Saturday, June 2, 2012

REVIEW - The Wasp Woman (1959)

The Wasp Woman
USA - 1959
Directed by - Roger Corman
Starring - Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris, Michael Mark
B&W / 73 Min / NR

The Wasp Woman is a movie way ahead of its time. Sure, it’s about as kitschy and cheesy as any late 50‘s/early 60‘s Roger Corman flick (one only needs to look at the dreadful movie poster to ascertain this), but with the benefit of hindsight we can look at the film now as a prescient satire on a society obsessed with appearance, beauty, and sexuality. Today’s women are pressured to look like airbrushed billboard models layered in make-up while men are preached at by sporting legends to cover up their gray hair lest they never get laid again. Face it, we’re in societal decline, people. If only we’d paid attention to The Wasp Woman when it was first released, we wouldn’t have all the rampant objectification we have today. Those dopey Kardashian sisters wouldn’t be celebrities and half-wasp vampire women wouldn’t be running the streets sucking the blood out of random passersby.

You mean you haven’t seen the half-wasp vampire women in your neighborhood yet?

So our protagonist is Janice Starling (Cabot), a middle-aged cosmetics mogul mired in declining profits for her company after stepping down as the advertised ’face’ of the brand. Janice is approached by disgraced scientist Dr. Winthrop (Mark), who believes he has discovered the key to an anti-aging formula through the enzymes of wasps. After witnessing the formula demonstrated on animals, Janice immediately hires Winthrop on as a R&D researcher, sparing no expense in providing everything he needs for his mad scientist lab. This kind of thing always ends well, right?

Revlon can suck it. I'm still number one.
Once the formula is perfected, Janice is eager to become the initial test subject. Her youthful looks slowly begin to return, but little does she realize that wasp juice is more addicting than smack. Soon enough, Janice is shooting up Winthrop’s wasp formula every hour, desperate to become 19 years of age again. Abusing the formula messes with her DNA and transforms Janice into the horrific Wasp Woman, who knocks off her own nosey company executives by jumping on them and feeding on their blood.

Something tells me the screenwriters didn’t do a lot of research on how wasps actually attack, but hey, it’s a Corman flick, you’ll give it a pass. Probably.

As you would expect from a sci-fi B-movie of the era, there are plenty of flaws. The pacing is slow despite a short run-time, most of the acting is predictably hammy, the recycled Fred Katz score that Corman used in countless films still doesn’t do anything for me, and then there’s the outfit for the Wasp Woman herself…

This is my brain on drugs.
It looks like Susan Cabot is wearing a stuffed pillowcase with a pair of tea strainers for eyes and a set of shoddy devil horns from a novelty store glued on the side of her head. I realize the film was made on a shoestring budget, but keeping the Wasp Woman confined to the shadows would have made more sense instead of parading her around on-screen like Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi. To her credit, Cabot’s heavy movements and Mr. Hyde mannerisms while wearing the silly outfit are convincing enough to overlook the cheap suit at times.

Less convincing is Susan Cabot as the aging beauty queen. (Physically speaking, I should say.) The actress was only a year or two past 30 when she starred in the film. (Her last, she would return to Broadway after this.) The makeup department provides her with dark colored eyeshadow to mimic heavy bags under her eyes and the prop guy has handed her a pair of old lady glasses, but a fake wrinkle or two, maybe even a widow’s peak, could have helped sell the illusion much better.

Still, I found The Wasp Woman to be a solid science-fiction/horror story, certainly one of the more enjoyable films in Roger Corman’s oeuvre. It might not be up your alley if you’re looking for a Saturday evening monster mash type film, but if you’re in the mood for a B-movie satire involving the objectification of women, corporate espionage, and addiction, The Wasp Woman can provide some food for thought.

3 / 5

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