1/30/07

905 The Deadly Bees

(1966, Horror, color)

The dog’s meat; have you seen it?

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

A mad beekeeper terrorizes a convalescing British pop star.

Summary:

The Deadly Beekeeper would have been more accurate and, given the ham-fisted foreshadowing, wouldn't have given too much away either.A British civil servant (for the sake of calling him something, I shall call him “Old Bean”) gets a letter from a resident of Seagull Island. The writer claims to have developed a strain of killer bees, and if the Ministry does not acknowledge his achievement, he will be forced to take drastic, killer bee-related measures. Old Bean shows the letter to his superior, Old Thing, who tells him this is just the latest in a series of letters sent to him by this particular lunatic. In his opinion, Old Bean should just discard the letter and think no more about it.

Our next scene opens on the set of a variety show, where pop sensation Vicki Robbins waits nervously for her turn, half dead with exhaustion from her rigorous schedule. She lip-synchs through half her latest hit before collapsing on the floor. Her doctor arranges for her to spend six weeks convalescing on a bee farm on Seagull Island.

Her landlords are Mr. and Mrs. Hargrove, a.k.a. Surly Beekeeper and Cigarette Hag. Other notable residents are the pub girl Doris and the dog Tess. She gets along pleasantly enough at first, despite Mr. and Mrs. Hargrove’s obvious loathing for one another, and Doris’ obvious pining for Mr. Hargrove. Soon, however, Vicki discovers Mr. Hargrove performing odd hypodermic experiments on his horse in the middle of the night. Around the same time she meets a weird, creepy little man named Mr. Manfred, who keeps bees inside his house just up the hill.

Now that we’re nearly halfway through the film, the killer bees finally buzz into action. Tess is the first victim, having coated herself in something sticky from a bucket near the stable. The distraught Mrs. Hargrove tries to burn up her husband’s beehives in revenge, but Doris and Mr. Hargrove prevent her. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Hargrove handles the bucket as well. The bees kill her too.

The local authorities investigate and determine the death to be accidental, but Vicki suspects otherwise. She tells her suspicions to Mr. Manfred, who advises her look for evidence among Mr. Hargrove’s personal papers. She does so, and when she has found Manfred the papers he wanted, he sends her home.

She got something sticky on her hand from Mr. Manfred’s light switch, so she wipes it on her cardigan and takes it off for an obligatory shower scene. The bees swarm through her window, attacking her cardigan. She locks herself in the bathroom and sets fire to a towel to drive them off. Doris and Mr. Hargrove rescue her before she can asphyxiate. She wakes up and tries to run away, but she’s on an island, cut off from communication from the outside world (of course).

Back at the Ministry of...Killer Bees, I guess, Old Thing takes a call from his superior, Lord Somethington, who read an article about bee-related deaths on Seagull Island, and didn’t they receive a letter from a Seagull Island lunatic who promised to do that very thing? Old Thing agrees and promises to send Old Bean to investigate as soon as possible.

Doris takes the cardigan and walks home, dropping it when the bees swarm behind her. They go after it instead of her, letting her escape with just a few stings. Meanwhile, Vicki runs to Mr. Manfred for protection. Manfred leaves her at his home to go get her things. Hargrove provides them, turning his back while Manfred pours something sticky on Hargrove’s jacket. Back at his home, he explains his evil plot to Vicki in excruciatingly nonsensical detail. He opens his indoor hive and runs towards her with a bottle of something sticky. She catches him in the arm with a length of firewood and splashes it all over him. The bees swarm and chase him up the stairs while Vicky wards them off with a burning log. She accidentally sets the house on fire, and then Manfred meets his death by leaping from the top of the burning staircase. Vicki escapes with the help of Mr. Hargrove and Doris’ father, who figured out Manfred’s game and narrowly avoided death by bee stings themselves. Vicki leaves for London, and Old Bean finally arrives on the island to tip his bowler hat to us somewhere near the middle of the closing credits.

Introduction:

Sauce too rich... too thick... save... yourself...Quoth Magic Voice, “Previously, on the Satellite of Love...” The subsequent montage features Mike and Crow reviving Tom on the operating table, passionate broccoli love with Mike and Gypsy, a chicken puppet stuffed with explosives, Crow drowning in an unidentified sauce, and Mike pointing a gun at someone off screen.

Host Segment One:

Tom is still in montage mode, choking Mike while he cries, “How could you sleep with Amanda!” Mike talks him back to reality and asks Tom to stop choking him. Tom struggles, but cannot remove his arms from Mike’s throat. Down in Castle Forrester, Bobo and Brain Guy watch Jerry Springer while discussing the marvels of chili dogs. Brain Guy’s fellow Observers arrive from reconstituting their planet. They cast aspersions on his abilities, but Brain Guy proves his power by blighting the wretch who destroyed their planet with...a necktie. The Observers urge Brain Guy to return with them and destroy the Earth on his way out. Brain Guy reluctantly agrees, upsetting Bobo and Pearl. Pearl says goodbye in an offended, high-pitched squeal, while Bobo cries, “I love you!” Up in the Satellite, Mike has spilled gravy on his new tie.

Host Segment Two:

Crow has dressed in full Elizabethan regalia to read a love sonnet to Mrs. Hargrove, a.k.a. The Cigarette Hag. It includes such phrases as, “I love thee, filter, flavor, pack, or box,” and how his feelings swell “as satisfying flavor fills the air.” Mike thanks Crow politely and quickly leaves before Crow can begin his recitation of the accompanying canto.

Host Segment Three:

Brain Guy packs his extra hoods, capes, and nurse uniforms while singing of his reluctance to go back to his planet. Bobo and Pearl spring up from behind his suitcase to sing a pleading counterpoint. “We are your friends / though our brains are not in pans.” Brain Guy asks for one good reason not to leave and “blast your silly planet as I go.” The next verse lists such reasons as meat, string, tortillas, and folded sheets. Convinced, Brain Guy agrees to stay in the final reprise. Mike sings along up in the Satellite, accidentally knocking over the ‘Bots’ collections of lice and wood ticks.

Host Segment Four:

Crow cannot find his hair coloring, and asks Mike where it is. Inspired by the movie, Mike dons an enormous bee costume to communicate by wiggling his large, striped derrière. Crow can’t understand him, but Tom praises his eloquence and asks him to do a rendition of Chief Seattle’s oration. Mike presumably complies as they walk offscreen.

Host Segment Five:

Mike and the ‘Bots try to discuss the film, but are interrupted by an unidentified man in a bowler hat. Down in Castle Forrester, Brain Guy battles the Observers in an effort to save the Earth. Bobo distracts the Observers with chili dogs while Brain Guy shoves their brains down the laundry chute. Having defeated his foes, Brain Guy turns the Observers into vacuous cheese-heads, and condemns them to spend the rest of their days living in Wisconsin. Brain Guy declares victory as the man in the bowler hat wanders through.

Stinger:

Quoth Mrs. Hargrove, “The dog’s meat; have you seen it?”

Thoughts:

They killed the most likeable character first.As a murder weapon, killer bees seem woefully imprecise. Over the course of the film, Manfred attempts murder six times, but only three of those attempts result in deaths (the last one his own) and none of them kill their intended targets. A saner man might have been more successful with killer dogs, killer knives, or killer poison, but none of those would have proven his point about bees. (What was that point again? Did anyone catch it?) On the other hand, a saner man might not have been trying to kill people.

A small group of eccentric strangers, each with a secret, cut off from civilization...this scenario is bread and butter for Agatha Christie and her imitators. Yes, The Deadly Bees is a British parlor mystery through and through, with the drawbacks of being maddeningly obvious and drearily tedious from the very beginning. Subtlety is a dangerous tool, and it cuts both ways. Good movies use it to fill every tiny action with meaning. Bad movies (e.g. The Deadly Bees) use it to built long sequences of tiny, meaningless actions. Never mind the obligatory Talking Killer™ montage at the end that explains what all the tiny actions were supposed to mean—we identified the homicidal maniac the first time he appeared on screen, it took us an hour and a half to get this far, and by now we don’t care how he did it.

The host segments are excellent. The “Previously, on the Satellite of Love” sketch is one of the funniest in the entire run of the show. Crow’s slide into the mixing bowl is my favorite vignette from this segment. “Sauce too rich...too thick... Save...yourself...” The running story of Brain Guy’s battle with his former fellows is perfect, from the philosophical chili dog discussion to the clichéd musical decision song, to the Observers’ ignominious exile to urban Wisconsin. Mike’s virtuoso bee speech works well, and I think the man in the bowler hat is meant to be the character I described as Old Bean. His appearance in the final host segment is every bit as inexplicable and irrelevant as his appearance at the end of the film.

The film segments are far more difficult to watch. The opening credits show someone shaking the killer bees into the air, while Crow narrates, “Christopher Robin decided on a diabolical plan to kill Pooh.” Later when we meet Mr. Manfred, Tom notes that his home is “decorated like a bad Chinese restaurant.” During the Talking Killer™ montage, Crow says “The flashback is as long as the movie should have been.” Also, “The dog’s meat; have you seen it?” is the second most unintentionally filthy line to appear in the run of the show. (See Diabolik for the first.) The host segments are worth watching, but the film segments are hopelessly tedious. I recommend watching the hilarious introduction and then switching to a better episode before the movie can begin.