The Wasp Woman (1959)
This Roger Corman quickie is one of the most enduring low-budget horror films of the late 1950’s. The plot is pure zaniness with research chemist Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark) approaching aging cosmetics giant Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) with an anti-aging serum derived from queen wasp royal jelly.
Only there are obvious side effects.
This film gets my vote for a restoration. Along with It Conquered the World, Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of This Earth (the later two were finally restored and released on DVD), it’s perhaps my favorite low-budget Corman film. What a legacy Corman has left and he’s still active.
Corman’s films run the gamut of surreality, with everything from talking man-eating plants in coffee cans (Audrey 2), telepathic giant crustaceans (crab monsters) to hybrids of cartilaginous fishes and cephalopods (Sharktopus). The Wasp Woman also delivers with youth-obsessed Janice Starlin changing into the title character. It’s Corman’s play on Jekyll and Hyde. There’s also a gentle nod of enthusiasm to horror film junkies —I love how one of Starlin’s secretaries comments about her boyfriend watching Dr. Cyclops on Channel 9. Corman understood his audience.
The film opens with “non-conventional” chemist Zinthrop getting fired for attracting wasps at an apiary. He talks to wasps and feeds them caterpillars. Zinthrop has discovered an anti-aging serum derived from wasp enzymes. He moves on to the struggling cosmetics company Janice Starlin Enterprises. The company is struggling due to poor advertising and the declining appearance of the once beautiful model/CEO Janice Starlin. Zinthrop provides tangible evidence that his serum works and the human experimentation begins. Janice takes her first injection…
Later, Zinthrop makes a frightening discovery. One of the test animal turns violently aggressive and attacks Zinthrop. He wanders away in shock. Later, Zinthrop is found in a hospital and slowly remembers what happened. He exclaims, “Miss Starlin is not a human being any longer”.
Janice takes more injections of the wasp serum. She has progressively worse headaches. She periodically changes into the Wasp Woman.
Subordinate Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris) and co-worker Bill Lane (Fred Eisley) discover Zinthrop’s notebook and the secret of the serum. Worried, Mary approaches Janice.
And the Wasp Woman appears! (I won’t spoil the ending).
The Wasp Woman was shot in 5 days. Critics hated the film calling it “terrible” and “Roger’s worst” (Pitts, 2011). I love the flick, but what a wacky score! Susan Cabot is actually quite good and the supporting cast is game. Unfortunately this was Cabot’s last film. And look quick there’s Roger Corman as the Doctor wearing a stethoscope!
D. Earl Worth, 1995. Sleaze Creatures: An Illustrated Guide to Obscure Hollywood Horror Films 1956-1959. Fantasma Books.
Michael R. Pitts, 2011. Allied Artists Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy Films. McFarland.