The Great Unwatched #4: The Swarm

Irwin Allen’s 1978 film, The Swarm is another of those films I have seen in fits and bursts on television but never once all the way through and despite owning it on DVD for some years only now have I actually gotten round to subjecting myself to it. I say subjecting myself as The Swarm‘s reputation precedes it. Arriving at the tail end of a decade that had embraced the disaster genre and milked it for all its worth,  the film’s tale of Mutated African Killer Bees run amuck in Texas  appears to be almost universally derided. Scoring a below average 4.0 on IMDB and a pathetic 14% at Rotten Tomatoes, both fairly decent indicators of an overall cinematic consensus. Even Michael Caine considers it the worst film he has ever made (Has he not seen the remake of Get Carter?).  Industry Bible Variety published its damning indictment at the time of the film’s release:

Killer bees periodically interrupt the arch writing, stilted direction and ludicrous acting in Irwin Allen’s disappointing and tired non-thriller.

But you know what? I enjoyed it. Yes it was a silly premise and sometimes the poe-faced delivery of lines like, “And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend,” don’t exactly have one quivering in one’s seat at the thought of it all coming true. But let’s face it, after having already tackled floods, earthquakes, towering infernos and in a market saturated by derivative apocalyptic films he had inspired, where was Allen meant to go. Bees aren’t the most silly plague he could have come up with, let’s not forget Night of the Lepus.

Part of the fun for me when watching disaster films is identifying with the exaggerated but plausible situations. What would you do if you were trapped at the top of a blazing skyscraper? What would you do if stranded upon a rapidly sinking luxury liner? What would you do if you start hallucinating a giant killer bee at the foot of your hospital bed after both your parents have been stung to death during a picnic. Well, maybe not that last one. But there is still something to think about when watching the citizen’s of The Swarm being evacuated on trains at a minutes notice or desperately trying to find refuge as air-raid sirens sound. It also helps when you come to care about the characters too, and although Michael Caine isn’t given much to sink his teeth into as the leading man I did find myself caring about Richard Widmark’s General, Henry Fonda’s Scientist and Fred MacMurray’s Mayor.

You also have to marvel at some of the technical feats achieved here. When people are attacked by bees in this film, they really are attacked by bees.  Months of preparation were put into selecting the right breeds and removing harmful stingers. When committed to film there is a realism to the swarm attacks that you wouldn’t get in today’s CGI dependant industry. Compare, for example, the first bee attack in The Swarm, to the red ant attack in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The latter film may be more visually dynamic, but you’re never in any doubt as to what you’re seeing isn’t real.

The Swarm may be hokey, the effects may sometime appear dated, and the actors may occasionally seem lost, but I’d still take it above The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 any day. At least in the 1978 film, despite all of its absurdity, there is some craftsmanship up on the screen to find yourself involved with.



2 Responses to “The Great Unwatched #4: The Swarm”

  1. The Swarm is one of my all-time faves! Michael Caine at his camp best. Now go and watch The Hand. :o)

  2. Will have to put this one on my list. Is this the one that has the lady driving the VW covered in bees into a stadium where they freeze the bees? Freezing is a good thing to keep in mind during a disaster. It also worked on the Blob and countless Star Trek creatures. Also, water is a good thing to have on hand during an alien invasion.

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