Not all exploitation movies are created equal. While many are pure trash, there are those that are smarter than they need to be. Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) (aka Graveyard Tramps) is one such gem. A small California town is experiencing a rash of strange deaths, men are being found dead from sexual exhaustion, and a federal government agent is sent it to track down the cause. Little does he know, the killers are women who have been mutated into bee girls. As one would expect in a film about “death by sex,” nudity abounds. Even though one could anticipate elaborate makeup effects from a film with “bee girls” in the title, the gore and special effects are fairly minimal in the actual movie. The film does not take itself too seriously, though it keeps the camp at just the right level without going too over the top.
The small town of Peckham, California has a problem; it is experiencing a rash of deaths of middle-aged men where the cause of death apparently is “sexual exhaustion.” When John Grubowsky, a scientist at government contractor Brandt Research, is found to be a victim of this outbreak, the U.S. State Department sends in special agent Neil Agar (veteran actor William Smith) to investigate. Agent Agar heads to the laboratories and meets the librarian, Julie Zorn (1968 Playboy Playmate of the Year and genre favorite Victoria Vetri). Zorn lets Agar know that the laboratory is a hotbed of sexual activity – “Scientists really aren’t any different from the rest of humanity, just a bit more inventive, that’s all.” What Agar and Zorn do not know is that one of the female scientists, entomologist Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford, one of the original spokesmodels/Barker’s Beauties from The Price is Right) is not the “sexual iceberg” that the male scientists think that she is. She is actually a sexually insatiable mutant human/bee hybrid who is driven to have sex with men until they die. She is also using her nuclear lab to mutate other women it town into bee girls, increasing the size of her hive. Will Agar and Zorn find out Dr. Harris’ secret and be able to stop her before all of the men are dead and all of the women have been changed into bee girls?
This is a movie about women who have sex with men until the men die. Needless to say, nudity is featured rather heavily in this picture. Bare breasts and bare buttocks abound. The female lead, Victoria Vetri, is a former Playboy Playmate of the Year and many of the background bee girls are 1970s softcore and hardcore actresses, so this does not appear to be a problem for them. This is not to say that Invasion of the Bee Girls is a softcore film. Full-frontal nudity is avoided, with tactically placed props and foreground objects blocking “the naughty bits,” reminiscent of an old Benny Hill sketch. Even the sex scenes are surprisingly tame and discrete. They mostly consist of first-person shots, either from the men looking up at the black insect eyes of the women or from the women’s bee-eye view down to the dying men. The most explicit scene, if one could even call it that, is when the bee girls are transforming one of the widows into a mutant, wherein they smear her body down with some sort of white goop (spun honey, perhaps?). The film is really more about titillation, with the body parts on display quite literally limited to T & A.
The gore and special effects in Invasion of the Bee Girls are fairly low-key. Though drone bees quite literally pop, lose their reproductive organs, and die after mating, the deaths of the males in the film are a bit less dramatic. They generally just moan and keel over. Most of the time, the audience only sees the aftermath – a dead man with a tiny pool of blood, if any, near his head. The only other gore is a scene of someone clawing at their own face during the film’s climax, but it is very brief and not that explicit. The appearance of the bee girls is equally underwhelming. Most of the time, they look like any other women, though they do go for the early 1970s version of being glamorous as well as wearing oversized sunglasses. When they are in the midst of their mating frenzy, their eyes become solid black, but not much else changes. It is a missed opportunity for cool monster makeup for the woman and gory demises for the men. Instead, the audience gets black scleral lens for the women and the smallest bit of blood for the men.
If Invasion of the Bee Girls was just about nudity and gore, there honestly would not be much to recommend it. Instead, it sports a surprisingly smart and witty script. This should come as no surprise as it is the freshman scriptwriting effort of future Academy Award nominee Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Pre-Cent Solution, Time After Time). There are a lot of amusing exchanges of dialogue that are nicely underplayed. For example, when Agent Agar is starting to put the pieces together and asks some of the scientists about the possibility of human/animal hybrids, there is this exchange, which is played fairly straight:
Agent Agar: Can you cross a man and a horse?
Aldo Ferrar (Andre Philippe): I told him you’d get a centaur, mythologically speaking.
Stan Williams (Sid Kaiser): Realistically speaking, you’d get a summons for bestiality.
The filmmakers know that this is a silly concept, but they do not let the silliness get out of hand. There is camp here, that is for certain, but it never reaches the overly-broad level of camp such as that found in 1960s era Batman (1966). It is just campy enough that the audience knows that the filmmakers are in on the joke, but the film still keeps a straight face.
Invasion of the Bee Girls is not a good film, but it sure is fun. It has lots of fetching nudity, but it has a more innocent feel, like a 12-year-old snickering at pictures of “boobies and butts.” The special effects and gore are not much to write home about, but they work within the context and feel of the film. Campy without being overly so, the movie has a sly and smart sense of humor and an overall feeling of fun. If one is in the mood for a silly and sexy exploitation film about mutant bee women who screw middle-aged men to death, then there is no better film to watch than Invasion of the Bee Girls.
Invasion of the Bee Girls (2.8 / 5)