A title with a troubled history on the DVD format, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS is a prime example of the cheeky amusement that early 1970s cinema had to offer, melding 1950s science fiction motifs and updated sexploitation elements to near perfection. Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory arm now adds this underrated gem to its ever-growing Blu-ray collection.
The small town of Peckham, California is plagued by a series of deaths, where various men are found drained of life after sexual intercourse. The local policeman Captain Peters (Cliff Osmond, THE FORTUNE COOKIE) is baffled by the male “stiffs” that are “dropping like flies”, and the folks (well, the fellows) are in an uproar when a curfew is put into place and they are strongly requested to remain abstinent. Since the first victim was involved in government research, the State Department of Security sends in their ace agent Neil Agar (William Smith, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) to investigate these mysterious deaths and he finds an ally in brainy and lovely Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, GROUP MARRIAGE) and they definitely are having trouble remaining abstinent. Julie works at the local medical research center, Brandt, and the deaths may be linked to the facility, as that’s where the slinky, sunglasses-wearing Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford, STACEY)—who drinks coffee with endless packets of sugar—has secretly begun recruiting the local women to join a sect of "bee girls" who crave sex...with lethal results...
The pretty simple concept of INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS gives way for lots of tongue-in-cheek dialogue, plenty of sex and violence, bare breasts and all the drive-in fun you could possibly want. Anchoring the movie is a bizarre but witty script by Nicholas Meyer (later the screenwriter and director of TIME AFTER TIME and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN), which wisely doesn't take itself very seriously and instead plays up the exploitation angles for all it's worth. You get transformation scenes in a futuristic lab with flashing lights and a string of sexy girls rubbing white goop all over naked recruits; interesting nature footage explaining how various insect species kill their mates after intercourse; excellent cinematography by shoestring cameraman Gary Graver (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN), including mosaic "insect vision" shots when the women become sexually aroused; Anitra Ford (and the other bee girls) with glaring, huge black pupils a la John Agar in THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (who probably influenced the hero's name "Neil Agar" in this picture); and a gay scientist (Wright King, PLANET OF THE APES) with a secret kink den is mowed down after a car chase because he can't make it with a woman!
To make the film as believable as possible, director Denis Sanders (1964’s SHOCK TREATMENT) had a great cast to work with. William Smith is always a reliable performer in drive-in films, and he's a handsome, capable hero in this one (it’s great to see him as a good guy for a change during this period in his career). Lovely Victoria Vetri is the love interest heroine in what would become her feature film swan song; after gaining cult status as the frequently nude star of Hammer's WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH and playing her own look-alike (!) in ROSEMARY'S BABY, one wonders why former Playboy pinup retired from the screen after this film? She contributes startling, but great nudity in a nasty back-alley grope-attack scene and during the climax where she’s nearly initiated into the bee girl clan. “Queen Bee” Anitra Ford, a gorgeous former model who got her big break on the early days of "The Price is Right", became a fixture in 1970s exploitation after a dynamite leading role in Jack Hill's THE BIG BIRD CAGE. She specialized in playing tough, gutsy gals who often had a lot going on behind her beautiful eyes. From WONDER WOMEN to MESSIAH OF EVIL, Ford has become a favorite exploitation face among cult film fans because she could actually act and wasn't afraid to show it. If you're a regular follower of 1970s drive-in classics, you will also recognize the late, great Cliff Ormond not only from more mainstream fare, but from his villainous role in Dimension's SWEET SUGAR. There are some great character actors playing the horny scientists, including Ben Hammer (HAUNTS), Sid Kaiser (BLACK BELT JONES), Andre Philippe (GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN) and easily recognizable Cliff Emmich (HALLOWEEN II) is the portly coroner. Best of all is Jack Perkins (who specialized in playing drunks on classic sitcoms such as “All In The Family” and “The Odd Couple”) as a loudmouth protesting at the town hall meeting (“Me, for one, ain’t gonna give up what little pleasure I get from screwing my old lady, or anyone else for that matter!”).
Among the “bee girls” you will find several of your favorite B-girls from sexploitation films of the 1970s, some apparently on loan from the skinflicks of Harry Novak (!). Though her face isn't shown, it is undoubtedly red-headed vixen Sharon Kelly (aka Colleen Brennan, THE DIRTY YOUNG MIND OF SALLY) who balls a biker to death after arriving on her own bike in the nude. Sexploitation favorite Kathy Hilton (THE EXOTIC DREAMS OF CASANOVA) and porno pixie Rene Bond (TEEN-AGE JAIL BAIT) appear in a few group scenes, but it's tough to find them. It's easiest to catch them during the frenzied electric sparks-filled climax: Bond is the bee girl who is electrocuted when Smith throws a metal rod in her way to escape (like all the bee girls in these scenes, they’re sporting dark sunglasses, so it’s difficult to decipher who is who). You'll also be surprised to see Beverly Hills (BRIDES OF BLOOD, MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE), billed by her married name Beverly Powers, as the frigid wife of a doctor (Kaiser). She looks completely different from her 1960s sexbomb days, but still gives a breathy, enjoyable performance. Future David Lynch film editor Mary Sweeney (who was also married to the cult director briefly) can be seen as a bee girl (and it turned out to be her only film role) and as a widowed housewife-turned-bee girl, shapely Anna Aries is stripped naked and covered in goop (and then blanketed in buzzing bees) in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Originally released theatrically by Centaur, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS was later re-released under the ridiculous title GRAVEYARD TRAMPS. A staple of late night TV (in a heavily edited version) it was first released on VHS by Embassy in 1983, and it’s also had several other budget VHS and DVD releases over the years (and all were apparently uncut). When MGM acquired the film and released it on DVD as a “Midnite Movies” double feature (with AIP’s early 1960s cheapie INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES) in 2004, it was trimmed of a few seconds of Beverly Powers’ nude striptease seduction of her husband. More recently, Shout! Factory licensed the film and released it on DVD as part of the “Cult Movie Marathon Volume 1” collection. While the aforementioned scene was restored, the transfer still suffered from other small trims and missing dialogue, likely due to print damage. It was believed that release would be the final word on the title, and that the original elements were missing, but then Shout! Factory/Scream Factory surprised everyone by announcing it on Blu-ray!
For this Blu-ray release, with a new HD transfer taken from the internegative, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS has been mastered in 1080p, and the results are absolutely splendid, and rest assured, it’s fully uncut and definitive. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image has excellent textures (skin tones in particular) and depth, now with lots of extra detail in the nighttime scenes. Colors are extremely bold and have nice punch, while grain is faint yet organic in appearance. Black levels are deep, with only a handful of scattered source blemishes to be witnessed. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track has good fidelity and decent range, doing justice to the terrifically quirky score by Charles Bernstein (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), and there’s no noticeable hiss or other distortion. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. Extras include the theatrical trailer, radio spots and an image gallery. (George R. Reis and Casey Scott)
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