Irwin Allen was known as the Master of Disaster for his contributions to the disaster film genre. He gave us The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, The Towering Inferno in 1974, and for TV he gave us Flood! (1976), Fire! (1977), Hanging by a Thread, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and Cave In! (all in 1979). But in 1978 he gave the world The Swarm…comparably one of the worst movies ever made. It’s an example of how the sum comes nowhere near equaling the parts.
I remember when this film came to theaters. I begged my parents to take me but my father kept insisting it looked like a piece of crap. I mean we’re talking the same year that gave us Alien, Kramer vs. Kramer, Being There, The Muppet Movie, All That Jazz, The Amityville Horror, The Warriors, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Caligula, and Apocalypse Now. In comparison to this treasure trove…dad was right.
The Swarm, though, offers us a look at what could happen if nature ever decided to fight back, and for a kid, that can be frightening. Watching it as an adult it’s easy to laugh at because of all the over the top acting and pointless subplots. There’s one scene in particular where Michael Cane is arguing with a military General played by Richard Widmark and they are screaming at each other. It’s an acting 101 nightmare as they chew the scenery, but it’s oh so much fun to watch.
There are awesome hallucination scenes where people think they’re being attacked by giant bees, some really horrible dialogue, and some special effects that are so bad they’re not worthy of the word “special.” But as for sub-plots, there’s plenty of them. A subplot is a secondary story line that usually echoes or subordinates that storyline of the protagonist. It is usually connected to a sidekick or foil. In The Swarm there’s a subplot where the General doesn’t trust the Michael Cane scientist character and asks another man to spy on him and create a dossier. There’s another one, almost a love story, between some of the local town folk. There’s also a little boy who is attacked and who loses his parents to a bee attack. After all we have to care about the people who the bees are attacking and subplots are the vehicle to accomplish that.
A more recent nature fights back disaster film is The Happening by M. Knight Shyamalan. It got slammed by critics, but I thought it was very provocative. I wish they would stop advertising his films as horror movies, thus disappointing fans who go expecting one kind of movie and getting a think piece about man’s relationship with his environment.