Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“Men! Every time you search for an answer, you always come up with women.”

Alright, so everybody knows not to piss off wasps, right? They’re like surly bees that don’t make honey for us. Splicing wasp genetic material with human genetic material is recipe for… well, I’m not really sure. I guess you’d get something like 1959’s The Wasp Woman, and it looks nothing like the poster for it.

There’s an expository prologue showing the kindly but clearly mad scientist Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark, who was in quite a few of the Universal Horror movies from the 30s & 40s) getting fired from a honeybee farm for conducting experiments on wasps, which is a pretty justified firing. Anyway, he eventually finds his way to a cosmetics company run by Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) that’s suffering from decreased sales for the simple reason that Starlin continues to be the “face” of the company despite her advancing age. The doc gives her one hell of a sales pitch that deserves a new paragraph. Mark and Cabot both give very good performances, all things considered.

By mixing wasp royal jelly with some enzymes and other science-y stuff, he’s concocted a serum that can reverse the effects of aging dramatically (and turn a guinea pig into a mouse somehow). Janice starts taking the serum with slow results. Unsatisfied, she breaks into the doc’s lab one night and takes a big hit of the stuff and the next morning, all that makeup on her to make her look older is gone. Her employees, Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris), Bill Lane (Anthony “Fred” Eisley) and a couple others start to get suspicious, Janice takes bigger doses despite the increased risk, and Dr. Zinthrop gets put in the hospital by randomly stepping off a curb into traffic (really). All of this leads to the inevitable conclusion of Janice turning into a bloodthirsty were-wasp at night and eating people late in the movie.

Roger Corman is an insanely prolific director and producer who’s been responsible for a staggering number of movies. Look him up on IMDB and you’re bound to see a familiar title or three. Of course, with that kind of volume, there’s bound to be some bad ones, and he was the producer of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (which almost made me ragequit this project) and I’m not sure I can forgive that one yet. Still, the movie is decent enough on a visual level regarding the normal scenes. The prologue was shot by Jack Hill (uncredited) for a later release. It’s when it comes to special effects that the movie shows its true budget. Any footage involving wasps is actually footage of honeybees, and the wasp woman costume at the end is… well… a mask and two monster hands in bad lighting.
Story by Kinta Zertuche and screenplay by Leo Gordon, and there was some promise to be had. You have a faded beauty turning to mad science in order to preserve her good looks and things result in tragedy. You have a scientist who is clearly off his rocker but is actually a misunderstood good guy. You’ve got a ravenous were-wasp. But the pacing of the plot is the movie’s downfall. There are large stretches of time where not much of interest happens and the big reveal at the end is fairly brief, doesn’t make much sense, and is shot in pretty dim lighting. I understand that the wasp mask wasn’t great, but for a monster movie, the big payoff is being able to clearly see the monster. Sadly, it takes quite a while for the Wasp Woman (DUN DUN DUN) to show herself.

Original music by Fred Katz, and it’s par for the course.

As far as B movies go, The Wasp Woman isn’t atrocious. There are some great crazy moments, the lead actors are both quite good and the ending, while brief, is the shot in the arm the rest of the movie needed. It’s quite riffable. Bad, but not un-enjoyable. And yes, I’m ending this review with a double negative.

No comments: