From the DVD case: A cosmetics magnate fearful of aging uses a potion made from queen wasp enzymes in her quest for eternal beauty, causing her to periodically turn into a wasp-monster that must kill. (1960, b&w)
Mark says: The Wasp Woman is a poor production even for low-budget producer/director Roger Corman (It Conquered the World, Attack of the Crab Monsters). Made in less than a week, Wasp Woman was obviously meant to capitalize on the success of 1958’s The Fly. Needless to say, Corman’s film does not come close to matching The Fly in quality, concept, story, or production.
The Wasp Woman insults the viewer’s intelligence almost every step of the way. From the opening credits, that roll over a shot of honeybees (not wasps) to the final credits where the honeybees shot is replayed, we are treated to inane concepts, bad science, horrendous “effects,” and poorly scripted scenes. In other words, this is the epitome of a B picture. The annoying music by Fred Katz only aggravates matters.
Michael Mark (Attack of the Puppet People) plays Eric Zinthrop, a man who has discovered how to manufacture a youth serum from the royal jelly of wasps. This proves fortuitous for Janice Starlin, played by Susan Cabot (War of the Satellites), as she is the aging head of a cosmetics empire facing faltering sales. Miss Starlin believes Zinthrop’s discovery will revitalize not only her company, but herself.
Starlin hires Zinthrop to continue with his experiments so the youth serum can be made safe for humans (up to this point he has only experimented on animals). She wants to be Zinthrop’s first human test subject. Starlin feels that if she can recapture her youthful appearance (she’s 40!) she will regain the trust of her customers. The experiment works in that Miss Starlin’s youth is restored, but the drawback is that she also turns into a ferocious wasp-creature with an insatiable appetite for blood.
Mark’s portrayal of Zinthrop is atrocious. His acting is corny and much of the time he is unintelligible. I’m not sure how we are supposed to view his character. At the beginning, it seems we are to feel sympathetic for the man, but later it is hard to tell. There’s a particularly awkward scene where Zinthrop ogles Miss Starlin’s secretaries, which makes him seem sort of lecherous. Personally, I found him to be most disagreeable.
On the other hand, Susan Cabot’s performance is far better than this film deserves. Cabot, 32 at the making of the movie, plays both a woman of 40 and 22, and does both competently. The make-up changes are subtle, and Cabot conveys most of the transformation through her actions. She is absolutely radiant when transformed into the younger woman, and seems a little tired and slower as the older Starlin. In both roles she comes off as intelligent and business-minded. Cabot portrays the part so well, it is hard to believe that this same woman climbed into the ridiculous Wasp Woman costume and dashed about doing all of her own stunts.
We don’t get many good views of the Wasp Woman costume, but it’s obvious that it is a silly get-up. The bulbous eyes are the main feature, and some antennae. Her hands look like they are covered by dark mittens. Making matters worse, Cabot keeps her high heels on even when attacking her victims.
In an interview with film historian Tom Weaver, Cabot said the only credible way she could appear to take down victims much taller than herself (she was only 5′ 2″) was to attack them “through swiftness – by coming at them so fast, like a bolt of lightening, and staying right on target.” A noble effort, to be sure, but the attack scenes are some of the most humorous in the film.
The Wasp Woman is littered with characters, primarily in the roles of Janice Starlin’s employees. Fred Eisley (Journey to the Center of Time) plays advertising executive, Bill Lane; Barboura Morris (The Haunted Palace) is Starlin’s personal secretary, Mary Dennison; William Roerick (Not of this Earth) is Arthur Cooper, head of research; Roy Gordon (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) plays Paul Thompson; Frank Gerstle (Killers from Space) portrays Les Hellman; and Lynn Cartwright (Queen of Outer Space) plays receptionist, Maureen Reardon. Also look for Bruno Ve Sota (Attack of the Giant Leeches) as the night watchman.
Usually I would only recommend a film of such poor quality to enthusiasts of the B-movie genre, but Susan Cabot’s competent portrayal of Janice Starlin, in addition to some high camp value, may make the film suitable for a slightly broader audience. Maybe.
The Wasp Woman was scripted by Leo Gordon (Attack of the Giant Leeches) and based on a story by Kinta Zertuche.
Scene to watch for: In a scene completely insulting the audience’s intelligence, Zinthrop (Michael Mark) transforms a guinea pig into a white rat. (I think we’re supposed to believe the rat is a younger guinea pig, but that’s hard to tell.)
Line to listen for: “I’d stay away from wasps if I were you, Miss Starlin. Socially, the queen wasp is on a level with the black widow spider. They’re both carnivorous. They paralyze their victims and then take their time devouring them alive. And they kill their mates in the same way, too, strictly a one-sided romance.”
Trivia: Producer/Director Roger Corman makes a cameo appearance as Zinthrop’s doctor.
Bonus: Read about the life and career of Wasp Woman star, Susan Cabot, at Brian’s Drive-In Theater. Includes some of the details of her tragic death at the hands of her own son.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.