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Film / The Swarm

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Irwin Allen brings you the ultimate bee movie.

"Irwin Allen "won" a 1984 Worst Career Achievement Razzie naming him "The Master of Disaster". And The Swarm is the single biggest disaster on his less-than-distinguished résumé. (...) Under Allen's firm hand, and despite the enormous production budget, The Swarm turned the tale of an invasion of killer bees into the ultimate B movie."
The Official Razzie Movie Guide

The Swarm is a 1978 Disaster Movie produced and directed by Irwin Allen, adapted from a novel of the same name by Arthur Herzog.

Texas finds itself besieged by swarms of mutated African killer bees, and the U.S. Army — with the help of entomologist Dr. Brad Crane (Sir Michael Caine) — seek a way to stop them.

The shockingly loaded All-Star Cast includes Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Richard Widmark, Lee Grant, Fred MacMurray, Patty Duke, Henry Fonda, José Ferrer, and Olivia de Havilland in her last theatrical feature (she appeared in a couple more TV movies before retiring).


This film has the examples of:

  • And Starring: "and Fred MacMurray as Clarence... and Henry Fonda as Dr. Krim"
  • Anyone Can Die: As with other Allen productions, anyone with screentime might drop off at any moment. The dead celebs by the end of the movie are Henry Fonda, José Ferrer, Richard Chamberlain (who also bites it in The Towering Inferno), Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Bradford Dillman, and Richard Widmark, while Michael Caine and Katharine Ross are the only ones to survive... at least as far as we know, because Slim Pickens, Lee Grant, and Patty Duke Astin all vanish from the movie without any explanation of their fates.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The movie gets a lot of things wrong with regard to bees, but perhaps the biggest is missing the fact that bees die themselves when they sting people. On top of that, even Africanized bees aren't as ludicrously aggressive as depicted in the movie. The plot would actually have made a lot more sense had it involved wasps rather than bees.
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  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: A horde of killer bees gets into a nuclear power plant. This somehow causes the plant to go critical and go up in a gigantic explosion within seconds, without killing the bees. Well one assumes it killed all the bees in the blast radius. But insects can survive a high roentgen count; any radiation strong enough to kill the bees would also kill us.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: The Marysville Flower Festival, to be precise.
  • Awesome McCoolname: General Thalius Slater.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Rita’s baby is born shortly before Paul dies from a relapse from the bees’ venom.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The bees are eventually killed by lighting an oil slick on fire, after numerous failed attempts. However, a power plant explosion caused by the bees has wiped out a town, toxic pesticides used on Houston will leave it unable to sustain crops for the next ten years (also not helped by the massive manmade burning), and thousands, maybe more, have died.
  • Broken Aesop: The military wants to use pesticides that would damage the environment, while Dr Crane keeps suggesting other methods. Unfortunately, the threat of the killer bees is so overdone (at one stage, they cause the explosion of a nuclear power plant) that this continuing refusal is hard to justify. Especially when his final successful method consists of pouring oil on the ocean and setting it on fire. Since when are burning oil slicks environmentally friendly?
  • The Cameo: About half of the cast is just there for a brief scene to keep the movie flowing.
    • Lee Grant appears as a reporter in search of good footage of the swarm who disappears without explanation.
    • Patty Duke is a pregnant café waitress who falls in love with the doctor who helps her give birth to her child.
    • Slim Pickens is an angry country bumpkin who demands to see the body of his son.
    • NBC newscaster Frank Blair reports after the Marysvilie attack.
    • And Jose Ferrer gets less than three minutes of screentime as a power plant manager, who is both introduced and swarmed by the bees, destroying his plant and wiping out an entire town in the explosion.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Caine as Dr. Crane does this whenever his character is required to get angry, especially when it's suggested by Gen. Slater to use a weapon that would hurt regular bees as well.
    Crane: No! No, General!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Krim has hints of this.
    (after Crane leaves the missile silo's mortuary)
    Major Baker: I noticed Dr. Crane seemed uneasy in here.
    Krim: I can't imagine why anyone would be uneasy around all these dead men. Can you, Major?
  • Death by Adaptation: Dr. Krim
  • Destination Defenestration: When the train from Marysville is crashed by the bees, several passengers are shown flying through windows.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: It's a disaster movie, so...
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Any person who kills even a single bee will be swarmed and killed by thousands of bees within a matter of seconds.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Crane randomly drives past the Astrodome when arriving in Houston.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: There's one scene in which an ambulance crashed through a plate glass window, at which point it promptly exploded. Also, a train overturns, and not just the engine, but the carriages explode.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: When Houston is attacked by bees, soldier with flamethrowers are shown trying to fight them.
  • Hallucinations: People who survived being stung by the bees are shown hallucinating about giant versions of them.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Averted hard, we get a nice scene of some schoolchildren being stung to death and then their school principal looks out the window to see their dead bodies.
  • It's a Long Story: Dr. Crane handwaves the fact how he got into the complex in the first place with this.
    Crane: That's a complicated story. It begins a year ago. But let's skip that.
  • Kill It with Fire: Houston is eventually set on fire to kill the bees. When that fails, using noises that attract them near oil slicks on fire in the gulf of Mexico does the deed.
  • Large Ham: Michael Caine and Richard Widmark's teeth-gnashing arguments make up at least a third of the movie.
    • Henry Fonda's death scene also counts.
  • Love Triangle: One subplot involves two romantic rivals competing over a woman in the small town of Marysville. Not that it matters, as both die part-way through the film.
  • Made of Explodium: When the bees attack Houston they manage to break into a moving ambulance, which promptly collides with a storefront and then explodes like it was made of nitroglycerine.
  • Man on Fire: Several can be seen when the bees make it to Houston, and flamethrowers set everything on fire.
  • Married to the Job: Maureen describes herself as this at one point.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Paul and his friends try to burn the bees that killed his parents with these. They only manage to piss them off, and attack their hometown which leads to over 200 deaths.
  • The Mockbuster: There was enough initial interest in this movie to inspire the Mexican-American co-production The Bees the same year, featuring B-movie stalwarts John Saxon and John Carradine.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The mountains of East Texas are seen as the trainload of evacuees leaves Marysville.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Paul has this moment when his plan to firebomb the swarm fails and pisses them off.
    • Dr. Crane has one when the bees, sensing something amiss, ignore Dr. Hubbard's eco-friendly poison pellets.
    • A group one by Maj. Baker, Helena, Gen. Slater, and Dr. Crane when the bees prove immune to the pesticides dropped on Houston.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. Krim tries the antidote to the bee sting on himself after taking their poison. He fails, and dies like everyone else.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The steady northern advance of "Killer" bees from Latin America was a hotly-discussed news item in the late '70s and early '80s. In reality, they have proven less than disastrous to society.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Dr. Krim.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: The plot is this trope on a massive scale.
  • Shout-Out: A poster for The Towering Inferno is briefly seen at a Marysville theater.
  • Slow Motion: Used on certain bee swarm attacks.
  • The Swarm: It's right there in the title. The killer bees travel in massive swarms.
  • Video Phone: Featured in the military complex where the main characters reside.
  • The Worm Guy: Dr. Crane. He's the world's foremost expert on killer bees, and lives out of his van as he drives across America. Despite this, every (sympathetic) character in the film has heard of him and respects his expertise, and when the President assigns him to dealing with the titular swarm and grants him unlimited in the process, his reaction to all of this is essentially a calm, "I knew this day would come".