THE WASP WOMAN (1959) – The Dungeon Review!
With the sheer volume of Roger Corman produced and directed films through the 1950’s and 1960’s I figured it was only appropriate to kick things off with a Corman double shot. The Wasp Woman was directed by Roger Corman and IMDB also lists an un-credited Jack Hill as co-director. Hill directed a bunch of bad-ass Pam Grier flicks in the 1970’s not to mention Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told; one of my favourite films of all time! I have no idea what, if any influence Jack Hill might have had on The Wasp Woman, I confirm only that I dug it.
Janice Starlin is the aging president and spokeswoman of a struggling cosmetic company. She is desperate to revive the company’s profits and her youth. She learns of a scientist who has figured out how to turn back time with the use of wasp enzymes. She hires the man and gives him a lab and volunteers to be his guinea pig. She begins to show results but is obsessively compelled to speed up the process with unfortunate consequences.
Science was laden with “unfortunate consequences” in 1950’s B-Movies. But when all is said and done it is usually the human beings that are the “real” monsters of the film. Whether it is Godzilla, a giant leech or a wasp woman it could be said that it is human excess and greed that eggs on the mad science. The Wasp Woman is pretty clear in its intentions. It has generally been my experience that monster movies usually have fairly literal titles. The Wasp Woman is predictable in the sense that there is indeed a wasp woman. What is not predictable were a few genuine surprises in the fairly simple plot, solid character development and an outstanding performance from lead actress Susan Cabot.
The Wasp Woman’s central character Janice Starlin is an intriguing woman. Janice manages to illicit empathy but is about as warm as an ice-cube. Aging for a woman who has built a business around her once youthful appearance has got to be a hard pill to swallow. Janice seems to be isolated and friend-less and her subordinates seem to have no respect for her. A character with some depth is a bit of a rarity in these old monster flicks. That said, much of the credit should go to Susan Cabot who is excellent in the role. The supporting cast are competent enough; particularly notable is Michael Mark who plays Scientist Eric Zinthrop.
While The Wasp Woman doesn’t make her appearance until later in the film the action moves along nicely in anticipation. I quite enjoyed the scientist demonstrating for Janice the effectiveness of his serum on a cat. The cat transforms into a kitten right before her very eyes (although sadly not before our own very eyes)!! The Wasp Woman’s most significant issue was an impossibly goofy soundtrack. So silly and hammy, it actually spoiled the mood a bit at times. The Wasp Woman may have one of the worst soundtracks I have stumbled upon. The plot and dialog are fairly coherent and relatively logical (you know, all things considered) with the exception of a section that involves our scientist. I have given away enough plot so without divulging more details the scientist manages to have an unfortunate but very convenient accident that was downright hokey. It was a real eye-roller! And then we have the effects, which are on the thin side, and I suggest that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Wasp Woman is far too furry!! She almost looks cuddly! Cabot is quite animated with her movements which definitely helped to sell the wasp thing. Undeniably cheesy, but hey, there is no mistaking she is an insect! I wasn’t put off by the effect, I rather liked it, however it is a bit difficult to take seriously.
The Wasp Woman has a simple story with an inevitable conclusion but still offers its share of twists and surprises. The central character is well-developed and Susan Cabot is outstanding in the role. The effects are on the cheesy side, but are pretty limited anyway. For a film that doesn’t show its menace until the final 20 minutes or so, it never feels dull or weighed down. The Wasp Woman is a solid monster movie that may be a bit light on monster but it is heavy on entertainment! Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: Roger Corman and Jack Hill
Starring: Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris, William Roerick, Michael Mark, Frank Gerstle, Bruno VeSota, Roy Gordon, Carolyn Hughes, Lynn Cartwright