Retro Review: Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)
Review by Keri O’Shea
If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘May you live in interesting times’ then you’ll probably see how this isn’t necessarily a good thing, and the folk around to remember the world back in 1973 would probably be able to tell you a lot more about that. See, the early Seventies were ‘interesting times’ alright. After the Summer of Love came the hangover, and the hangover was a bitch. The world had changed. Emancipated women were great in some ways, but perhaps a teeny bit threatening in others. And, we see that concern played up to its zenith in the schlocktastic Invasion of the Bee Girls, because you can often spot a germ of truth in even the wackiest mirrors. Invasion of the Bee Girls is wacky, but it’s not dumb.
When a horny old research scientist is found dead in a motel room of what is tactfully referred to as “extreme exhaustion”, it doesn’t take the guys at the morgue too long to work out that he died of a massive heart attack, which they reckon was brought on by strenuous playing away. If this was a regular Joe, that might be the end of the story, but the Brandt research lab where he worked had links to governmental business, so Special Agent Neil Agar (William Smith, giving David Warbeck a run for his money) is sent to Peckham, California to investigate.
Agar starts by interviewing the departmental librarian and assistant of the deceased, Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, probably best known for leaping to her death from the Bramford building in Rosemary’s Baby). Ms. Zorn might be wearing spectacles and she might have her hair pinned up, but as we all know, that makes her a mere few seconds away from Sexual Abandon and she quickly confesses as much to Agar. Maybe it’s this, or the fact that she’s a useful ally in finding out what has been going on at Brandt, or probably both, but anyway, they team up to try to find out what has been going on.
Meanwhile, more and more dead men start to stack up – all checking out in the same way – and it’s up to Agar and the town sheriff to try and prevent any more deaths. They propose a curfew and complete sexual abstinence in Peckham until they solve the case; this is an idea which goes down like a cup of cold sick amongst the (male) residents at the town meeting, despite the risks. Add to this the fact that a lot of the other horny old research scientists Agar interviews declare that they probably wouldn’t mind ‘coming and going at the same time’ and you can see how Agar and Zorn have their work cut out…
But what of the cuckolded wives, left behind by their husband’s motel-room deaths? Someone, somewhere, is contacting them to invite them to the Brandt laboratory to find out what happened to their husbands…and, once they have taken up this invite, something about them changes…hell, they emerge as horny as their dearly departed, and no men, it seems, are safe…
Oh, wow. Sure, Invasion of the Bee Girls has enough soft-core T&A to work perfectly well as a piece of titillation, which is fine, but it gets a lot of other things very right too, so it’s easy to see it as a bit more than that. For starters, it moves along at a good pace – building the plot quickly and letting the audience in on just that much more than Agar & Zorn are aware of, without providing a big plot reveal of what the mysterious lab invite means until around an hour minutes in (and, blimey, Tomorrow’s World was never like this). It’s also very funny, albeit in a rather skeevy way; a scene where a girl thinks she’s getting prematurely felt up by her boyfriend until she realises she’s sat on a dead man’s hand made me laugh out loud, and the outraged response to the sex ban likewise.
Alongside all of this, propped up by a decent working script and earnest performances, you can read a bit more into Invasion of the Bee Girls…if you’re so inclined, that is. If you’re not, keep watching, more breasts shall be along presently, For me, I couldn’t help noticing the anxiety surrounding sex throughout the film. It felt like it was poised between two schools of thought; there are the old boys, hur-hurring amongst themselves about which women are ‘frigid’ and which aren’t, confidently cheating on their wives, even some who are prepared to take what they want by force (oh, and did I mention some of the scenes here are actually pretty nasty?) By the same token, and for all their bluster about it being ‘the way they want to go’, some of them get their wish, and they’re left pathetic, naked, dead and blue for their trouble. It’s not sold to us as a noble exit, and I’d say we’re encouraged to empathise with the voracious women, rather than the men they seduce. As for the women, those women who break out of the passive, no-libido-of-ones-own pattern are obviously very dangerous indeed. More than that, women! With careers! And knowledge! And LIBIDOS! Will bring down society! Hey, I wonder if this movie was a formative influence on Mitt Romney?
Invasion of the Bee Girls is massively entertaining; it has enough of that retro schlock appeal to make it engaging in-a-time-capsule-sort-of-way, but it’s possible to see a little more at its heart too. The performance of the lovely Anitra Ford as Dr. Susan Harris is an added bonus here – oh, and it plays out to Thus Spake Zarathustra. Are you ordering it yet?