The Swarm Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
The 1970’s was the golden age for disaster films. From eco-terror to catastrophes, there was no way you could feel safe at all. My all-time favorite disaster film is The Towering Inferno (1974). It’s beautifully shot, the plot is exciting and the characters are really interesting. It makes you forget that it is almost three hours long. Now, why am I bringing this film up here? That’s because the producer of that film, Irwin Allen, later directed and produced one of the most "WTF?" disaster films of all time called The Swarm (1978).
The first time I ever heard of The Swarm was when I read an article about foreign films that came to my country (Thailand) after the tax wall ended in 1980. As I said in my review of H-Bomb, Thailand had four years of the tax wall to prevent films from foreign major studios from 1976-1980. During that time, independent importers usually sent exploitation films from Europe and America or martial arts films from Hong Kong. Sometimes they bought films directly from producers and that was how we got Apocalypse Now or Superman around that time. After our tax wall was destroyed, major studios immediately released hit films like Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, The Black Hole, The Spy Who Loved Me, etc. to those of us that still had no chance of seeing it up until then. And one of those films was The Swarm. The poster looked attractive enough for me to want to find out more about the film on the internet…and it turned out to be one of the worst films from that era. According to the Official Razzie Movie Guide, it says “despite its enormous production budget, The Swarm turned the tale of an invasion by killer bees into the ultimate B-movie.” And they are right!
This movie tries to take us back to the 50’s era, in which films like Tarantula or Them! were popular, combined with Irwin’s trademark epic disaster setup. It focuses on several groups of people that are trying to survive an attack by the massive amount of bees. The film's main characters are Dr. Crane (played by Michael Caine) and General Slater (played by Richard Widmark). Although we have a variety of characters like teachers, a kid who survives the attack, or a waitress, Crane and Slater are the real standouts of this film besides the superb special effects. Why? They are unintentionally hilarious. They usually just argue about the best way to kill the bees. Dr. Crane is, you guessed it, trying to say that we should use the eco-friendly method while General Slater has the nuke ‘em tactic. The argument is hilarious because I think Michael Caine didn’t want to be in this film at all! He looks bored almost all the time, even in the heated arguments. Plus, the dialogue is hilarious. Check out this excerpt…
Brad Crane: These bees, General, are of joint concern, and they are killing Americans, without reference as to whether or not they have a serial number and are expected to salute YOU! So there will be no air drops of any kind until I give the OK!
General Slater: Your OK, huh? Then it's just possible I can persuade you to attack this particular swarm, now that we know where it is! Attack and eliminate it!
Brad Crane: Possibly, if you can explain to me, how you air drop chemicals, without killing the native insect life! If your chemical will kill the African bee, it will also kill the American bee, right?
General Slater: Right! And better a few American bees than a lot of AMERICAN PEOPLE!
Brad Crane: That is the point, general! The honey bee is vital to the environment! Every year in America, they pollinate six billion dollars worth of crops! If you kill the bee, you're gonna kill the crop! If you kill the plants, you'll kill the people! No! No, general! There will be no air drop, until we know exactly, what we are dropping, and where, and how! Excuse me!
It tries so hard to symbolize this with an actual war. They shoehorn the term “African” and “American” here just to tell us about the negative side of the war. I mean, come on! If that’s not obvious enough, this is what they say in the end credits. I swear I’m not making this up:
“The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation.”
What? Do you think the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Bees (NAACB) is gonna sue Warner Bros. for the racist depiction? #beeslivesmatter ?
Speaking of African bees, after the tragic events go on for a while, we have another hilarious argument with Dr. Hubbard. This time, they talk about a more important and dangerous issue: what should we call these bees? African bees or Brazilian bees? It’s like…dude, people are dying on the streets and you are fighting about the name of those beasts?! I know that it’s good to know specifically what kind of danger we’re facing, but after all they are bees! This leads us to one of my biggest pet peeves about this film, the premise. Basically, African bees from South America are breeding with gentler bees from northern America and somehow they become a large group of bees that go on a rampage. I think the concept is ridiculous since, let’s face it, how the hell are these bees quickly breeding without any notice from scientists or even locals who live there? Plus, what finally leads to the death of the bees are going to make you scream “What the f*ck?!” in the end. You’re just not gonna believe it.
As I said, there are lots of comedic moments, but I have to praise the special effects in this film because they used real bees! Although I’ve heard that they took the stingers off the bees, I’m pretty sure that there’s no way the actors were 100% safe from them. So I have to give a lot of respect to every actor who gets “killed” (in slow-motion….is this an episode of Six Million Dollar Man?) on screen.
To sum up, this film is filled with lots of unintentional hilarity. I hope Warner Bros. will release the original Theatrical Cut soon since the Extended Cut is too long and slows things down, although it features longer stupid dialogue. It has shot straight to being my top favorite “so-bad-it’s-good” film besides A*P*E and Maximum Overdrive.
Nuttawut Permpithak hails from Thailand. He spends his free time watching exploitation films (or any films from the past) writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for GCDb.