Thursday, January 31, 2013


Irwin Allen, 1978
Starring: Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain

This is the last day of animals attack month, so I thought it was important to go out with a bang, as so basically every animals attack film since Jaws has tried to do. Though I love many of the films in this genre (Italian Jaws rip offs notwithstanding), The Swarm is one of my absolute favorites, because, well, the more ridiculous the better. 

Dr. Bradford Crane (Caine) is on the trail of a curious new species of bees. Evil, intelligent bees who are some how a genetic cross of sweet tempered, American honeybees and murderous African killer bees. The military, led by General Slater (Widmark) is skeptical of Crane, but is otherwise out of options when dealing with the deadly black cloud of killer bees that is devastating the Texas countryside. A small town near the army base is preparing for their annual flower festival. Can Crane and Slater save them in time? Absolutely not. They all die.

Second only to Kingdom of the Spiders, The Swarm is a solid gold piece of shit. If you are expecting something serious, this is not the film for you. There is some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever committed to film ("But the bees are our friends!") and plot lines wander in and out of the film with reckless abandon. Michael Caine's Crane is the centerpiece, but seems to have little to no idea what is going on nor does he understand the concept of time in any reasonable way.

Based on the novel of the same name by sci-fi author Arthur Herzog, who also brought us Orca, the combination of a story by Herzog and direction by Irwin Allen, despite his impressive resume of sci-fi and disaster films (The Poseidon Adventure, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series), could not save The Swarm. Neither could Michael Caine, for that matter, or any of the long list of award winning actors in the film. How they tricked all these big name actors to appear, I have no idea. It certainly seems to be a clash of the egos. Besides Caine, Ross and Widmark, we also have appearances from Olivia de Havilland, Lee Grant, Patty Duke, Henry Fonda, Ben Johnson and Jose Ferrer, all vying for as much screen time as they can get. Surprise. Except for Caine and Ross, all of your characters are going to die and they will probably die mid-plot line, sometimes mid-conversation with half a back story unfinished. I don't know of many other films so excited to kill off its characters as The Swarm.

Characters aside, there are the bees. They don't just kill people, they also manage to blow up a nuclear power plant. Yes, blow up a nuclear power plant and everyone in the surrounding area is totally fine. Then they destroy a train. The good general decides to use flame throwers against them, but when those don't work, they purposefully spill oil into the Gulf of Mexico, lure the bees there and set the entire Gulf on fire. The truly ironic thing about this is that it's Crane's idea. He originally prevented General Slater from nuking the bees to high heaven out of his CONCERN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.

From the get-go the film makes absolutely as little sense as possible, with bees taking over a missile silo, killing all the military personell, but then mysteriously disappearing and I guess taking the bodies with them. Dr. Crane waltzes into the missile silo like he doesn't know how he just happened to find his way into a secure military base and then the President gives him complete control over the operation.

As a final note, The Swarm has some of the worst special effects in any '70s film. I don't know how this cost more than 20 million dollars, but if you pick up the Warner DVD, the hilarious documentary will shed a little light on that. I want to recommend it because of how ridiculous and amazing everything is, but sitting through The Swarm is a true test of will. The original release was 116 minutes, but for some reason it was expanded to 156 minutes for the laser disc and later DVD. I sat through the whole thing, but this Youtube compilation might be enough unless you really love bad animal disaster films.

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