Film fans of a certain vintage should doubtless be aware that the 1970’s was a true golden age of cult cinema.
Whether we’re discussing arthouse or exploitation, grindhouse, drive in, adult film or even telefilm (remember all those wild occult horror films from the likes of Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson?), authors and directors blended a nostalgia for classic Hollywood and global film history with a relentless, independent and often highly personal and idiosyncratic vision, stretching the boundaries and pushing the envelope in ways that had never truly existed previously and would certainly never exist again in an age of increasingly corporate, by the numbers filmmaking that would shortly succeed and utterly subsume any measure of auteurism, squeezing out every last drop of quirky individualism in favor of generic CG pablum for the broadest spectrum of LCD mass consumption.
One major subgenre of 70’s cult cinema was the ecological horror film: a pertinent blend of dawning concerns about corporate-industrial malfeasance and the long ranging environmental impact thereof and the old fashioned 1950’s (giant) monster film – this time, without the size obsession (the occasional Irwin Allen effort aside).
With everything from Frogs to Prophecy, Squirm to Phase IV and even Hong Kong’s Calamity of Snakes and the similar hotel vs. fauna TV movie Ants, the decade was practically awash in such “animal attack” enviro-warnings – Day of the Animals, Barracuda, Piranha, Grizzly, Food of the Gods, Night of the Lepus, Kingdom of the Spiders…need we go on?
In the immediate wake of the aforementioned Irwin Allen’s oft-absurdist The Swarm, Mexican schlockmeister Alfredo Zacarias (also of Demonoid) ramps up the inanity with a weird sci-fi variant that pulls in the concurrent UFO craze driven by such fare as Van Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and Spielberg’s dumbed down but quirky stoner variant Close Encounters for The Bees, a film that postulates that bees are not only hive-mind intelligent, but may be the rightful masters of Earth(!)
An interesting cult film cast (the ubiquitous and ever-dependable John Saxon, The Teacher/Little Cigars star Angel Tompkins, an obviously at the end of his rope John Carradine) enlivens this uber-bizarre variant of the standard template, dropping much of the Rachel Carsonisms and Upton Sinclairisms that marked films of its ilk in favor of an utterly WTF what kind of drugs were these people on boffo slab of sheer insanity.
Apparently honey is a hot commodity, because random folks, from Mexican laborers to elevator stickup men to pervy old men who slip young boys money for favors at the local playground (seriously) are willing to break all sorts of laws of judicial and common sense to get it…only to get some severely nasty bee attacks as a reward.
Our heroes alternate between boardroom meetings with clueless world leaders (!) and pseudo-scientific schmutters, all in the aim of mass producing a new killer bee-specific pesticide. Of course, it has some rather unforeseen results, leading to a trippy ending where Saxon and Tompkins try to hold UN peacekeeping negotiations with bees. Whatever.
The Blu ray comes with an 11m interview with heavily accented director Alfredo Zacharias, who informs us that Roger Corman’s funding came due to nepotism (apparently Corman was a “very close friend” of Zacarias’ father), that every scene was filmed twice (in English and Spanish) and that “Angel Tompkins was not a bimbo”. Thanks for clearing that up for us, Alfredo!
Previously released in a somewhat murky no-frills DVD from nigh-grey market label Cheezy Flicks, Vinegar Syndrome cleans things up considerably (as regular Third Eye readers should by now expect), so completist collectors of 70’s ecohorror, or more likely, fans of Miami Connectionesque what the fuck did I just see gonzo filmmaking can finally see this as originally intended (if not better – some of those 70’s films were pretty Sven Nykvist-dark even in theatrical release).
Just check your sanity at the door, and come drunk or loaded (if not both) – and by all means, reverse the cover art to give your copy the original theatrical poster.