The exploitation films of the ‘70s always offered up the goods to everyone. And by goods I mean a whole lot of sex and violence, and if you were so inclined to notice behind fogged up eyewear, pulpy takes on the relevant social issues of the day. Not all were created equal, of course; they can’t all be clever variants of the form such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, or Foxy Brown. However, they almost all deal with female empowerment and Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) more than checks off all the boxes, squeezing every last drop of pulp from its sci-fi fruit.
Released by Centaur Dimension Pictures in June, Invasion of the Bee Girls AKA Graveyard Tramps (it doesn’t really fit, but is one of the best alternate titles I’ve ever heard) managed to fairly impress critics on its tour of local theatres and drive-ins, including Roger Ebert, who called it “the best schlock soft-core science fiction movie since maybe The Vengeance of She.” And that’s coming from the number one tub thumper for the works of Russ Meyer, which is no faint praise. (I mean, he still gave it only two and a half stars, but that’s Roger.)
So what’s all the buzz about (first and last pun, I promise)? A scientist drops dead at the Brandt Research facility, and hunky special government agent Neil Agar (William Smith – Angels Die Hard) is sent to California to investigate. It turns out our test tube tweaker died of thrombosis in the throes of passion – that’s right, he was screwed to death. Agar teams up with the facility’s head archivist, Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri – When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) as more men, all scientists, start dropping from the exact same condition. Agar has his suspicions about Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford – Messiah of Evil), the Brandt’s sultry entomologist (who never met a lab coat she couldn’t squeeze into – or out of) who’s very secretive about her research. What exactly is she hiding in her lab, under her lab coat, and what does she have in store for the old horndogs of Peckham?
Part of what makes Invasion of the Bee Girls such a blast is the introduction of the sci-fi angle, separating it from the usual drugs, hookers, and teenage dropout scenarios so prevalent in the exploitation of the day. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) When Dr. Harris’ lab is revealed, we get all the psychedelic sights and whirling sounds of the machinery that makes her hive hum. Her plan is nothing less than world domination by creating an army of human bee queens to eradicate the male populace, and her hive grows as she indoctrinates local women (all gorgeous, naturally) into her lethal pollen posse. And to really set it apart, the film has a long, trippy sequence showing exactly how she turns the frustrated locals into fierce dominators. (A lot of strobe lighting, nakedness, and Costco tubs of Cool Whip seem to be her method of choice. Who am I to argue with science?)
The why of her plan is just as intriguing, and much less ludicrous - not to discount the visual splendor of it all, mixing tantalizing nudity with a deep affection for trashy B (okay, two bad puns) Mad Scientist tropes – and adds an extra layer to Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek IV – yes, you read that right)’s tongue in cheek screenplay. The men of Peckham who are targeted by The Hive are lecherous in their objectification of women, and laughably only see them as conquests. Of course, Meyer and director Denis Sanders (War Hunt) portray each and every one as homely boors; a scene where Agar interrogates several scientists as they brag about their conquests is especially insightful in showing that their outer appearance represents who they are on the inside as well. Conversely, Agar, imbued with virtue by Smith at odds with his regular bad guy roles, is the traditional tall, dark, and handsome hero straight out of central casting. He’s nothing but a gentleman, especially towards Julie, whom he admires and respects. (It’s a shame then that we get an attempted rape scene; we already know Agar is a good guy, and it’s just an excuse for Smith to crush a few skulls, which I normally line up for.)
So what does it all add up to? Not particularly stylish (Sanders is better known for directing documentaries), Invasion of the Bee Girls hits all of its exploitation marks if that suits your mood. So you can bypass the sly message about toxic masculinity if you choose, and just focus on the copious amounts of female flesh on display and the cheesy sci-fi. These women are stunning, and I could never hold that against anyone. But if you do, you’re missing the real fun – The Hive, in their rapturous state of grace, black eyes gleaming as they pound (nudge, nudge) the life out of another Egghead Neanderthal, are doing the world a favor. And if all you notice is the flesh, perhaps a house call from Dr. Harris is in order - I’m sure she’d be willing to oblige.
Invasion of the Bee Girls is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: SOLE SURVIVOR (1983)