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Will History blame me or the Bees? 5 Pop Culture Memories of the Killer Bee Invasion of the 1970s

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The Swarm 1978 poster

In recent articles here at Flashbak, I have remembered the weird and wonderful pop culture trends of the 1970s, including the Bigfoot Craze, and the Bermuda Triangle Craze.  Today, I want to direct your attention to the decade’s enduring fascination with…killer bees.

There was something of a media panic about these bees in the seventies.  Apparently, Africanized bees were going to invade America from the southern border (and Texas), and kill citizens by the hundreds in raging swarms.

Oddly enough that didn’t happen. The killer bees must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The behind-the-scenes story of this pop culture panic involved honey bees that were allegedly transported from Africa to Brazil in 1956, but then cross-bred and rendered deadly.  The more aggressive Africanized honey bees escaped from captivity in Brazil and were  — during the Carter Administration – making a run for the border.

Here are just a few great memories of the Killer Bee Pop Culture Panic of the Seventies:

 

The Starlost: “The Beehive”

Disowned by its original creator, Harlan Ellison, The Starlost (1973) was an ultra-low budget dystopian adventure made in Canada and starring Keir Dullea and Gay Rowan. The series concerned a trio of farmer from Cypress Corners — Devon, Rachel, and Garth — who learned that they were travelling aboard a giant, out-of-control spaceship. One of the later episodes during the one-season run found the triumvirate encountering a bio-dome on the Earthship Ark where scientist Antoinette Bower was studying — you guessed it — dangerous bees.  These killer bees could take control of human minds, and deliver lethal stings to their victims.

The Starlost wasn’t the only series that used this idea. In 1977, The All-New Super Friends Hour featured a tale called “Attack of the Killer Bees,” and on Saturday Night Live (1975 – ) a popular John Belushi skit involved killer bees as well. As late as 1980, killer bees were still on view, menacing The Incredible Hulk (1978 – 1981) in the episode “Prometheus”

 

Killer Bees (1974)

Future Charlie’s Angels star Kate Jackson starred in this Curtis Harrington-directed TV-movie that aired on ABC on February 26, 1974.  Killer Bees also featured Gloria Swanson as Madam von Bohlen, a woman who could psychically-direct the killer bees to attack people…

 

The Savage Bees (1976)

Mission: Impossible creator Bruce Gellar produced this made-for-TV movie, which aired on NBC on November 22, 1976.  The story involved killer bees attacking New Orleans, as a sheriff (Ben Johnson) and doctor (Michael Parks) attempted to stop the invasion.

Savage Bees 1976

 

 

In Search of: Killer Bees (1977)

What would one of these articles be without a shout-out to In Search Of, the immortal series hosted by Leonard Nimoy that explored every sensational mystery and aspect of the paranormal known to man.

 

Naturally, there was a killer bees episode…

 

The Swarm (1978)

In Master of Disaster Irwin Allen’s cinematic waterloo, an invasion of America by Africanized killer bees begins in Texas at an air-force base. An entomologist, Dr. Bradford Crane (Michael Caine) joins forces with the military to attempt to stop the deadly swarm, but conventional techniques prove ineffective.  A small town, Marysville, comes under attack just as its annual Flower Festival draws near, and more than 200 people die.  Later, the bee swarm attacks a nuclear power plant, which causes the death of 36,000 Americans.  With the heartland under attack, General Slater (Richard Widmark) grows desperate to stop the bees in their tracks.  Crane thinks the answer may rest with sound, and with the mating call of the killer bees.

So, yes, killer bees are responsible for a nuclear Armageddon in The Swarm.  Even more strangely, stings from the bees cause victims to hallucinate that giant, hovering bees are taunting them.  The film is every bit as ridiculous as that description sounds, but worse, since one cut of the film lasts roughly three hours!

The swarm lobby card

  • Barry Rivadue

    The Swarm was by far the most ludicrous movie of 1978. I suffered through it in a shoebox sized mall theater, a double curse.