The Swarm (1978)

A swarm of African killer bees rampage across America’s south-west before descending on Houston, destroying everything in their path.

Contrary to popular opinion, THE SWARM is not the worst movie ever made, and anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn’t seen the collected works of Jesùs Franco, Andy Milligan or Woody Allen (just kidding!). Representing the last gasp of the disaster cycle inaugurated by Ross Hunter’s big-time adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s AIRPORT (1969) and further popularized by the likes of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) – the latter a bona fide Hollywood classic – THE SWARM encapsulates director Irwin Allen’s basic commercial ethos: Big stars, big set-pieces, and big drama.

Taking its cue from previous small-scale entries like THE DEADLY BEES (1966) and TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (1978), Allen’s old-fashioned monster movie revels in the destruction of towns, trains, nuclear power plants and the reputations of numerous high-profile actors. However, Stirling Silliphant’s script is so hokey, it’s difficult to believe he wasn’t poking inglorious fun at the entire project: Michael Caine is so obviously miscast (as a ‘brilliant’ entomologist), and so clearly contemptuous of the material, his expression never changes throughout the entire film, though co-star Richard Widmark gives it everything he’s got as a gruff military type who’s eager to quell the threat by bombing everything in sight. Henry Fonda rises above the fray as a dedicated immunologist, and Slim Pickens is quietly dignified as a bereaved father, while Olivia De Havilland forms the centerpiece of a gentle romantic subplot (she’s courted by Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson). Richard Chamberlain, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Bradford Dillman and Patty Duke Astin are featured in supporting roles alongside leading lady Katharine Ross, who seems particularly embarrassed by her ridiculous dialogue (get a load of her hysterical reaction to the death of a sympathetic younger character – if you lean forward, you can almost *smell* the ham!).