The Deadly Bees is a 1966 British horror–thriller film based on H.F. Heards 1941 novel A Taste for Honey. It was directed by Freddie Francis, and stars Suzanna Leigh, Guy Doleman, and Frank Finlay. It was released theatrically in the United States in 1967 and was featured in a 1998 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Heards novel, which was a sort of Sherlock Holmes pastiche, had been previously adapted for television as a 60 minute drama episode of the The Elgin Hour: Season 1, Episode 11 under the title "The Sting of Death" (22 February 1955), starring Boris Karloff as the detective character from Heards novel, Mr Mycroft. According to H.F. Heards official website, kinescopes of this TV dramatisation survive, but it is not commercially available.
Trouble strikes when an exhausted pop singer, sent on a vacation to a farm, realizes that the farm's owner grows deadly bees.
The film opens with two men from an unnamed ministry commenting a spate of letters from a beekeeper claiming to have developed a strain of killer bees. They dismiss him as a lunatic, though his letters claim he will start killing people if he is not taken seriously.
Meanwhile, pop singer Vicki Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) collapses from exhaustion on television, and is sent to recuperate in a cottage on Seagull Island. The reason for this is that her doctor knows Ralph Hargrove. The proprietors of the "rest home" are a depressed and disgruntled couple, Ralph and Mary Hargrove (Guy Doleman and Catherine Finn). Ralph is a beekeeper, as is his neighbor, H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay).
Vicki begins noticing a spate of mysterious happenings. Mary Hargroves dog and later Mary herself are attacked by the bees and killed, leading Vicki to suspect Hargrove. She and Manfred begin to snoop around. Manfred keeps his bees in an apiary within his home, behind a pair of doors which open to view the bees. He claims to control them via a tape-recording of a high note made by a deaths head moth, of which the bees are afraid. He encourages her to search through Hargroves papers. In doing this, she finds that Hargrove has managed to isolate "the smell of fear" into a liquid form. Manfred tells her this must mean that Hargrove has been baiting the bees with this substance.
Vickis snooping methods do not go unnoticed; she soon gets attacked by bees in her room at the cottage. She eventually escapes to Manfreds house, where she decides to stay until she can catch the next boat off the island. Manfred begins acting suspiciously, so Vicki decides to do some more of her own detective work. She discovers his secret laboratory, which leads him to admit that he indeed is the one who has been causing this all along. He tells Vicki he has been intending to kill Hargrove all along, but now that she knows the secret, he will have to kill her too.
She thwarts his attempt, leading him to be stung to death and crash through the stair-rail,and her to set the house on fire. She escapes the burning house, and leaves the island the next day just as someone in a bowler hat from the ministry finally arrives to investigate the deaths.Suzanna Leigh as Vicki Robbins
Frank Finlay as H.W. Manfred
Guy Doleman as Ralph Hargrove
Catherine Finn as Mary Hargrove
John Harvey as Thompson
Michael Ripper as David Hawkins
Anthony Bailey as Compere
Tim Barrett as Harcourt
James Cossins as Coroner
Frank Forsyth as Doctor
Katy Wild as Doris Hawkins
Greta Farrer as Sister
Gina Gianelli as Secretary
Michael Gwynn as Dr. George Lang
Maurice Good as Agent
The television sequence toward the beginning features a performance by British pop group The Birds (not to be confused with American group The Byrds). The groups lead guitarist is Ronnie Wood, later of The Faces and The Rolling Stones and the sequence was filmed on 14 January 1966 at Shepperton Studios.
Though the script was originally written from Heards novel by noted author Robert Bloch, best known for Psycho, critics invariably derided the film, generally citing its uninspired acting, ludicrous special effects (including plastic flies glued to actors faces to show them being "stung"), and continuity errors.
Bloch blamed the films poor showing on the fact he wrote it for Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff (the latter would have reprised his performance from the TV version), who ultimately were unable to be cast due to scheduling difficulties, and on the fact that the director, Freddie Francis, with the aid of a writer called Anthony Marriott, decided to improve Blochs script. Bloch had, for one thing, written the screenplay featuring the Mr Mycroft character from Heards original novel; this character was removed at the orders of Amicus. However, according to Bloch: "I still felt the story and characters strong enough to warrant preservation, and tried to retain as much of the basic plot and atmosphere as possible, working with a synopsisation Milton Subotsky provided...I did put my kindly old villain in a wheelchair - which made the part right for Boris Karloff of course - and my red herring character was designed for Christopher Lee. But while the producers were away (or so Ive been told) the director decided to improve my work; besides, Karloff and Lee were too expensive anyway...My concept was a far cry from what emerged as Frank Finlays part. When the script was re-written the result was, in my opinion, a hybrid affair with no inner consistency or logical story-line: the bees were menacing but the characters were not. Im sure that if Freddie Francis and I could have sat down together and discussed our disparate approaches we might well have come to an agreement which could have resulted in a stronger film; unfortunately, that wasnt feasible...as with CALIGARI and THE COUCH, I shudder every time this item is mentioned or shown...Everything in pre-production had been planned for it, and they didnt have the money to scrap all the preproduction sets, so they had to go ahead with it that way. That came off I think rather badly. This is no reflection on Anthony Marriott, the writer who took my script over there and did the rewrites, He did what he was told, and Im sure hes very competent man, but it didnt come off in the slightest as I had written it."
Bloch wrote in his autobiography: "Once the completed screenplay arrived in England, the problem of matching stellar schedules - and salaries - put the roles into other hands and the script itself into the hands of its director. As is often the case, he decided to improve it, with the aid of a writer called Anthony Marriott, but apparently without the knowledge of Rosenberg and Subotsky [Amicus Films producers], who left prior to production. Both of them had liked my original version, but by the time they returned, the screenplay had been improved past recognition and the shoot was already beginning. Sometime during 1966 the film was released under a new title [which implies Blochs script was titled, as the novel was, A Taste for Honey] The Deadly Bees. As such it soon buzzed off into critical oblivion, unwept, unhonoured and unstung" Bloch is reputed to have been so annoyed by the interference with his script that he never bothered to see the completed film.Allmovie gave the film a negative review, writing, "theres little in Bees worth watching."
Referencing The Birds, the New York Times regretted "Mr. Hitchcock would never have sanctioned a sloppy, raucously framed little thriller like this"