Invasion of the Bee Girls / Graveyard Tramps (1973) -***˝
What we have here is yet more irrefutable evidence that the 70’s were a time when popular culture was completely out of its mind. It’s a sci-fi movie with science more crack-brained than anything Sam Katzman came up with in the 40’s, and with technobabble more incomprehensible than even the most outrageous 60’s Japanese monster flick. A sexploitation film in which the women are evil and predatory, and are endowed with the power to fuck men literally to death. And at the same time, it’s a picture which could equally well be a deliriously paranoid satire on the rise of the revitalized women’s movement or a similarly delirious satire directed against the paranoia with which the movement was greeted by the conventional male establishment. But above all else, Invasion of the Bee Girls (I have to ask whether the numbnuts who devised its reissue title, Graveyard Tramps, ever once bothered to watch the thing for himself) is a movie about screwing around which absolutely does not screw around. Its exuberant sleaziness is of a sort that you just don’t see today.
Talking about plot in Invasion of the Bee Girls is, to a great extent, an exercise in futility, but I’ll give it a shot. A scientist named Grasowsky is found dead of a heart attack in a motel room where he had no apparent reason to be in the first place— unless, of course, he was cheating on his wife. Because the lab where Grasowsky worked is both government-funded and involved in research and development for the defense industries, the US State Department sends a security agent named Neil Agar (ex-TV Marlboro Man William Smith, who also appears in Chrome and Hot Leather and The Swinging Barmaids) to investigate the scientist’s death. What he discovers is a veritable epidemic of fatal heart attacks in the small Southwestern town of Peckham, in which all the victims (who are otherwise as unlike one another as any group of people could possibly be) have one thing in common— they are all men who apparently breathed their last while engaging in sexual intercourse.
Agar’s natural inclination is to pay a visit to the woman with whom Grasowsky was last seen alive. Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, from Rosemary’s Baby and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth), the administrative head of the dead scientist’s department, is evasive at first about what she was doing in Grasowsky’s company that night, but eventually Agar gets the full story out of her: “Alright! We balled! And we balled and we balled and we balled some more, until finally he dropped dead!” Needless to say, Miss Zorn has been in no hurry to tell Mrs. Grasowsky.
More deaths from “sexual overexertion” are reported, but by this point it’s obvious that Julie Zorn has nothing to do with them. For one thing, Agar has hardly let her out of his sight since he came to town, and for another, it’s hard to believe that any career woman could find the time for that much fucking with that many partners. Public opinion in Peckham blames an experiment gone haywire at the lab, while sex researcher Henry Murger (Wright King, from Planet of the Apes and The Spell) fears some sort of hitherto undiscovered disease. Murger recommends that the people of Peckham observe strict sexual abstinence until he and his colleagues get to the bottom of the mystery, but his appeal falls on cantankerously deaf ears. Still more deaths follow, and the outlines of the real situation gradually come into focus. It seems that the cause of all Peckham’s troubles is a gang of seductive young women with markedly eccentric taste in sunglasses, and that the ladies in question know exactly what they’re doing. The lingering enigma is how they’re pulling it off and why.
It’s all about mad science, of course. One of the higher-ranking researchers at the laboratory is entomologist Susan Harris (Anitra Ford, from The Big Bird Cage and Messiah of Evil). While investigating… well, something to do with bees, Harris discovered… well, something that gave her the idea that it ought to be possible to merge bee genes with those of human women. “And the point of this would be…?” you ask? Search me, man. I only work here. All I can tell you is that Harris has a secret mad lab in the basement of her workplace, in which she and a bunch of comely, apparently bisexual, female assistants dressed in miniskirt-length lab coats (with nothing under them, naturally) and those curious, distinctive sunglasses slather nude women in waxy, white glop, zap them with radiation, and then lock them in a cabinet full of honeybees. When the women subjected to this treatment are brought out and unwrapped, they have been transformed into “Bee Girls” like their creators, and they then go out to add more victims to the Peckham epidemic. Evidently the sunglasses are meant to conceal the solid black compound eyes which are the Bee Girls’ sole distinguishing physical feature. (If you ask me, this strategy might work a little bit better if the women would pick shades of a design that didn’t look even more like compound eyes than the bug-optics they’re supposed to be hiding…) Anyway, with the help of Zorn, police captain Jim Peters (Cliff Osmond, from Sweet Sugar and Hangar 18), and scientists like Stan Williams (Sid Kaiser, of Black Belt Jones) and Herb Klein (Ben Hammer, from The Beastmaster and Haunts), Agar finally tracks down the truth, and not a moment too soon. When he bursts in on Harris and her Bee Girls, Julie Zorn is right in the middle of a transformation treatment, just one gamma ray blast away from insect-hood herself.
This is another one of those instances in which trying to make sense of a movie is only going to lead to cerebral injury. And like all the best such films, Invasion of the Bee Girls draws as much of its entertainment value from all the crazy shit happening on the sidelines as it does from what we shall call, for lack of a more accurate term, its main story. Take, for example, the fate of Dr. Murger. As Agar and the scientists begin uncovering potentially damaging clues, Harris takes to sending her Bee Girls out to seduce and destroy the men before they can progress any further. Murger, however, is not lethally laid, but run over by a car. This is because Murger, a closet homosexual, is immune to the Bee Girls’ preferred form of attack. What raises that from the mildly amusing to the laugh-out-loud hysterical is the manner in which Murger’s sexuality comes to light: while snooping around in the doctor’s office after his death, Agar discovers the secret passage that leads to Murger’s appallingly tacky gay bondage dungeon! Nor is that all. In another scene only tangentially related to the main thrust of the movie, two characters whom we have never seen before and will never see again turn up the body of a Bee Girl victim when they sneak off to have sex in a darkened building, and the girl sits down directly on the dead man’s hand. “Can’t you wait?” she squawks indignantly at her boyfriend before realizing that there’s a 50% surplus of hands in the picture. There are also gratuitous fist-fights, a gratuitous rape, and even a scene of gratuitous nude dirt-biking.
None of which should be taken to imply that the primary storyline is devoid of wackiness. After all, no sooner has Agar gotten wise to the idea that Peckham is suffering from an outbreak of inexplicable sex-related heart attacks than he climbs into bed with the one woman he knows for sure to have given one of her sex partners a coronary! Nor do any of the other men in town show more common sense when it comes to bedding down with a Bee Girl; hell, some of them go so far as to cheat on their wives in order to do it. The ultimate Putzpuller Prize for Pecker-Directed Thinking, however, must surely go to Stan Williams, who leaps right into the sack when his formerly frigid wife (Beverly Powers— aka Beverly Hills— from Brides of Blood and The Comedy of Terrors) suddenly comes on to him— this after having been told by her earlier in the film that the only circumstances under which she’d have sex with him were if she could be certain it would kill him!
Meanwhile, Invasion of the Bee Girls is a film which points directly to what is missing from movies like Class of Nuke ‘Em High and The Return of the Swamp Thing. I’m talking about commitment. Having had some time to think about it, I’m almost positive that this movie was meant to be taken in jest, and that its flagrant disregard for quality is at least to some extent deliberate. The cumulative effect of the daft setup, the lunatic dialogue, and the myriad minor bafflements on the one hand, and the heavy-handed psychosexual and sociopolitical symbolism on the other is just too much. Meditate for a while on Harriet Williams’s transformation scene, with its endlessly belabored “feminist = killer lesbian” subtext, and soon enough the only question in your mind will be whether you’re looking at one layer of irony or two. But the movie’s tone is so deadpan that its satirical intentions may not be immediately plain, even in scenes which, in retrospect, look utterly transparent. Invasion of the Bee Girls escapes the trap that so often snares people who deliberately set out to make what would generally be considered a bad movie by looking for all the world like it really means it. To be fair, Invasion of the Bee Girls has an advantage over its more modern counterparts in that in 1973, it was still quite easy to find exploitation horror or sci-fi films every bit as ludicrous as this one, which honestly were intended to be taken entirely seriously. Shoot something like this today, and it would be glaringly obvious exactly which cheek your tongue was in from the get-go, but Invasion of the Bee Girls is able to keep a modern viewer off-balance by cracking only the faintest of smiles on only the rarest of occasions. Once they took it upon themselves to poke fun at the escalating battle of the sexes by making a movie upon this ridiculous premise, writer Nicholas Meyer and director Denis Sanders went about their business as if there were nothing ridiculous about it at all. And in so doing, they made it possible to enjoy Invasion of the Bee Girls at whichever level you prefer. Camp editorializing or full-bore drive-in trash— take your pick.