Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) was too good (or rather, bad), to pass up. I’ve seen enough bad movies to know this one was going to be rough; even the opening music—low budget porno track diluted with operatic “ooos”—was distressing. Invasion of the Bee Girls was very nearly an Alan Smithee production; its director, Denis Sanders, had to be convinced by his manager to keep his name on the film. [Before you go any further: this is a long review, but still a fast read.]
The male lead is the William Smith (who has three total facial expressions, but mostly sticks with two). He plays Neil Agar, a burly government agent from the State Department’s Office of Security, brought in to investigate several suspicious corpses in Peckham, California (the name is the first of many lewd puns in this sexploitation affair). I like movies from the seventies—even bombs like Invasion of the Bee Girls—because they document things you don’t see anymore: rows of parked VW bugs, dark wood paneling that powerfully reflects set lights, a young woman in a hideous beige turtleneck dress with giant white buttons. She says, in response to Agent Agar’s question about her relationship to a dead scientist, “Well, we balled and we balled and we balled till he dropped dead.” This woman is Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri), a research assistant soon to be balling Agent Agar.
The next scene is quintessential 1973: a naked lady riding a dirt bike peels to a stop in front of a field where a naked, side-burned beefsteak looks at her “lustfully”. Okay, she’s not totally nude; she is wearing white go-go boots. She prances over to the man and they proceed to roll awkwardly down a hill in coital embrace. There’s a strange high-pitched buzzing sound, the man dies without changing expressions, and the lady stalks off into the weeds. (The actors must have been badly scratched up; they rolled through southern California scrub brush).
Next up, some boxy research facility (the dead scientists were employed here), where many of the employees are into wife-swapping and other good times. Then it’s on to the dark bar with giant round red chairs, thick smoke, and drunken gasbags. Enter the “iceberg” female scientist, Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford), an entomologist, who orders a Valentine.
Boom, another dead body, further obscuring the plot. Note: every guy who dies is naked, shown from the chest up, usually zooming in on their handlebar mustaches. Choppy cut to the town hall meeting, where the fat county sheriff (Cliff Osmond) is clueless. Eight men dead so far, all killed by over-exhaustion from too much sex (gasp!), so the oldest scientist on hand (he wears a brown corduroy suit and yellow butterfly collar shirt, I’ll call him Dr. Corduroy), recommends total abstinence. This is met with boos and hollering from the red faced ruddy public. The dark haired, evil female scientist, Dr. Harris, is bemused. She wears giant round dark sunglasses in this scene, and most of the movie—but, why?
The next scene, comic relief (I guess), takes place in a bedroom, with a giant gilded black V on the headboard. Husband, reading paper: “Well, abstinence ain’t going be anything new around here.” Wife, applying cold cream vigorously: “If I were sure it would kill you, I’d do it.” At first I was like, why is this scene even in the movie, but I realized later it actually establishes their “relationship,” which resurfaces once more, ten minutes before the movie’s over.
So, a page into the plot summary and still it’s a question of what the hell is going on. This movie is mostly sex puns and pop top Budweisers—but is that out of the ordinary for 1973? Finally, Dr. Harris approaches a drunk outside a bar and we see something of a plot point: cue the headache inducing buzzing, and a crazy camera effect—she has bee vision! The illusion of compound eyes was probably an innovative effect in 1973, but it’s badly dated now. Crappy cut, scene change, and the stage is set for the death of Dr. Corduroy: he’s run over repeatedly by a yellow Chevy Nova, driven by Dr. Harris. This scene is lit (barely) by a nearby phone booth.
Agent Agar and Julie are making out in a parked car and witness the murder; she gets out for some reason, while he goes into the phone booth to call his boss and shoot the shit. Quite predictably, Julie is assaulted and nearly raped by drunken stooges who have been lurking about in the shadows. After a lengthy chat, Agent Agar steps out of the phone booth, does a double-take, then runs to rescue his girlfriend while she’s still being merely pawed at—good thing drunken rapists also enjoy foreplay. Why he couldn’t see all this from the booth is puzzling—it’s ten feet away. Then again, this movie is called Invasion of the Bee Girls; I don’t think it was supposed to make sense.
The next scene introduces gay love; it’s shot in the interior of Dr. Corduroy’s apartment, which is full of Grecian statues and lava lamps. Agent Agar lets himself in to snoop around (nobody locks their doors in Peckham, California), and is soon tackled by a guy in a jean jacket and tight Levis, the late doctor’s lover. A two minute exchange between Agent Agar and this nameless guy—“Could he make it with a woman?” “No way”—is all the time allotted to homosexuality. I wasn’t alive in 1973, but I sense it was confusing; it seems like there was all this sex without love or even meaning, and the clothes were awful.
Oh, and the town is now under military quarantine, with a curfew. One jeep and two guys in helmets are apparently enough muscle to establish total military control. The pudgiest, booziest male scientist invites Dr. Harris to dinner (read: casual sex) and, surprise, she accepts. At dinner she wears a striped bathrobe and speaks in sultry or surprised single word answers. Her paunchy colleague asks, “Mind if I smoke?”; “I’m allergic to cigarette smoke,” she replies coquettishly. Her makeup includes sea green eyeshadow, geisha red lips, and four pounds of mascara. It’s like rodeo clown vogue. Details like that kept me somewhat engaged in this flaccid production—it was only 80 minutes long, but I still had to stop and get another beer halfway through. As Dr. Harris seduces dimwitted horn-dog #11 on a shag carpet, the director cuts to film strip reels of queen bees being fed by workers, black widow spiders creeping around, etc. Dr. Harris gets on top of her co-worker and “loves the very life out of his body” (so says the movie poster), at which point her eyes glaze over to eerie black: aaa, or something.
A few boring scenes later and we’re in Dr. Harris’s secret laboratory. There’s little oversight at this facility; Dr. Harris has a giant jungle gym in her lab, where she unleashes huge blasts of gamma radiation willy-nilly. The experiment: a group of bee girls pin down a scientist’s wife, Nora—she’s one of the worst actors in a 1973 sexploitation film, which is saying a lot—preparing her for mutation. To the sweet sound of a woman’s choir singing “ooooouuuuuuuuuuuoooooooohhhhhhhh,” Nora is led, totally naked, into the center of the jungle gym. The bee girls, all wearing dark circle sunglasses and short white lab coats, slather her with sticky white goo as the operatic vowel sounds escalate (causing Nora to make her “o face”). Then she’s brought into a glowing tube, where thousands of bees swarm her body. The bees and goo fall away, Nora is brought out looking foxier than ever, and Dr. Harris bombards her with gamma radiation, which also induces orgasm, evidently. And the process washes hair and reapplies makeup; Nora emerges completely made-over. The other bee girls are likewise turned on, rubbing their breasts through their lab coats. I suppose this was meant to be the hottest ten minutes of the movie, but it was so ridiculous I could barely watch. This scene is probably why the director wanted Alan Smithee anonymity.
The next dead body to turn up is Nora’s flabby scientist husband, obviously. When the bumbling sheriff comes round to give her the “bad” news, she attempts to seduce him, wearing only sunglasses and a striped muumuu. A bad actor coming onto a bad actor; thankfully, the seduction is a failure. The “action” shifts to a dark paneled room where pissed off scientists mouth off to Agent Agar, who’s wearing a black and white polka dot tie. (Here again the paneling reflects the bright stage lights, reminding the audience it’s all fake—did no one involved in the movie realize this? Was the budget too low to fix anything?) I stopped paying attention three seconds into this scene, but I think they form some kind of plan to catch the evil Dr. Harris.
At the funeral of Nora’s husband, Julie walks around the bee girls with a Geiger counter, confirming that they are indeed radioactive, as a priest reads scripture, monotone and “serious” (he actually has to speak up to be heard over the clicking Geiger counter). The bee girls and Julie (wearing a white net on her head, kind of like an onion bag) have a staring contest while the cameraman drifts off, shooting the sky and the LA hills at random.
Although this movie plays a lot with nudity, it never actually goes full-frontal. When the last bee girl attempts to seduce her husband (these are the frigid people from much earlier, with the mod bedroom), it goes horribly wrong; he realizes she’s more bee than woman and strangles her with the nude-colored scarf tied around her bulbous up-do.
Slow-witted Agent Agar needs one more dead scientist to realize Dr. Harris and the bee girls are behind the deaths, and Julie is in danger. She naively followed Dr. Harris into the jungle gym of horrors, after some nauseating dialogue. This is one of those movies where the plot hinges on unilateral stupidity; once one character rises above it, the movie’s over. And Agent Agar finally does; he steals the army’s only jeep (while the two guys in helmets shake their fists at him), drives to the research facility, and busts into Dr. Harris’s lab. Dr. Harris yells, “Stop! Get out, or I’ll pull this lever and Julie will be dead!” Agent Agar nods his head sadly, fake shuffles away, then spins around (gotcha!) and shoots the lever off with his revolver, setting off a chain reaction of explosions. Dr. Harris and the bee-itches (sorry, I couldn’t resist) are trapped in their own playground of gamma rays, while multiple smoke machines fill the set with poisonous gas (I actually saw one onscreen). Agent Agar watches from outside the lab (presumably he’s still carrying his naked, unconscious girlfriend—only his head is visible through a window) as the machines light up and burst into flames. Dr. Harris looks “confused,” the bee girls run around shrieking inside the jungle gym, and the “aaaahhhhhhooooooouuuuuuu” soundtrack resumes. Finally, with skin peeling off her face, Dr. Harris screams and dies. Agent Agar, admirable man that he is, smirks with amusement.
After one more boring scene where loose scraps of plot are woven together like a macrame wall hanging, Agent Agar and Julie are alone in their apartment. She’s talking nonstop; to shut her up, Agar throws her onto the bed (which has an angled, mirrored headboard) for one last make-out session; the final shot of the movie is his lumpy ass in navy polyester pants. The credits roll over footage of bees pollinating giant daffodils, with the theme music from “2001 Space Odyssey”—they just had to slip in one more sex pun.