Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a weekly column in which Kieran Fisher and I get to look back at TV terrors that scared adults (and the kids they let watch) across the limited airwaves of the ’70s. This week we tackle a made-for-TV movie sequel with Terror Out of the Sky!
Sequels in the form of made-for-television movies are something of a rarity, whether it be to theatrical releases or previous TV films. One of the exceptions is a follow-up to 1976’sThe Savage Bees, a TV movie about killer bees — a major threat in the 70s, I swear! — and it’s called Terror Out of the Sky (1978)! Some characters return including an entomologist and a few thousand bees, but otherwise it’s all new people being killed and thrilled by the little stinging bastards. Join me, won’t you?
When: December 26th, 1978
It’s been two years since Jeannie Devereux (Tovah Feldshuh, replacing Gretchen Corbett) was trapped in a VW Beetle surrounded bugs of a different kind — that’s right, bees! After terrorizing New Orleans they attached themselves to her car and rode it into an enclosed football stadium where they were killed by air conditioning. She walked away in the arms of her coroner boyfriend, but these days it’s a pilot named Nick (Dan Haggerty) who holds her at night when she wakes from the nightmares.
Plans for a long overdue vacation are scuttled when Jeannie’s boss David (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) calls her back to the National Bee Center on urgent business. For one thing, he wants to express his love for her… but also the killer bees have returned, they’ve killed one of the Center’s employees, and three deadly queens have been accidentally shipped around the country. Whoops! The unlikely trio soon hit the road — and the sky — hoping to reacquire the deadly specimens before they can kill again. They almost succeed.
Terror Out of the Sky is a solid enough little flick that follows the pattern of The Savage Bees in subjecting its actors to real bees to up the suspense and terror. It never gets crazy with the set-pieces, and instead it delivers a couple of near misses where they get the bees back just in time before seeing all hell break loose at a small town baseball game. The result is a film that feels smaller than its predecessor while still managing some minor thrills.
Writer Guerdon Trueblood (Ants!, 1977; Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, 1977) returns this time as one of three credited scribes, while director Lee H. Katzin (Savages, 1974) takes over for Bruce Geller. They deliver enough of the same that fans of The Savage Bees should be happy — we even get a new pair of LARPers! Sadly, this Revolutionary War couple don’t meet the same fate as the pirates in the first film (one of whom tried fighting the bees with his sword).
This time around the bee action is balanced with a fairly friendly love triangle as both Nick and David have the hots for Jeannie. If I’m being honest, the most disturbing thing in the movie is seeing sixty-year-old Zimbalist Jr. making his play for the twenty-six-year-old Feldshuh. Why he thinks he stands a chance against the guy who played Grizzly Adams is anyone’s guess, but it makes for some uncomfortable conversations between them all.
Being a bee movie the opportunities for special effects are limited, and thankfully it never goes for the optical shenanigans embraced by its big screen cousin The Swarm (1978). The two exceptions here are a dead dog — its squeals of pain go on forever — and a closeup of the first person killed by the bees. His face is terrifically nasty looking prosthetic staring back at us as someone points out that “Oh my god, his mouth is full of bees.” It’s a cool horror beat in an otherwise tepid genre outing, although there’s an argument to be made that it may have been a partial inspiration for Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) as Jeannie lures a group of Boy Scouts onto a bus and then convinces them all to remove their shirts… look, I’m not saying this is a selling point.
Terror Out of the Sky never manages to rise above the merely serviceable, but small beats like the grisly face prosthetic and brief appearances by folks like Philip Baker Hall and Charles Hallahan keep it from ever feeling dull. It manages some minor suspense scenes along the way and ends with one of the three leads biting it, though, so you really can’t complain.