Dec 10 2013 1:00pm

Cheering the Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) with star William Smith

Invasion of Bee Girls (1973), also known under the title Graveyard TrampsRoger Ebert said of Invasion of the Bee Girls, at the time of its 1973 release, “[it] is the best schlock soft-core science fiction movie since maybe The Vengeance of She." Wow. And did Ebert invent a genre there?

In writing about this movie, which is my personal top 10 all time favorite cult films, I don’t want to get bogged down with a long rundown of its plot. For one thing, anyone reading this could get that from IMDB or 20-30 other places on the web. For another, people who haven’t seen the movie, and want to, should experience it the way I originally did: with only a vague sense of what it is about. Let it surprise you.

But, for some reference, here are a few particulars: the tale is set in a place called Peckham, in California. It’s a small town that’s home to a scientific research complex. Men, both inside and outside of the science center, are dying of heart failure. And none of them had cardiac conditions before. Autopsies reveal that they were all into some intense nookie at the time of their passing; or, as one character states, they were “coming and going at the same time.” Because the research center is government-sponsored, the feds get interested and send in one of their agents to investigate.

The cast is ideal. Anitra Ford, one of the original “Barker’s Beauties” models on The Price is Right, portrays a sultry, remote, dangerous lady scientist. 1968's Playboy Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri is another researcher, and is the good-girl sexy scientist, to balance out Ford’s bad girl-sexy scientist. William Smith, who has an acting CV that goes on forever and who had played badass motorcycle dudes prior to Bee Girls, is the federal agent. That trio makes up the main players, but there are several enjoyable side characters.

Anitra Ford in Bee Girls

Smith, who was gracious enough to answer a few questions of mine about the movie, describes how he came to take on the role of the hunky agent Neil Agar.

Editor's note: Just in case you weren't sure yet... like many other theatrical releases of its era, this film contains abundant skin and frankly sexual references.

Here's Smith's response to my query about how he felt about playing a hero after portraying baddies in earlier roles:

William Smith in Bee Girls“I knew the director, Denis Sanders, through our mutual friend Fred Weintraub. We had talked about working together, and this was a perfect opportunity. Actually, I had recently played a 'good guy' in Grave Of the Vampire and Gentle Savage and I was looking for more 'good guy' leading roles at the time, which was one of the main things that interested me about doing this part.”

The movie offers an endless bevy of hot babes, gay characters, tensions between Peckham’s working class townies and the high-falutin’ scientists from the laboratories, a wealth of oversize sunglasses and deliriously large 1970’s computing equipment, psychedelic mirror scenes, fisticuffs, a climax that I’m not even going to try to describe . . . . And there’s constantly quotable dialogue. My own favorite line comes from am embittered woman who’s in a loveless marriage to one of the researchers. She tells her long-faced hubby, at their bedtime and with her own mug covered in cold cream, that if she thought that having sex would kill him, she’d be all for undoing their longstanding abstinence. Ahh, love. One of the scenes I enjoy the most is an incidental one, that just comes out of nowhere and ends as abruptly, and that involves a motorcycle, a woman in some cool-ass boots and nothing else, and she and her lover tumbling down a hillside. There’s lots of bee buzzing, too, natch.

Another victim of the Bee GirlsFor me the most intriguing thing about this odd film is its director, Denis Sanders. This is a man who began his cinematic career by winning an Oscar for his first short film. He later directed the likes of Robert Redford, Lauren Bacall, and Sydney Pollack, and wrote (with his brother) the screenplay for the film adaptation of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead.  Then he somehow wound up doing a documentary about Elvis’s late ‘60’s comeback, and another music-related film, before accepting the Invasion of the Bee Girls gig. Bee Girls was released when he was only 44 yet it is his last known big screen credit, even though he lived another 14 years after its opening.

“I really liked working with Denis,” Smith relates. “He was a very talented director and writer, and nice to work with. It was sad that he died so young.  I was looking forward to working with him again. Anitra Ford and Victoria Vetri I remember as both being good to work with. Victoria was very popular at the time, having recently been Playboy Playmate Of The Year, and she was still trying to get her acting career in gear.”

The thing about Bee Girls is that, despite its schlocky premise, it is a genuinely good movie. No, it can’t be taken seriously. But it’s not like one of those camp films where you laugh the whole time because the acting is so bad, you see the microphones hanging from the ceiling and actors clearly reading from cue cards that are taped to the floor, etc. There’s a very strong atmospheric tone to the movie, the characters are convincing and compelling, there’s mind-altering effects and other striking sensory enhancements. And the story, silly though its premise is, moves along and keeps you watching to see what will happen next. I enjoy it on both a camp level and in a way where I view it without my tongue resting in my cheek. I wish I had seen it on the big screen when it first came out, preferably at a drive-in, maybe paired up on double bill with The Vengeance of She.

I asked Smith how he remembers Sanders’s and the cast’s perspective on the movie, specifically wanting to know whether they were conscious of it being a camp project:

“I think that all of us in the cast and on the crew took this as a fairly serious film, and not anything campy. I feel that Denis certainly felt that way, and he was trying to pattern the feeling of the film after the same type of style and underlying tension that you got from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which was a favorite of his. I always play a character straight unless the director tells me otherwise, and I think that even though the film is considered a little campy by today's standards, at the time it was released it was thought of as a straight science fiction / action film.

Victoria Vetri in Bee Girls

“I watched it again a couple of years ago, and I thought that it held up pretty well, considering it was made over forty years ago. It still has charm to it, even if it is in a very “70s” sort of way. I think that it is definitely a film that will always be considered a cult classic of that era, and of the genre.”

No doubt. Roger Ebert tagged it as such as soon as he viewed it.


This Sweepstakes has ended.

To enter for a chance to win a DVD copy of  Shout Factory's Cult Movie Marathon, Volume 1 (including Invasion of the Bee Girls, The Devil's 8, Unholy Rollers, and Vicious Lips), make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Bee Girls Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry  at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/12/cheering-the-invasion-of-the-bee-girls-1973-with-star-william-smith beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 10, 2013. Sweepstakes ends 12:59 p.m. ET December 17, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Brian Greene's short stories, personal essays, and writings on books, music, and film have appeared in more than 20 different publications since 2008. His articles on crime fiction have also been published by Crime Time, Paperback Parade, Noir Originals, and Mulholland Books. Brian lives in Durham, NC with his wife Abby, their daughters Violet and Melody, their cat Rita Lee, and too many books. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianjoebrain.

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Clare 2e
3. clare2e
Just in case sad, deprived people don't know what you mean...
Susan Meek
5. smeek1958
What a fun "guilty pleasure" for those snowy nights!
8. Pat Carson
Sounds like a night for storms and wind and things that go bump in the night!!!!
Heather Martin
9. CrystalMirror
While I was growing up, my Sat. afternoons were spent watching these films with my brother. The nightmares they gave me were worth the fun.
susan beamon
13. susanbeamon
Movies from a silly time, when we were changing how we thought of lots of things. I wouldn't mind assing this DVD to my collection.
Deidre Durance
14. ddurance
There's nothing like a good B movie! lol
Laurence Coven
16. Holmes
For many years I was an actor in Chicago and I knew Roger Ebert. He was smart, a great writer-reviewer, and always had a sharp eye for the good "Guilty pleasures" as he called them. So if he recommended this film--it may not be a great film in the classic sense, but it's sure to be a fun movie. Roger would never lead his readers wrong.
Robin Weatherington
17. rawfish
Seriously, What's not to like about B girls?
Lisa Richardson
18. keizerfire
My friends and I are now having a wonderful time introducing our grandchildren to the B movies we loved!
Vernon Luckert
19. vl4095
Sounds like stories of my friends ex-wife!
Deanna Stillings
22. reader123
Wow...I was young then, but should remember this. I don't. I'd love to win it.
Michael Carter
27. rubydog
This sounds great.
I'd love to win.
Please enter me.
Thanks --
Jason Bloom
28. mistergloom
I was born after this movie came out (not by much) and I remember the first time I ever saw it rather clearly. For an 8-year old, this was one HOT and innapropriate movie! I would LOVE to have a copy!
John Maline
29. jpmaline
Mr. Ebert and I think the same thoughts about this movie!
Timothy Raab
30. marine87
Love the Bee Girls! Have not seen the others and would love to!
Cheryl English
33. RoyalCheryl
All I can say is let the fun begin, or is it going to end?
Karen Terry
34. bblol65
I get it. The bee girls are queens. They mate with the male and he dies. This is a funny film lol.
lynette barfield
35. lynette
Sounds interesting and I would like a copy
36. Heather B
Would love to check this out!
Joyce Mitchell
39. JoyceLm
Interesting review. Thanks for the chance to win.
41. ronframpton
love old b films
Thomas Walker
43. twalker
this looks absolutely great. really fun. I would love to win it!!!
vicki wurgler
45. bison61
unholly rollers-love that. these would be fun to watch
Cindi Hoppes
48. CindiHoppes
I am definitely old enough to have remembered this, but don't!
I would enjoy watching this film, along with my husband and our
two sons...
Thanks, Cindi
49. William Benson
I like to watch old wacky movies.
Chris Mckenzie
51. silversurfer206
Awesome giveaway. I've never seen this and would love to. Thanks
judy oliver
53. jjudyfl
I'll save a place for it next to Barbarella...
54. Arlene Domkowski
I love this film!!
Piero Giorno
56. 51Rocker
What a great collection of B movies to remind me of those long ago days of Saturday afternoon at the movies, and falling in love with all those luscious B girls actresses. The four movies in this DVD would sit proud in my collection of films.
Jeanette Barney
58. eyeluvbooks59
I am not sure if it is considered a cult movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I love black and white "B" movies also.
60. augrim
Why isn't everyone interested in this kind of high quality entertainment?
62. Mary Richardson
These would be so cool for my son. He's 27 and having a birthday this weekend. He loves this stuff!
Mary Wild
63. WildMary
These would be cool for my son. He turns 27 this weekend and he love this stuff! I'd give it up for him. :-)
babs allen
64. babsji
Sounds fun, I'm getting sick of all the christmas stuff that been playing since the first of november!
Gef Fox
65. wagthefox
I have never heard of this movie before, but after reading this, I can't help but absolutley crave watching it. Glad to read it's played straight too, and not as a schlocky jokefest. That always helps to carry a movie like this. Great post.
Melissa Keith
66. melly801
OMG. How did I miss these cult gems. I mean how can you top BLONDE IN BLACK LEATHER, ERASERHEAD, FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL! KILL!? I would love to win these films as I have a friend I'd like to share them with. We used to watch cult classics all the time back in the 80's. I'll bet she's seen a couple (if not all) of these. HAPPY HOLIDAZE!
elizabeth findlay
70. eafindlay
Godzilla & Big Bugs are always a favorite of mine.
Jeanette Jackson
71. lindahl
I would love to add this DVD to my movie collection.
72. cheekysod7
satisfying schlock
jamie schreiber
78. ljejmd6
This looks awesome! Never seen these before. I would really enjoy them, TY!! :)
84. Rickie Hinrichs
Just come love me.
Carolyn Dileo
87. cbdileo
Oooh, perfect for a winter's night!
Thank you!
Wayne Lecoy
89. hotrodguy
I am entering your giveaway.
It would be great to win a DVD copy of Shout Factory's Cult Movie Marathon, Volume 1 (including Invasion of the Bee Girls, The Devil's 8, Unholy Rollers, and Vicious Lips).
I haven't watched any of these movies.
Thanks for having this giveaway!!!!!!!
M. Froomkin
90. flashfire50
William Smith was great as a good guy in Laredo...and great as a bad guy in Rich Man, Poor Man.
92. Gianna
Sounds fun. Thanks for the giveaway!
Kristen Hendricks
94. Winterfan3
The plots of these movies sound so interesting to me. I would absolutely love to win them on DVD! Thanks for the great giveaway and opportunity to win.
kathy pease
95. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
Heather Cowley
96. choochoo
Fun giveaway, as creepy as they are! lol
Susan Smoaks
97. susansmoaks
thanks for the chance to win, i would love to win this for my husband and me!
Buddy Garrett
98. garrettsambo
I'm Speechless. I loved the Unholy Rollers. Wow, all the movies sound great.
100. sue myers
love to win for my great husband!!
Mallory Bailey
102. mallorybailey1
I would love a copy of this movie. Sounds interesting!
Stacy Thibert
103. stacyt
Looks like a great collection for a movie marathon during the snowy days ahead...
Sherri ashburner
104. Sherriska
Wowee I missed this one! Must invite the "unusuals" over for movie nite!
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