The Reprobate Movie Night: Beastly Bugs Double Bill

A pair of 1970s TV movies about the creepy crawly threat of savage bees and panic-inducing ants.

Returning to the classic double bill, this time around we’ve taken a bit of a liberty – here’s a pairing that never was, but perhaps should’ve been. Killer bees and feisty ants combine in a pair of TV movies that are not exactly classic but nevertheless are prime examples of the insect horror movie, which seemed to find a home on USTV during the 1970s.

Bee movies have not exactly had a good time of it in general. After the 1960s shocker The Deadly Bees, the genre found a home on TV, perhaps where its miniature horrors could best be experienced*. The Killer Bees led the way in 1974 and for all its faults, clearly had enough of an impact for The Savage Bees to emerge a few years later. Unexpectedly, the film found itself playing in UK cinemas, as very much the bottom half of a double bill with The Incredible Melting Man. It’s to be hoped that the film was shown first because I can’t imagine that audiences who had just experienced the gloopy delights of the Melting Man would have much patience for a plodding bee flick. In the US, the film was successful enough to justify a sequel – Terror Out of the Sky was shown in 1978 and followed directly from the events of this movie. This film did not get a theatrical release in the UK, instead appearing as part of ITV’s endless series of TV movie thrillers, Murder Mystery and Suspense.

It Happened at Lakewood Manor swapped out the bees for bitey ants and spent a lot of time on disaster movie soap opera character-building before getting down to the action. Like The Savage Bees, it needed rather more horror and rather less chat, but once it gets going the film is pleasingly absurd. Unusually for a TV movie, it comes with various titles. Perhaps the ‘it’ that happened at Lakewood Manor was seen as too vague for excitement-hungry viewers and the film was soon retitled Panic at Lakewood Manor. Even this proved to be too ambiguous and for the VHS and subsequent home video releases, the film was given the rather blunter, to-the-point title of Ants!

Neither of these films is a classic – let’s warn you of that upfront – but for fans of trashy TV movies and animal attack movies and novels, there is enough amusement to be had from them.

* The 1978 film The Swarm was an all-star bee movie that was a box office bomb that signalled the beginning of the end of the disaster film, perhaps proving that paying audience wanted something more than killer bees on the big screen.

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