Wednesday, March 27, 2013

#26: Invasion of the Bee Girls

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 7: Side B

Invasion of the Bee Girls begins like an abstract, blank-verse visual and auditory poem: We see a shot of a weedy, junk-strewn motel parking lot. Suddenly a piercing, overdubbed scream is heard. Cut to a middle-aged maid in one of the motel’s dingy rooms standing, horrified, over a man’s corpse, the bluish-gray hue of which seems otherworldly and decidedly wrong. Police sirens are heard in the distance. An incongruously funky score, almost mocking in its idiotic vigor, kicks in. The title flashes on screen: Who are these bee girls, we wonder, and what do they have to do with whatever it is we just saw?

For a low-budget b-movie, it’s a rather artful and avant-garde open--disorienting and slightly subversive in the way it seemingly strips away all motivation and meaning. Or maybe it’s just an incoherent, poorly-edited mess. Whatever the case, there’s something oddly compelling about it all, a sense of the unearthly invading the everyday that the film loses once the plot commences.

Neil Agar (genre vet William Smith) arrives from the definitely-not-made-up, totally-real-sounding State Department of Security to investigate the mysterious death. Turns out the victim, Professor Grubowsky, worked at the Brandt organization, a government-sponsored research facility where the late professor was involved in bacteriological warfare experiments. His lab assistant Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri) tells Agar this before confessing she was with the professor at the motel the night he died.

“What happened?” asks Agar. 

“We balled and we balled and we balled,” Julie tells him, “until he dropped dead.”

“Let’s go to lunch,” says Agar.

Meanwhile, the bodies continue to pile up. Hoping to stave off panic, the local police and medical community hold a meeting for the town’s residents in what appears to be a rundown American Legion. “There are three points of uniformity I’d like to bring out and underline for you,” Capt. Peters (Cliff Osmond)--just one of many large-headed, black-haired, mustachioed men in the cast--tells the crowd. “One: All the victims have been men. Two: All the men have been residents of Peckham. And third: They’ve all died apparently--I’d like to stress the word apparently--by over exhaustion during the act of sexual intercourse.”

This pronouncement only elicits derisive laughter from the crowd; but when one of the doctors suggests abstaining from all sexual activity until the mystery is resolved they turn outright hostile. “Nobody’s gonna deny me what little pleasure I get from screwing my old lady,” cries one balding, beefy citizen who turns up dead a few short scenes later.

While the movie seems to be aware of its own ridiculousness--thanks to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek script by author and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, who would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for adapting his 1974 novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution to the big screen--it loses the artistry of the first few minutes amid sluggish and repetitive plotting. That is, until the very end, when Agar discovers the female staff of the Brandt organization have been fusing their cells with those of the queen bee and mating in a primeval frenzy with the male population of the town--or something like that.

The big reveal doesn’t make any sense, but the climax, set at the bee girls’ futuristic-looking hive, is well-staged by director Denis Sanders, achieving a sort of exquisite weirdness. Lights blink crazily upon the surface of sinister-looking lab equipment. Vaguely-scientific bleeping sounds are heard. The bee girls surround one of their new recruits and slather her body in a thick white substance, cocooning her. The recruit is then locked in a small chamber, the interior of which is soon swarming with hundreds of bees. The recruit is engulfed. When she emerges from the chamber the other bee girls--most of them bee women in their mid-thirties--peel the white substance from her body as ethereal music plays on the soundtrack. She is transformed, bearing the black, inhuman eyes of her kind. Soon Agar will rush in, smashing the equipment and killing the monsters in predictable and inevitable b-movie fashion. This is how a movie like this must end--but for a few brief moments Invasion of the Bee Girls takes on the quality of something better than itself, something richer and more mystical. It’s an abstract poem again, all subtext, implication and possible transcendence.  

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