Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

... aka: Graveyard Tramps

Directed by:
Denis Sanders

A man with no previous history of heart trouble is found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room. Cause of death? Well, according to the coroner something like "extreme sexual exhaustion," or, in layman's terms, he's been screwed to death. And thus begins a series of strange events in a small California town called Peckham that will soon have a large body count attached to its name. Neil Agar (William Smith), a government agent with the U.S. Department of Security, shows up to investigate the death of the first victim (another government employee) and teams up with both local law enforcement officer Captain Peters (the always great Cliff Osmond, previous seen in the women-in-prison favorite Sweet Sugar) and meek, reserved lab archivist Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri aka 1968 Playboy Playmate of the Year "Angela Dorian," in her final film role) to get to the bottom of things. As more dead bodies turn up, clues eventually lead them back to the Brandt Research Facility, where mysterious, shade-wearing beauty Dr. Susan Harris (an incredibly enticing Anitra Ford) is up to some rather bizarre experiments.

This is a great example of a well-executed drive-in movie. It certainly doesn't qualify as a so-bad-it's-good film like some have stated simply because it's technically well-made and completely self-aware of what it is. The makers are certainly in on the joke and just decide to run with it; injecting humor whenever possibly without compromising the flow of the plot. I laughed a lot watching this and much of the dialogue is intentionally tongue-in-cheek and goofy. However, the primary objective here is sexploitation and this doesn't skimp on that either with the sultry, slinky and gorgeous Ford (a former showcase model on The Price Is Right), the voluptuous Vetri and nearly every other female in the cast losing their clothes at one point or another. Bee Girls pretty much nails its goal of being a silly, fun T&A spoof of horror and science fiction films and, surprisingly enough, even many "serious" critics like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin have sung its praises over the years.

The bee girls themselves aren't really monsters in the traditional sense like, say, The Wasp Woman from the classic Corman film, so don't go in expecting it. Instead, these lethal ladies just wear sunglasses when they're about to kill because their eyeballs turn black. We never really get to see any of them in the act of killing one of their victims either, but we do get to see a hilarious and awesome conversion sequence toward the end that involves spreading a nude woman with some sticky white substance, putting her in a radioactive chamber, covering her with bees and then shooting her with a laser beam.

I also have to defend this movie on several other fronts, in particular frequent digs at the acting and cinematography. The performances are actually not at all awful like some out there will say. If you want awful, watch one of today's low budget movies and you'll quickly realize the people in this one are like Oscar contenders by comparison. I thought each of the leads did a good enough job with what they had to work with. Secondly, the film is also not as dark and poorly shot as some state. My guess is that they've watched the public domain print of the film and not the legit DVD version from MGM (part of their "Midnite Movies" line). The late Gary Graver shot the movie and did a competent job of it. I also loved the music score from Charles Bernstein, which is delightfully bizarre and perfect for the material.

The supporting cast includes lots of exploitation movie vets like Ben Hammer, Cliff Emmich, Beverly Powers and Ray Dennis Steckler and Ted V. Mikels alum Herb Robins. Some of the "worker bees" are played by sex film stars Rene Bond, Sharon Kelly (later hardcore actress Colleen Brennan) and Kathy Hilton. Writer Nicholas Meyer would receive a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination just a few years later for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) and went on to a fairly successful career as a director starting with Time After Time (1979).

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