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DEADLY INVASION: THE KILLER BEE NIGHTMARE (1995)

"It is speculated that by the end of this decade, killer bees will have spread across most, if not all, of the continental United States. The following could be a true story!"

Director:   Rockne S. O’Bannon

Starring:  Robert Hays, Nancy Stafford, Gregory Gordon, Ryan Phillippe, Gina Phillips, Whitney Danielle Porter, Michael A, Nickles, Dennis Christopher, Jeff Johnson, Mindy Lawson, Scott Wilkinson, Anthony Leger, Danielle von Zerneck

Screenplay:  Steven Rae, William Bast and Paul Huson

Synopsis:  In Texas, a deputy sheriff patrolling the countryside sees a car parked outside an abandoned farmhouse and goes to investigate. The house is boarded up, but a hole has been ripped in one side. The deputy climbs up to take a look. As he expects, he finds a group of itinerants inside. He calls to them, but they do not answer. The next moment, something launches itself at the deputy from out of the darkness…. In Blossom Meadow, California, the Ingram family, newly transplanted from Boston, struggles to adjust to its new life. On his way to work, lawyer Chad Ingram (Robert Hays) sees a local Department of Agriculture employee putting up bee traps in some trees near the road. She tells him that the Sacramento Valley is on alert for the arrival of the Africanised honey-bee – the so-called "killer bees". Chad continues on to the farm of apiarist Ken Oliverti (Michael A. Nickles), who is rearranging his finances on the eve of his wedding. To Chad’s surprise, Ken does not seem worried by the news of the killer bees. He explains to Chad that although the hybrid strain is far more aggressive than the European honey-bee, he does not believe that there is any real danger. At the local high school, troubled teenager Tom Redman (Ryan Phillippe) is elated when the town’s rich kid, Travis (Jeff Johnson), invites him to a motor race in which his father has a car entered. Overhearing, Kevin Ingram (Gregory Gordon) is amused by Tom’s subsequent attempt to behave as if the invitation were no big deal to him. Out on the road, Travis entertains himself by having his girlfriend, Kristyn (Mindy Lawson), flash her breasts at passing truck-drivers. The two pull over by a billboard to make out, not realising that a hive has been established on the underside of the structure. The next moment, the teenagers are covered in bees. Travis tries to drive away but loses control of his car and smashes into a passing truck…. At the morgue, Travis’s grief-stricken father (Scott Wilkinson) swears revenge on the truck-driver, but Dr Kelly (Anthony Leger) points out the self-inflicted scratch marks on the two victims, saying he thinks they were attacked by something. Examining Travis’s body, he then finds a dead bee…. The residents of Blossom Meadow gather around the billboard as the hive is destroyed. Kevin looks on in concern as the distraught Tom pelts the hive with rocks. Karen Ingram (Nancy Stafford) exclaims angrily that all the local bees should be wiped out. She is contradicted by eccentric entomologist Pruitt Taylor Beauchamp (Dennis Christopher), who points out that bees are responsible for billions of dollars of produce each year. Chad, Karen and Beauchamp return to town and have coffee together. Beauchamp tells the Ingrams that he fears the danger hasn’t been averted by the destruction of the hive. He also warns them that while an adult might survive a killer bee attack, as few as five stings could kill a child or an elderly person. The following weekend, Ken Oliverti marries his fiancee, Linda (Danielle von Zerneck). As the guests, including the Ingrams, celebrate, there is a movement in the trees nearby….

Comments:  I must confess, when I picked up my TV program and saw the listing for Deadly Invasion, my immediate response was a cry of, "Whoo hoo! A killer bee film I haven’t seen yet!" – a burst of enthusiasm that anyone with anything more than a nodding acquaintance with this strange little subgenre would know was almost certainly unfounded. There seem to be few subjects than can beat killer bees for their ability to bring out the very worst in writers and directors; most of the films that this topic has spawned so far run the gamut from the thoroughly dull to the gloriously, supremely dreadful. When I reviewed The Bees (a major guilty pleasure) way back when, I stated that the best killer bee film was probably 1976’s Savage Bees. Well, it’s been a few years and a few more killer bee films since then, and I stand by that statement: they ain’t getting any better, folks. The problem, as I see it, is two-pronged: no-one seems to have much interest in making a good killer bee film, yet there’s no way any film made now, no matter how bad, could possibly challenge the rarefied awfulness that is The Swarm. The only territory that’s left is mediocrity; and this is certainly where Deadly Invasion sits. It’s not a bad movie – or at least, not consistently bad enough to be entertaining – merely sucky and bland in the worst made-for-TV tradition. The mistake that most killer bee films make, including The Swarm, is that they misjudge their audience. They keep trying to make us care about the characters. Gimme a break! What we want is bee action, and plenty of it! But, alas! – the makers of Deadly Invasion didn’t just fall into this trap, they took a running jump and cannonballed in: for every one part of bee action, there are easily three parts soap. From the moment we meet the lovey-dovey Ingrams and their three just-too-adorable-for-words children, we just know we’re in for a painful ninety minutes.

(There’s one reason in particular, apart from the obvious, why Deadly Invasion irritated me so much [well, actually, there are two; I’ll get to the second one in a moment]; and although I was about halfway through the film before it occurred to me what that reason was, I thought I’d share it with you now, just so you understand exactly what watching this film entails. The problem is – Nancy Stafford's haircut. Intentionally or not [not, I guess, since this came first], it makes her look just like Catherine Hicks; and that thought, combined with the general insipidness of the production, left me subconsciously convinced that I was watching a particularly dragged-out episode of Seventh Heaven. It didn’t help my attitude….

Reason #2 is having to watch Robert Hays in this dreck. Urgh…. There’s even a moment early on where he does the Ted Striker "At this hour" eyebrow lift, and--- Well, it hurts, that’s all. It just hurts.)

So, soap. Let’s see…. Native Bostonians, the Ingrams have transported themselves to rural California and invested in an orchard, thus setting up the traditional "we can’t afford to leave" subplot. Lawyer Chad plans, once the orchard is up and running, to cut back his practice and "work on my novel". Interior decorator Karen frets that as a working mother, she is neglecting her children. Youngest child Lucy is having trouble fitting in at school. Her mother buys her a pet rabbit. Meanwhile, Ken Oliverti’s fiancee, Linda, struggles to be accepted by her future stepson, Joshua. Aren’t you just fascinated by all this? And can’t you feel the lurrve?

There is, however, one more soap-strand in Deadly Invasion that almost makes the rest of it worth putting up with, since it challenges some of The Swarm in terms of its sheer stupidity – and I mean that quite literally. Teenager Kevin Ingram’s best friend is the troubled Tom Redman, portrayed by Ryan Phillippe in a performance that almost landed him in my "Skeletons Out Of The Closet" section, only it’s not like Mr Phillippe has ever really come out of that particular closet, right? We get our first glimpse of Tom when he comes to give Kevin a ride to school on the back of his motorbike, and from his very first line of dialogue – "So, what did Mommy fix you for breakfast this morning?" – we have him pegged as sensitive-teen-who-hides-his-pain-behind-a-tough-façade; "tough" being a relative term here, given that we are talking about Ryan Phillippe, after all. (And that stupid little chin beard doesn’t help, either.) For myself, I’d seen enough by this stage to predict that Tom would ultimately be revealed as the product of a broken home, just for maximum contrast with the sweet-as-pie Ingrams – and whaddya know? Now, I’m sure we were all supposed to be moved by all of this, and deeply concerned about Tom’s state of emotional vulnerability, but the brutal truth is, the kid is such a wiener you really don’t blame his mother for leaving – and by the end of the film, I doubt you’ll be blaming his father for having taken a few swings at him, either.

Tom, you see, is Deadly Invasion’s version of the Plot-O-Matic 3000; every time the film needs a crisis, Tom does something stupid. This is a necessity since, unlike most killer bee films, Deadly Invasion does not follow the experts who are trying to deal with the crisis, and who naturally have dangerous encounters with the little horrors, but stays with its "average family", who by rights shouldn’t encounter them at all. Obviously, a showdown between the bees and the Ingrams had to be contrived somehow and, thanks to Tom, they contrived a beauty. Early in the film, Tom is seen talking to the doomed Travis, who goodnaturedly invites the boy to accompany him to a motor race in which his father has a car entered. (It is one of Deadly Invasion’s few original touches that rich kid Travis, although a Compleet Jerk, as you would expect, is not also a Compleet Bastard.) Tom reacts with an embarrassing display of puppy dog gratitude (which I’m sure is meant to make viewers nod wisely and say, "See? The poor boy just needs a little friendship and affection!"), which turns into a still more embarrassing display of emotional devastation when Travis becomes the bees’ first onscreen victim. As the fire brigade destroys the hive of bees with a deluge of soapy water, Tom pelts futile rocks at it. "Travis was the coolest guy around!" he announces when Kevin tries to intervene. "He talked to me – and he let me hang out with him. That’s more than anyone else in this stinking town ever did!" (Hey, Tom? I hate to break it to you, buddy, but there’s a reason for that….) Soon afterwards, it is discovered that the bees have taken up residence in the Ingrams’ orchard. The Ingrams react, sensibly enough, by starting to pack their bags. But we can’t have that, can we? Never fear, Tom’s here. After brooding on Travis’s grim fate, Tom decides he has to do something to retaliate. Consequently, he goes to his trailer and collects – a shotgun. Let me just repeat that. A shotgun. And so armed, he rides out to the orchard, currently occupied by about 10,000,000 bees, and blasts away at two masses of them. He then has the temerity to look surprised when the remaining 9,999,800 bees get just a tad ticked off with him.

While it comes as no great shock to learn that the makers of Deadly Invasion had seen The Swarm, it is rather startling to realise that they thought that recreating one of the most hysterically stupid scenes in a film chock full of them would be a good idea. And in fact, Deadly Invasion goes The Swarm one better here. While noxious little Paul Durant eventually succumbs to his bee-stings, Tom Redman actually survives to the end of the film. And guess what, folks? He’s still got plenty more acts of stupidity up his sleeve….

Because we’re going to have such a deep emotional investment in them – right? – Deadly Invasion spends some time at the outset letting us get to know the Ingrams. The bee action doesn’t kick in until Travis and Kristyn take their fatal drive. (Hmm….beer, fast car, making out--- Yup, they’re dead!) This leads to two of the film’s more chucklesome scenes. The first comes when Travis’s father barges into the morgue – although not, it seems, to identify the body; rather, he just hangs around while the coroner examines the dead teens. Tasteful. The coroner finds a dead bee on Travis (oh, gee, and I thought killer bees always carried their dead away with them!?), which leads most of the population of Blossom Meadows to the fatal billboard. Now, as we all know, you can’t have a "killer animal" film these days without some Evil Guv’mint involvement; and while the makers of Deadly Invasion stopped short of making the bees the result of an Evil Guv’mint Experiment, they do feel obliged to serve up, not Evil Guv’mint Sp00ks, exactly, but Evil Guv’mint….Department of Agriculture employees!? These two respond to the frantic pleas for help from the Mayor with the suggestion that information pamphlets be distributed in town, and "bee drills" introduced to the schools. "That’s all?" demands the Mayor, appalled by this indifference. "That," responds the female E.G.D.A.E., "is the Government’s Africanised Honey-Bee Draft Action Plan as it now stands" – and then she tilts her head and gives the Mayor a broad smirk, as if she’d just zing-ed him past any possibility of his recovery. She and her fellow E.G.D.A.E. then drive off. Boo!! Evil Guv’mint Department of Agriculture employees!!

This scene also serves to introduce Taylor Pruitt Beauchamp, an eccentric entomologist (oh, wow, now there’s a redundancy, right?) who will wander around being the Voice Of Doom for the next scene or two, until the film just forgets about him. The makers of Deadly Invasion must have assumed that no-one watching this had ever seen a killer bee movie before, because they let Beauchamp crap on and on about bees and their habits, first at the billboard, and then in town, in company with the Ingrams. (As he talks, Beauchamp pours honey all over his hamburger – hyuck, hyuck, hyuck! Those wacky entomologists, hey?) It’s hard to know quite how to react to Dennis Christopher’s performance here. On one hand, it’s a shameless display of scenery chewing. On the other, it’s the only instance of colour and movement in the whole film, and given the lifeless nature of the production overall, it’s hard to be anything other than grateful for it.

(I was less grateful, however, for the shot of a bee stinging Beauchamp, then disembowelling itself, all rendered in glorious close-up. There’s a Humane Society disclaimer on the credits of Deadly Invasion, but I guess their concern didn’t extend past the treatment of Lucy Ingram’s wretched rabbit.)

Of course, it was clear all along that the callousness and carelessness displayed by the E.G.D.A.E.s could only lead to more mayhem for the good citizens of Blossom Meadows, and the bees are next seen crashing the Oliverti wedding – which, the town being the centre of a killer bee invasion, is naturally being held in a garden. (See? Reverend Lovejoy was right!). The sub-woofers of the band hired to play at the reception set the bees off this time, and they express their displeasure in a rather direct fashion. (Everyone’s a critic, I guess.) This leads to an extended sequence containing much of the traditional screaming and flailing about and bumping into stuff – and also to one of the film’s few good moments. Suds a-flying, the heart-rending "child won’t accept new stepmother" subplot has eaten up an irritating amount of screentime to this point, but it does pay off here. As the attack mounts, new bride Linda looks across the lawn to see that her bratty stepson has collapsed beneath a barrage of bees. She doesn’t hesitate: pulling up her long white gloves, and dragging her veil down over her décolletage, she draws a deep breath, hitches up her train, and bravely wades in…. (Linda and Joshua are reconciled after this. I just had to tell you that, ‘cos I knew you’d be fretting otherwise.) This is enough for the Olivertis: they leave town, prompting the Ingrams to do the same – or rather, to plan to. It is at this moment that Tom Redman pulls his masterstroke, which leaves himself and the entire Ingram clan besieged in their house.

(By the way, can I just say how amusing I find it that in the midst of an infestation of killer bees, everyone continues to dress in T-shirts and shorts??)

As film sieges go, this one doesn’t exactly summon up memories of Night Of The Living Dead, if you know what I mean. Given that they are in relative safety, the Ingrams (with help from Tom, of course) are forced to manufacture a series of crises that will keep the film running for another thirty minutes or so. First of all, the bees take out the phone-line – clever little bees! Then adorable little Lucy Ingram remembers that her adorable little bunny rabbit is in her room, where the bees are breaking into the house. So in she goes, getting her adorable self stung. (What isn’t so damn adorable is that Lucy has apparently been keeping that unfortunate rabbit in the one-foot by one-foot pet carrier it came home in!) So then we go through the whole routine of adorable Lucy’s ador---uh, I mean tragic illness, knowing full well they’re not going to kill the little brat off – or her rabbit. About this time, Tom thinks it would be a good idea to confess his role in the current situation to his fellow siege-ees. Unfortunately, instead of the Ingrams lining up to take turns at him with a baseball bat, which you might have expected (and which might have enlivened the proceedings), his punishment consists of nothing more forceful than a few of those pathetic movie-world girly slaps from the teenage daughter, Tracy. Chad Ingram then demonstrates his sense of proportion by overlooking Tom’s role in the possible death of his youngest child, but telling him sternly, "If I’d known you smoked, I wouldn’t have let Kevin hang out with you!" But Tom’s not done yet, ladies and gentlemen! Kevin Ingram discovers that the bees have broken into the attic, and jury-rigs a detergent solution spray-gun to battle them. Unwisely, however, he asks Tom of all people for help, the fact that Tom has certain difficulties keeping his head in a crisis apparently not having sunk in with him yet. Sure enough, although he is asked to do nothing more arduous than "make sure I have enough hose", Tom freezes. Kevin tries to free the "tangled" hose, then loses his footing and plunges through the attic floor into – Lucy Ingram’s bee-infested bedroom. Where else? We then get the only scene that challenges Tom’s shotgun antics for sheer hilarity. Kevin, attacked on all sides, dashes to the bedroom door, only to find he can’t open it. We then cut outside the door, as Kevin shrieks for help, and a dramatic pan-down shows us that the door is jammed on the towels placed on the floor earlier to keep the bees in. Just one slight problem: the towels are on the outside and the door opens inwards!! Nevertheless, Kevin continues to bang on the door and wail for help, not knowing that good ol’ Tom has collapsed in a sobbing heap nearby and is therefore physically incapable of turning a doorknob….

Well, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do; and Chad Ingram finally has a brainwave, and devises an escape route for his family via a crawlspace leading to the barn, the existence of which was established in a less than subtle plot moment early in the film. Incredibly, Chad includes Tom in his mass rescue, although personally I doubt that history would have judged him with any harshness, had he left the useless dweeb to fend for himself (‘cos, you know, Tom’s so good at that!). And then – everything just stops. The bees go away, or so we assume, and we’re left with shots of the Ingrams cleaning up their house and a closing crawl that matches the one with which the film opened (although that one was read out loud, so that illiterates wouldn’t miss anything), warning us that the killer bees could reach Los Angeles by the end of the decade – bum, bum, buuummmm….

So there you have it, folks: a killer bee movie with a body count of two horny teenagers – and I guess you can’t really have a killer animal film without that happening, can you? Oh, yeah – and they do (off-camera) kill off a fat Texas deputy and a bunch of Mes’kins in the opening sequence, but it’s not like anyone cares about them, right?

Of course, if I’d directed this film, it would have ended with the Ingrams throwing open their barn doors and staggering out into the safety of the early morning light – only to be instantly engulfed by killer bees. And then the whole family – and that damn rabbit – and Tom – particularly Tom – would have died in slow, screaming agony….

….which is probably the reason why no-one’s ever offered me a chance at directing a sucky TV movie….

 

                                                         Apismellifera scutellata                                        Doofus incredabilis
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