint of being middling at best, laughable at worst, but compared to the big budget seventies effort it was a shade more enjoyable, or at least a lot shorter. Pausing briefly to ponder why nobody has ever made a killer wasp movie, they seem the more aggressive insects and therefore a more obvious villain, we are plunged into a mystery within the first ten minutes.

That's because we're wondering who this manufacturer of killer bees could possibly be, what with the list of suspects numbering, er, two people. That letter to the government at the beginning wasn't there for nuthin' and when Vicki arrives on the island for rest and recuperation she elects to stay in a farmhouse with a husband and wife for whom love has sadly fluttered away from their marriage, or been elbowed out of the way by a simmering resentment. The man of the house is Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman), who happens to keep hives, and his wife Mary (Catherine Finn), whose only friend is their patently man doing an impression-voiced pet dog and spends most of her time slouched in an armchair chainsmoking. This is obviously going to be hugely beneficial to Vicki.

Maybe she should have gone home with latter day Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood who shows up as part of his band The Birds at the TV studio earlier on? Although you might consider a name change for them a decent move considering what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic, just to save confusion. Anyway, she's here on the island now, and just as you were thinking, hah, it's Ralph who is the evil apiarist, there happens along another one, Mr Manfred (Frank Finlay in unconvincing old age makeup), who may or may not be the scribe of that warning letter but makes friends with Vicki at any rate. Rounding out the cast were the likes of Michael Ripper, taking a break from Hammer to make an Amicus movie in the complete departure of a barman role, and Katy Wild - if you'd ever watched Evil of Frankenstein and were curious what she really sounded like, this would show you.

Freddie Francis was the man at the helm, directing another horror with many more to come and proving himself to be competent but plainly uninterested in anything but professionalism, no flair here (he expressed no fondness for the film). Perhaps of more interest was Robert Bloch on screenwriting duties, though the author of Psycho saw his work rewritten before the shoot began, another reason why those involved had little love for the results, no surprise when the twist at the end was so broadly telegraphed that it was difficult to approach the rest of the movie as the whodunnit? intended - just turn on that light, will you? That said, the bee attacks, while not going to win any awards for their special effects, were grim enough in concept to elicit some unease, and the whole affair motored along briskly enough leaving it ideal for catching on late night television before turning in for bed. It was really no worse than many of the British horrors from the era though it wasn't superlatively better either; the best you could say was its silliness was mildly diverting and it didn't hang around. Music by Wilfred Josephs.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Freddie Francis  (1917 - 2007)

A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).

He then turned to direction, mostly in the horror genre, with familiar titles like Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (the first recognisable Amicus chiller anthology), The Skull, The Psychopath, Torture Garden, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, camp favourite Trog, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, Tales that Witness Madness, Legend of the Werewolf and The Ghoul.

Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.

 
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