“Halloween Twenty-Fifteen”: A Review of “The Swarm” (1978)

swarm_poster_01I think director Irwin Allen’s creativity sunk along with the S.S. Poseidon. This movie which I am about to review is bad—incredibly bad. It’s so bad I am going to use the word bad enough times that Google searches for “bad” in years to come will churn out this movie review. The Swarm stars an all-star cast of Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Haviland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Henry Fonda, and about a million bees both real and primitively computer generated. It’s hard to believe that with such star power a film could be this bad, but it is. Everything about this production from start to finish is bad. The acting is bad, the special effects are bad, the script is bad (I kept thinking of Nicholas Cage screaming, “Not the bees!” every five to ten minutes), the story and suspension of disbelief are bad, but the slow-motion murders of seemingly hundreds of characters at the hands (or stingers) of killer bees are not bad, they are terrible. Nothing about this project in any way, shape, or form is ever believable or remotely interesting in any way. A swarm of African killer bees randomly shows up in the American southwest and kills an entire military base’s worth of soldiers and begin to terrorize Texas one city at a time. They leave behind a swath of destruction that would make William Tecumseh Sherman proud.

In the midst of chaos, a stoned Michael Caine shows up as the Jesus Christ of bee experts, maintaining his composure and coming up with a solution every ten seconds in the middle of Armageddon. He brings in a wheelchair-bound doctor friend (Fonda) who tries to work out a quick fix to extinguishing the bees. Widmark plays a military general opposed to Caine at every turn, determined to treat the bees as human enemies (who have the mental capacity to strategize and lay out battle plans such as laying siege to Houston). He wants to use the army to drop dangerous chemicals on them while Caine’s team of idiots want to use natural means. The brain trust headed by other assistants (Chamberlain and Ferrer) offers up the suggestion to ice bomb the bees. When they do, the bees just fly away. Any and all dramatic tension built up en route to this disaster dissipates without a whimper. That is the feeling of this movie. Every time it has a chance to actually be good, the marring acting and camerawork shoots it all to hell, and it ends up being just plain bad. The dialogue when you realize they are talking about bees will give you a hearty chuckle.

There is scene towards the end where Fonda manages to kill himself with a combination of bee sting poison and a failed antidote that drags on so long you begin to hope that bees will fly through your TV screen and sting you to death because you can’t take it much longer. When people are killed in droves, they die in slow-motion, covered by tiny specs. Poor Richard Chamberlain, who is such a fantastic actor unworthy of the ridiculous death scene he was given. After his solution falls through and the bees descend on Houston (after blowing up a nuclear power plant and killing 30,000 people in a scene you will have to see to believe) Widmark’s only plan is to send in a squad of soldiers marching through the streets with flamethrowers. However, they manage to set buildings on fire and blow things up and are quite ineffective against their enemy whom Widmark constantly refers to as “The Africans”. The flamethrower death squad even manages to think that shooting their weapons inside buildings was a good idea. They essentially burn Houston to the ground in a matter of hours. Yes, Sherman would be proud.

With an ending that only Irwin Allen and the 1970’s could produce, Caine and the only surviving team member he has left, Katherine Ross, (Agatha Christie would also be proud) finally figure out the way to kill the killer bees. They instruct the military to lure the bees into the Gulf of Mexico with sound waves attached to their helicopters, drop the devices into the water along with thousands of gallons of oil, and set the oil on fire when the bees move in towards the sound waves. The ensuing flames burn all the little bastards to a crisp, and the day is saved.

During all of this there is a love triangle with Johnson, de Haviland, and Fred MacMurray. It is a pointless time-waster, much like the rest of the film. But that’s okay, because they all die. In fact, I think nearly everyone in the cast dies except for Caine and Ross. Sorry if I spoiled it for you, but that is kind of my point. A public service to spare you from seeing this bad movie. Have you ever watched one of those movies where you actually rooted for the characters to die? Well, this is your Holy Grail. While the movie was deplorable (and bad, of course) at least I turned it off feeling a slight bit satisfied. Supposedly the director refused to have the name of this project mentioned around him the rest of his life. Good idea. It was a bad idea that turned into a bad production. It left me wondering why so many actors were attracted to this for reasons other than a fat paycheck, if there were any. It is a dark stain on the so-called “Master of Disaster’s” otherwise decent career (I’ll forgive him for the Poseidon Adventure sequel). You wouldn’t see something this stupid on the Scy-Fy Channel. That says a lot.

3 out of 10 stars.

More articles in this special “Halloween Twenty-Fifteen” column can be found here.

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