In 1958 the world first met “The Fly.” It was a 50’s horror classic…there have been sequels, and remakes! The following year, there came a film that was clearly inspired by that film. Instead of a man with a big-eyed bug mask, leave it to Roger Corman to give us a woman with a big-eyed bug mask. Can you stand the terror of “The Wasp Woman?”
As the film begins, we meet Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark), a cooky old scientist working with bees on a honey farm. But Zinthrop has a side project going, working with wasps. Seems that he’s discovered that chemicals inside the queen wasp’s royal jelly works to reverse aging. He’s been testing this on dogs…he has two that are the same age, but one looks full-grown and the other looks like a puppy. Still, this side project ends up getting him fired as a beekeeper. Side note here, supposedly this opening sequence was not in the original theatrical release of the film, but was added by Corman, with an assist from director Jack Hill, to beef the film up a bit for television.
It doesn’t take Zinthrop long to find a new job. He ends up going to work for Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), the aging head of a cosmetics company. Starlin is also the face of her company, but since her aging has become more and more apparent, sales have been dropping. Though Starlin’s own chemist, Arthur Coppoer (William Roerick) cautions her about the dangers Zinthrop’s experments, she ends up giving the old coot the freedom to do as he pleases. One of the other board members, Bill Lane (Anthony Eisley) and his girlfriend, Starlin’s assistant Mary (Barboura Morris) also fear that Zinthrop is a fraud.
After some time, Zinthrop tells Miss Starlin that he is ready to try out his formula, and she is anxious to be the guinea pig. He starts giving her injections, but after several weeks there are no noticeable results. Starlin then takes it upon herself to up the dosage…sneaking into Zinthrop’s lab and giving herself extra injections. Soon, she does start to look younger, and the board of directors can’t wait to turn this product into a skin cream and start marketing it. Meanwhile, Zinthrop is surprised to find that a cat the he had experimented on has begun to transform, showing some wasp-like qualities. The cat attacks the old man, who ends up having to kill it. He then walks out in despair over his experiment’s failure and promptly walks into traffic. He ends up in the hospital, though Starlin and her staff have no idea what’s become of him.
Now Starlin is desperate to find him, both because she wants to get the project on the shelf and she’s been starting to have strange headaches. In the meantime, Cooper has been snooping around Zinthrop’s lab…that is, until he is attacked by a strange wasp creature. I wonder who it is? Eventually Zinthrop is found and given his own place where he can both work and recover at Starlin’s office. Soon, the wasp woman attacks Zinthrop’s nurse and Bill and Mary are left to try and stop the strange creature.
Roger Corman is often labeled as a schlock-meister. However, he is a very skilled director…his series of Edgar Allen Poe inspired films are proof. But “The Wasp Woman” is not his finest moment. Most of the performances are pretty weak, though you do get a few fun comedic moments from some of the supporting characters. In this case it’s a couple of chatty secretaries in Miss Starlin’s office. Probably the biggest problem with the film is that the wasp woman is barely in the film. The actual screen time of the creature probably adds up to less than 3 minutes. When I watch a monster movie…I want monsters! It also doesn’t help that there is no suspense or build up to the moments where Miss Starlin becomes the wasp woman (oops should I have said “spoiler alert”). Her transformations are pretty much instantaneous.
Had a little more effort been put into the bug head Susan Cabot has to wear we might have had something interesting. Unfortunately, it is dark black…with the poor lighting and black and white photography, it’s almost impossible to see any detail. What we really needed was a cool transformation sequence.
There are many other weak moments here…from the poor audio quality to the strange jazz score recycled in many other Corman films. Even for fans of bad movies, “The Wasp Woman” will test your endurance.