Monday, July 16, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Killer Bees

If you grew up during the 1970s, you likely remember the “killer bees” media panic of the era.  The fear -- widely embraced by filmmakers in the era of “animal attack films” -- was that aggressive Africanized bees were going to invade America from the south, and, well, murder us all in their seething, buzzing swarms. 

The behind-the-scenes story behind this panic was that honey bees were apparently transported from Africa to Brazil in 1956, but then cross-bred…and made more dangerous.  A few of the new, more dangerous Africanized honey bees escaped from captivity in Brazil and were  -- during the Carter Administration -- making their relentless way for the Texas border.

The legend went that if the killer bees reached our country, America would only survive another ten years before Bee-mageddon occurred.

Given this creative (and let’s face it, sensational…) backdrop, the 1970s quickly proved the great era of killer bee movies and TV movies, including The Killer Bees (1974), The Savage Bees (1976) and Irwin Allen’s epic fail, The Swarm (1978). 

Cult television was not immune to the killer bee fad, either, and soon this threat from south of the border was informing episodes of many popular American TV programs.

Early in its run, Saturday Night Live featured a recurring comedy skit involving the “Killer Bees,” really John Belushi and Elliott Gould in bee costumes.   Meanwhile, Superman and Aqua Man raced to stop killer bees from attacking a helpless African village in The All New Super Friends Hour episode “Attack of the Killer Bees,” in 1977. 

In 1980, killer bees even combatted The Incredible Hulk in the episode “Prometheus.”

By the 1990s, bees, if not actually killer bees, became a crucial element in The X-Files’ global conspiracy.  There, unlucky bees carried a deadly alien contagion in their stingers, and during “colonization” would infect mankind.  These bees appeared in such fourth season episodes as “Herrenvolk” and “Zero Sum” (as well as The X-Files: Fight the Future in 1998).

Bees of all stripes have long made convenient villains in cult television history.  They have been involved with a meteor freak of the week on Smallville (“Drone”), and even went to space in The Starlost’s “The Beehive”) in 1973.  A seductive Queen Bee appeared as a deadly menace in both The Outer Limits episode “ZZZZZ” in the 1960s and in the early Monsters’ episode “New York Honey in 1988.

Today, the killer bee menace resides, perhaps, in its most appropriate venue, as comedy fodderThe Deadly Bees (1967) was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and bees have made important appearances on The Simpsons, Family Guy and Futurama.

Starting in 2006, the killer bees panic was replaced, largely, by a new global honey bee crisis: colony collapse disorder.  In short, honey bees were seen to be dying in incredible numbers, and scientists were not certain if those deaths were a result of cell phone signals, pesticide use of climate change.

So don’t be surprised to see the bees return to cult television in some new context or form soon.  Below, you can see the Killer Bees in all their glory, on The Incredible Hulk.

And here's a promo for NBC's The Savage Bees:

And below is an informative segment on killer bees (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) from In Search Of (1976 - 1982), episode #6.  It aired originally on May 1, 1977.

Finally, below you'll find a TV promo for The Swarm.


  1. Sean McCormack1:37 PM

    You cut out the part when the Hulk beat the shit out of every single bee.

    1. Ha! You know he tracked each and every killer bee down...and SMASHED!


      Unfortunately, no video of that blood vendetta is available on YouTube presently...


  2. Honestly, between nuclear weapons, fallout and fear of being attacked by the surge of killer bees and/ or fire ants, it's remarkable I am not completely traumatized and scarred for life.

    The 70s was indeed a decade of survival. Entertainment and the news had me positively fearing for my very life. I never quite fully recovered until after high school.

    I'm surprised I didn't run into you somewhere along the way in some kind of underground fallout shelter. : )

    1. Hi SFF:

      It was a weird time, culturally-speaking, those 1970s. We not only had nuclear war and killer bees to worry about, but do you remember people warning of the inevitable Second Ice Age (the context beyond such films as "Quintet.")

      Well, at least this stuff is good fodder for movies and science fiction television, even if it gives us ulcers in the process.

      Great comment, my friend!


  3. Robert5:37 PM

    Love the inclusion of IN SEARCH OF... While I've divested myself of much of my VHS collection, I've held on to several tapes recorded off the History Channel in 2000. The grainy film stock, creepy music, outlandish claims, and the greatness that is Leonard Nimoy make it too much fun to forget. Seeing an episode of IN SEARCH OF... playing in the background of a scene in SUPER 8 was a thrill.

    1. Hi Robert,

      I agree with you about IN SEARCH OF, an amazing product of the wacky 1970s, for all the reasons you aptly mention (grainy film stock, creepy music, outlandish claims and Leonard Nimoy). In the seventies, I watched the show religiously back then.

      I forgot (or didn't notice...) it was playing in the background of one scene in Super 8. Wow, now I have to watch it again...

      Excellent comment!


    2. Anonymous12:55 AM

      I loved watching In Search Of because as a boy in the '70s this non-fiction documentary series entertainingly investigated the very things that Kolchak:The Night Stalker had or would have potentially explored too. Leonard Nimoy's and Carl Kolchak/Darren McGavin's voice-overs always kept the viewer engaged.
      In Search Of also investigated the '70s major mysteries of UFOs[including alien abductions], Bigfoot[Sasquatch, Yeti], Loch Ness Monster and the Bermuda Triangle.



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