Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Swarm

The Swarm (1978)
: Africanized Killer bees, a hybrid between the vicious African honeybee Apis mellifera scutellata and one of the infinitely adorable and helpful European honeybees A. mellifera ligustica, carnica or caucasia
Size: About 3/4 inch in length individually, but en masse, as big as a small town.
Modus Operandi: Attack in large numbers and kill with unbelievably potent poison stings. As few as 3 stings can kill you.
How the Menace Emerges: Sick of life down south, the bees decided to hit Texas.
End Goal: After taking over Houston, the bees just want a peaceful life of beeness with no homo sapiens in the way

Packing the cast with such notables as Shelley Winters (Night of the Hunter), Richard Widmark (Night and the City), Slim Pickens (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West) and Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity), The Swarm is another disaster of a disaster film from Irwin Allen. Coming straight off of his made-for-TV Fire! and Flood!, the “master of realism” is back with another “man against nature fight for survival”. This time the menace is the dreaded Africanized honey bee, and only entomologist Michael Caine (The Muppet Christmas Carol) can save the day. Despite the danger being of such small stature, Allen still finds a way to pack in a ton of his patented disaster footage, most notably a spectacular train wreck and a man jumping out of a window on the 60th floor of an office building entirely engulfed in flames. No matter how well rendered these spectacular effects were, I was much more enamored with the victims’ cheap hallucinations of enormous bees and the slow-motion scenes of children dying as they run in terror from these wee terrors. Thankfully, Allen spared no expense in the bee department. About a billion real live bees were invited onto the set, and that’s a sight to see!

Unfortunately, the bees are the only real draw in this overwrought piece of schlock. Sure, there’s a certain fascination with seeing Widmark as a grumpy old man completely in touch with his lines when they rip someone a new one, yet bored senseless when his lines just advance the plot, but all in all, Allen takes his characters too seriously to treat them as badly as he does. First, he gives them too many subplots drenched in sickly sweet sentimentality than the flimsy story could possibly handle, and then he just drops them in the first train wreck he can squeeze in. Given that Allen had the balls to drag this piece of trash out for 156 minutes, you’d think he could have given Slim Pickens just a bit more screen time.

Nit-picking Science: Rather than dissect the many things that The Swarm got wrong about Killer Bees, I’ll just mention this one as a public service: There is no such bee that delivers some weird venom that will kill you in just 3-4 stings. (Unless you’re unlucky enough to be allergic, and seeing that less than 1% of the population has this allergy, you should consider yourself very unlucky if you’re in that camp.) Here in North America, Killer Bees have been slowly migrating northward from Brazil, where Dr. Warwick Kerr, a real mad scientist, accidentally unleashed them back in 1956. They are distinguishable from cute, fuzzy honeybees only by behavioral differences. Unlike our helpful honeybee, Killer Bees are just downright mean. They’ll chase you for up to half of a mile, and if they catch you, you’ll get a whole lot more than 4 stings. Now why can't anyone make a film as cool as the real thing?

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