FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 19, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 4

Oh baby, do I love disaster movies with all-star casts. I love the overacting, I love the ridiculousness, I love the elaborate set pieces, and I love any movie that can bring together such disparate performers as Jimmie Walker, Martha Raye, Charo, and Alain Delon (see Concorde: Airport '79 for that particular lineup). When I see the names "Irwin Allen" and/or "Arthur Hailey" attached to a film, I know I just need to settle in and enjoy the bloated spectacle as it unfolds before me. My love of disaster movies with all-star casts and my love of animals run amok movies crashed head first into each other and became one with Irwin Allen's The Swarm (1978). Boy, I haven't enjoyed bloating this much- and with a running time of about 160 minutes, The Swarm is nothing if not bloated- since The Great Salsa Con Queso Binge of 1996! At the risk of sounding like Kool-Aid Man, I just have to say...OH YEAH!

Every once in a while, the major networks still have a go at the disaster movie with an all-star cast, most recently with that one- whatever it was called- about the hurricane and the tornado having a baby which becomes a Category 54635736723147 storm and will it be the end of the world? Of course, "all-star cast" doesn't really apply to these films- not the way it used to. I understand budgetary constraints (particularly in the made-for-TV realm), but now we have to settle for Kim Delaney, someone from CSI who's not William Petersen or Marg Helgenberger, and if we're lucky, Richard Masur. But look at the names attached to The Swarm! Look at them, I say!

- Michael Caine
- Henry Fonda
- Richard Widmark
- Olivia DeHavilland
- Katharine Ross
- Patty Duke...ASTIN!
- Fred MacMurray...in a bowtie!
- Jose Ferrer (yes, I just saw him in Zoltan!)
- Richard Chamberlain
- Bradford Dillman (yes, I just saw him in Bug!)
- Ben Johnson
- Slim Pickens
- Lee Grant (stern and cranky as always)

Now that's mega-watt star power!

A massive swarm of African Killer Bees has finally made good on all its promises and started attacking the United States. The bees begin their assault in Texas by killing virtually everyone inside an ICBM base. They move on to attack picnickers and citizens of quaint little Marysville- a town whose annual flower festival is about to start. Of all the rotten luck! After kicking Marysville's ass, the swarm decides to take over Houston. Can Super Entomologist Michael Caine and his crack team of scientists defeat the bees? CAN THEY?

That's the story of The Swarm in a nutshell. Now then, let's take a closer look and examine all the things that make this film so lovably awful, shall we?

- The venom of the African Killer Bee is so powerful that a mere 4 stings is enough to kill a man...to kill a man DEAD! Should one be fortunate enough to survive, however, one must then battle one's own mind as one is beset by hallucinations of giant bees.

- Katharine Ross is simply the worst doctor ever. In one instance, she sits next to a patient's bed and the patient flatlines. Instead of actually doing anything, Katharine Ross leaves and fetches another doctor, who uses a stethoscope and that's that. In another instance of someone flatlining in her presence, she again leaves the room. She comes back with an oxygen mask- which would work swell if the person was breathing. When the hell was CPR invented? Probably before 1978.

- The most hilarious because it's supposed to be tragic and touching sequence occurs when the bees invade Marysville, particularly when they attack the school. Before the attack, we see a kid with an oversized lollipop annoy both Fred MacMurray and the audience:

Later, the camera zooms in slowly on the same kid- now dead!- and his bee-covered lollipop. We all shed a tear...of laughter.

- Someone who's not laughing, however, is Olivia DeHavilland- the bees and the dead children sprinkled all over the schoolyard cause her to lose her shit, overact, and let out a melodramatic "NOOO!" that remained unparalleled in cinema until Darth Vader's "NOOO!" in Revenge of the Sith:

- Michael Caine, entomologist, and Richard Widmark, Air Force general, shout through every single conversation they have together. In fact, Michael Caine goes crazy quite often and yells most of his lines in an odd, halting fashion.

WIDMARK: Better a few American bees than a lot of American people!
CAINE: The honeybee is vital to the environment! Every year in America! They pollinate 6 billion dollars worth of CROPS!

- I have never seen a romance as straight from nowhere as in The Swarm. We see absolutely no indications that Michael Caine and Katharine Ross are falling in love, yet on the second day of the proceedings, Michael Caine quips "You're the best thing that's happened to me in all this"- as opposed to the thousands and thousands of fatalities, I suppose. Even more ludicrous, however, is that Patty Duke- who lost her fiance mere days ago in the initial bee attack- gives birth to their child and falls in love with her doctor as she's being wheeled out of the delivery room.

- A great moment to look out for: as the swarm approaches, Michael Caine casually glances at his watch before calmly telling Katharine Ross to run.

- Richard Chamberlain heads to a nuclear power plant to warn them of the imminent bee attack. The bees do attack the plant- Richard Chamberlain is covered in bees, flailing around, and then the plant explodes. However, the editing makes it seem that Richard Chamberlain himself has exploded, causing the building to go.

- There are so many awesome AWESOME lines of dialogue in the movie...

"I never dreamed it would be the bees. They've always been our friend."

"I always credit my enemy- no matter what he may be- with equal intelligence"

"Who would have thought bees would be the first alien force to invade America?"

"Houston on fire...will history blame me? Or the BEES?"

- Evacuees from Marysville are being taken out of town via train. The bees attack the train- which derails. And rolls down a hillside. And explodes. And is very much a model train.

- Michael Caine is reluctant to use pesticides or poisons on the swarm, fearing the effect it will have on the environment. His final solution? Cover the Gulf of Mexico with a humongous oil slick. Lure the bees out to the Gulf with sound, then set the Gulf of Mexico on fire. He and Katharine Ross watch it burn...aww, how romantic.

- The film ends with a wonderfully patriotic and xenophobic disclaimer:
The African Killer Bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hardworking American Honeybee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation.
In your face, African Killer Bee! USA! USA! USA!

- The DVD contains a 1978 documentary about the making of the film, which is incredibly fearmongering. The Swarm isn't fiction- it's a prediction! The bees are coming! They're coming to kill us all! Patty Duke is the sole voice of dissent- she doesn't think the bees are coming at all, but if they do show up, she'll take a vacation somewhere else. I love Patty Duke.

The Swarm is 2-and-a-half hours of all-star, all-bee fun and excitement. It's like a birthday wish come true! USA! USA! USA!

14 comments:

Chad Saxelid said...

I love this movie. I love, love, love this movie and have seen it dozens of times. But I just noticed that the lollipop kid wore a different shirt in each scene. He's got a polo on with Fred and a sports shirt on with the bees. The hell?

Then again, the whole movie is filled with those kinds of continuity snafus. If you pay close attention, you can literally find a dozen things blatantly wrong in every scene. It's exhausting.

I do love the flaming soldier at the end. Dude is shown running and screaming down the hall twice, it's like he was running circles in the building...because Allen just recycled the shot.

Or how about the dude that gets set on fire and crashes through the window...which magically becomes a sliding glass door with a potted plant hanging beside it...just before falling 40 stories to his death. Or how it goes from day to night to day in one action scene.

I think I'm going to watch the movie again today. I really need some fun right now.

Bill Walsh said...

Awesome. At least they blew up the nuclear-power plant. If they'd been really smart, they would have just retargeted the ICBM...

USA! USA!

Anonymous said...

I dig ‘The Swarm’, kinda. ‘The Swarm’ is like a volatile friend in passing. You love ‘The Swarm’ one minute for remembering your birthday with a card—then ‘The Swarm’ gets hammered and hits on your best girl. ‘The Swarm’ is a bitch goddess—she runs hot and cold, but the love and trust is just not quite there. Ah, who am I kidding—I love ‘The Swarm!’ 160 minutes of rich, nougat-filled, 70’s celluloid goodness, with a serving of Slim Pickens on the side. What’s not to adore?

And the shot of Darth Vader screaming, NOOO! while the overhead camera slowly pulls back?--so many levels of wrong perpetrated here. It’s “Travis Bickle taking Betsy to a porn flick on their FIRST DATE” level of wrongness. You just—don’t—do it.

-Robert

Amanda By Night said...

I think I have this on tape somewhere, but have never seen it.

Shame on me.

Stacie, you HAVE to see When Time Ran Out, Allen's last theatrical disaster opus (I think). Paul Newman, Alex Karras and Red Buttons = GOLD.

Stacie Ponder said...

Chad- I noticed the kid's shirt, too! There are tons of inconsistencies- a van turns a corner and it's pitch black outside, then crashes through a window in broad daylight...bees can instantly take down a helicopter, but they can't stop a Ford Mustang... It's awesome. This movie is so much fun.

Shame on you indeed, Amanda. It's a Sunday-afternoon-on-the-couch flick for sure. Must see When Time Ran Out...cannot...resist... Red...Buttons...

Chad Saxelid said...

Here be clip:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uzi7_q5XErA

Theron said...

Yeah, "The Swarm" is "The Towering Inferno" of Animls Run Amok flicks...

Des said...

Fuck...between the worst of all Jaws sequels and Swarm, Michale Caine can really slum it, eh?

Stacie Ponder said...

I think Michael Caine will pretty much do anything. There's some quote attributed to him...I'm paraphrasing, but when asked about the abysmal Jaws 4, he said something to the effect of "No, I haven't seen it. But I've seen the house it paid for and it's very nice."

amandasblognews44 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mariana said...

I laughed to tears reading your review, thanks! :)

mice said...

Totally watched this when I was like 11 somehow and it scared me so bad. I was terrified the entire time and for years afterward.

bearaspirin said...

Hysterical review...I'm a huge fan of disaster movies but by the end of the 70's Irwin Allen had pretty much used up any cool ideas. The one thing I absolutely adored about this movie is that it had NO qualms about showing a bunch of obnoxious kids getting stung to death...IN SLOW MOTION! Even as a kid I thought that was a hoot!

Bzzzzzzz!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I've been reading your blog for a week now, and i fear i may be addicted. Stacie Ponder, you're the berries! my roommates and i ordered The Swarm from Netflix based on this review, and this review alone. I hadn't even heard of it 'til you came into my life. I am blessed, Stacie, truly blessed! Thank you!