The Swarm is a 1978 disaster movie and horror feature film about a killer bee invasion of Texas. Produced and directed by Irwin Allen from a screenplay written by Stirling Silliphant, adapted from a novel of the same name by Arthur Herzog.
The cast includes Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Fred MacMurray (in his final film appearance), and Henry Fonda.
Many filmgoers and critics consider this film one of the worst “disaster films” ever made, along with Allen’s subsequent bombs Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and When Time Ran Out.The film was released initially at 116 minutes. When released on laserdisc in the 1980s, it was inexplicably expanded to a whopping 156 minutes! This epic 156-minute version is the one available on DVD.
A group of soldiers led by Maj. Baker (Bradford Dillman) is ordered to investigate a basement level station which they believed was attacked. After Baker contacts his commander, Gen. Slater (Richard Widmark), they begin to investigate who drove a civilian van into the base.
It is revealed to be owned by a scientist named Doctor Bradford Crane (Michael Caine), the only survivor of the attack. Slater orders two helicopters to check for a black mass (revealed to be bees), but the two helicopters are swarmed by the bees and explode, killing the pilots inside. Crane insists to Slater that the base was attacked by the same African killer bees that destroyed the helicopters. Helena Anderson (Katharine Ross), one of the base’s doctors, supports Crane’s story.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, a family is attacked by a swarm of the bees. The teenaged son manages to escape in a truck, although he is also bitten, and crashes into the Maryville town square, where the citizens are preparing for the annual flower festival. The boy is brought into the hands of military personnel, where he hallucinates a vision of giant bees attacking him, due to the aftereffects of the bee sting. Doctor Walter Krim (Henry Fonda) confirms to Crane that the very war they have feared for a long time has started against the bees.
At the gates of the base, Slater must confront angry country bumpkin Jed Hawkins (Slim Pickens) who demands to see the dead body of his son, who was terminated by the bees. Hawkins takes the body bag and departs, leaving the entire watching crowd silent over the loss. Slater suggests air-dropping poison on the swarm, but Crane considers the ecological possibilities of the situation.
Recovering from his earlier bee attack, the bitten son and some friends go in search of the hive to firebomb it, which results only in angering the bees, who head to Marysville…
“The constant arguments between Caine and Widmark are tiring, but God damn they are also hysterical and at a deafening volume as though chewing up scenery on their own wasn’t enough they had to compete for it when on-screen together. It also makes no sense at all that they don’t agree on one single issue, but who cares? They scream at each other throughout and it’s priceless.” Chud Beagle Music
“Actually, I think the special effects are decent, the score is good, and it makes nice use of color. But the script is a train wreck, full of overheated and unbelievable dialogue, and the many name actors that make up the cast struggle valiantly but unsuccessfully with it.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“Adding nearly 40 minutes to a bad film seems to be some sort of “f*ck you” to audiences, as if to say “Look, if you want to watch The Swarm, you might as well watch every single frame that exists of the damn thing, because you deserve it.” So what might have been a merely silly slice of 70s disaster fare becomes a full blown endurance test…” Horror Movie a Day
“The ludicrous dialogue is something to hear: “I never thought it would turn out to be the bees – they’ve always been our friends” laments Caine. “Smells like bananas” observes immunologist Henry Fonda of the bee venom, this after claiming he doesn’t oil the wheels of his chair because he is studying Tibetan levitation and therefore won’t need it for much longer, well of course.” The Spinning Image
Cast and characters:
- Michael Caine as Doctor Bradford Crane
- Katharine Ross as Helena Anderson
- Richard Widmark as General Thaddeus Slater
- Richard Chamberlain as Doctor Hubbard
- Olivia de Havilland as Maureen Schuester
- Ben Johnson as Felix Austin
- Lee Grant as Anne MacGregor
- Jose Ferrer as Doctor Andrews
- Patty Duke as Rita
- Slim Pickens as Jud Hawkins
- Bradford Dillman as Major Baker
- Fred MacMurray as Clarence Tuttle
- Henry Fonda as Doctor Walter Krim
- Cameron Mitchell as General Thompson
- Christian Juttner as Paul Durant
- Morgan Paull as Doctor Newman
- Alejandro Rey as Doctor Martinez
- Don “Red” Barry as Pete Harris