Director: Roger Corman
Writer: Leo Gordon
Release year: 1959
Can you sting me, baby?
When a professor develops a rejuvenating serum derived from a queen wasp, a cosmetic magnate beginning to feel her age decides to put herself to the test… with disastrous consequences.
In all honesty, there is not too much to say about Roger Corman‘s THE WASP WOMAN from 1959, except for the fact that it’s a fun little creature feature from a director that I wouldn’t exactly call the most versatile film-maker on the planet, but certainly one of the most prolific ones and on top of that, one that is always very creative with a low budget. THE WASP WOMAN isn’t a bad movie. Okay, I have to admit that the opening scenes (sloppily filmed shots with the bee-doctor and the wasp-doctor and their buzzing little friends in the yard) looked pretty bad and were not very promising for the rest of the movie (I mean, a character -- in this case Michael Mark as Dr. Zinthrop -- taking to himself or his little wasp friends always looks pretty stupid in a movie). However, as soon as the movie makes the switch to the interior sets of the cosmetic company, the movie gets considerably better and the directing becomes tighter.
It seems like Roger Corman saw and enjoyed the 1958 version of teleportation“-part for a “woman’s desire to unravel the secrets to eternal youth”-angle. Now, is a far superior film, (of course he did), and was also impressed by how well that one did at the time. THE WASP WOMAN, to me at least, showed a lot of similarities with the basic premise of . This time, a cosmetic magnate, Janice starling (Susan Cabot) gets transformed into a man-sized wasp, instead of a dedicated scientist being transformed into a man with the over-sized head of a fly. Corman just switched the whole “scientist discovering the ways of of course, but that doesn’t mean that THE WASP WOMAN is less enjoyable. The movie isn’t too long, so the simple story hums along nicely. There’s fun dialogues delivered by capable actors. One of the most remarkable aspects about THE WASP WOMAN, was the musical score. Sometimes it sounds a bit “classic”, but over-all I’d say it was heavily influenced by the social-cultural environment of the era this movie was made in. The Beat Generation literary movement had just flourished immensely (converting many people into “Beatniks”), and also influenced (or was associated with) the musical landscape at the time (anybody seen Roger Corman‘s ?). One genre associated with the “Beatniks”, was some sort of experimental, big-band sounding free-style jazz type of music. And you can clearly hear echoes of such music on THE WASP WOMAN‘s soundtrack, together with attempts at a few comical tunes (which sadly misfire -- the scarce little attempts at humor don’t work as well as the black humor in , in my opinion). But all-in-all, because of the musical score being a hectic amalgam of different styles, it provides sort of an enjoyable nervousness (and always remains well-timed, increasing the tension when it’s called for), making the movie a tad bit nuttier than your average creature feature from that era.
Now, the one complaint I have -- and I owe that to myself -- is that I expected just a little bit more from this movie, especially when it comes to the Wasp Woman/Creature itself. Two things basically: I expected the creature design to have a few extra legs, claws or wings even. But it’s just just a dude/gal in a black costume, with a weird, black ‘waspy‘ mask and funny looking hands. Nothing wrong with that, really, and considering the budget this was made on, they handled the Wasp Woman well. But the second thing that let me down was… I expected The Wasp Woman at least to do a bit more in this movie (and have a little more screen time while at it). I thought she was going to seduce men, trick them into making love to her and then… devour them in the bedroom. Or something… but nope, none of that. The lack of creature action became a bit annoying even, until the third act. Then the movie picks itself up and becomes a bit more fun. Well, that is… Janice Sterling only transforms into the Wasp Woman three times, and all she does is behave like a vampire: go for the victim’s throat and bite him. But still, it’s not like you’ll have the time to become bored, because of the movie’s 73 minutes running time. And after all, when the movie rushed towards its climax and the events came to an abrupt closure, THE WASP WOMAN remained a charming experience to me.
Interesting little trivia thing is that in the early days of his career, Jack Hill often collaborated with Roger Corman. He directed additional footage for several Corman movies, or was involved in more than many ways with Corman productions, as was the case with THE WASP WOMAN too.
During the early 90′s, Roger Corman started producing several re-makes of his own films from the 50′s & 60′s and THE WASP WOMAN was one of them. I saw the trailer for it, and it seems like the 1995 version of THE WASP WOMAN might even be more cheesy fun than the original, with a bit better make-up effects (of course), a bit of inept use of CGI and… I even saw some sort of seductive bedroom scene in that trailer. Seems like I might get what I wanted to see after all in the 1995 re-make.
Watch the full movie here.