Directed by Irwin Allen [Other horror films: N/A]
This two-and-a-half hour epic certainly feels like something unique, and despite some unnecessary sequences, I think the movie overall works out, which may be an unpopular opinion.
Very ecological in message (not dissimilar to films such as Night of the Lepus or Frogs), The Swarm boasts a strong epic feel and a very decent cast. The story isn’t necessarily special, but the almost procedural method the filmmakers employ set it apart from many other killer insect movies.
The cast here is pretty superb. I wouldn’t say that Michael Caine starring in this is the only reason to see the film, but I do think his incredibly strong presence here alone makes a good case for viewing this. Sometimes he’s a bit over-the-top, but he’s never boring. What makes his presence here better is that Caine, despite being very well-known, hasn’t been in many horror films (aside from this one, he’s been in maybe five others, such as Jaws: The Revenge and The Hand), so it’s great seeing an actor of his caliber starring here.
Richard Widmark, despite playing a somewhat unlikable character, stands out pretty well too. Like Caine, he had a strong personality, and it was fun to see where his character would go. I only know Richard Chamberlain from the Shogun mini-series, but he looks virtually identical here, and I enjoyed his character, though he didn’t get enough screen-time. Plenty of other names here stand out, such as Katharine Ross, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Slim Pickens, Cameron Mitchell, Morgan Paull, and perhaps most importantly, Henry Fonda.
The Swarm had some really great sequences, including an attack by bees on a small Texas community (the school scene, which reminded me a little of The Birds, stood out as particularly tragic), a rather thrilling train disaster, and the burning of Houston by the military via flamethrowers. Even toward the end, when a military base is under siege by both bees and fire, there’s a definite action feel to the scenes, and when this movie does well, it really does well.
The problem is that there are more than a few meanderings into the personal lives’ of characters who ultimately don’t really matter. It could be argued that these characters help bring a personal, human element to a film otherwise preoccupied with scientific and military efficacy, but they felt a bit too out-of-place and humorous in this otherwise somewhat bleak and somber story. The love-story involving MacMurray’s, Havilland’s, and one Ben Johnson’s characters didn’t enthrall me, though again, I sort of see the point. Also worth mentioning, there are a few hideously superimposed giant bees that pop up throughout the film that looked laughably bad.
The director of the film, Irwin Allen, played a big part in this movie carrying with it an almost-disaster movie feel, due to the fact he was a producer for classics such as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure (neither of which I’ve seen, if truth be told). For a more genre-centric comparison, think the military portions of The Stand, and that’s a lot of what you have here. Luckily, most of it works out in a pretty suspenseful way.
Personally, I don’t find a lot wrong with the film, despite the fact that many have more than a few negative things to say about it. Maybe it’s because I’m a decent fan of Caine’s work, maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for bees (on a side-note, being allergic, I really don’t), but this ecological horror-action film is a fun movie, and if you can survive the two-and-a-half hours, hopefully you too will get something out of it. I just know I’ve seen this twice now, and I’ve not been disappointed.