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Friday, May 31, 2019

The Wasp Woman (1959)

I’ve been doing these Fab Fifties Friday posts for a while now and I realized that Roger Corman has only appeared once! For such a prolific filmmaker that seems weird. With that in mind I thought it was about time to take a look at another of his flicks.

The Wasp Woman is a cautionary tale of vanity and the dangers of science run amok! Janice Starlin is a successful business woman who runs a cosmetics company. The movie starts off with a meeting where she is discussing declining sales with the board of directors. They point out that the problems started when she stopped advertising the products herself. In an ironic twist it seems that the only person concerned about her getting older is Janice. This makes her an easy target for a scientist named Zinthrop who shows up with a miracle cure. His idea? Using the royal jelly from a queen wasp to reverse the aging process!

Do I need to tell you how horribly this goes wrong? Well I’m going to. Things go sideways when Zinthrop is in an accident and Starlin starts using a concentrated version of the formula because she is impatient to see the results. This has the side effect of turning her into a wasp woman that paralyzes and eats her victims. Seriously they never find any of the bodies so she must be munching them down… but yet keeps her girlish figure! If you have ever seen a monster movie you know this doesn’t end well.

The Wasp Woman is an excellent example of why Roger Corman was a successful filmmaker. The story is simple, but well thought out. There is a formula to these things and they normally involve a flawed character that engages in dangerous behavior leading to bad things happening. Here we have Starlin struggling with her internal issues and grasping onto the research of Zinthrop as a cure all. What makes Corman so much better at this is that his script makes Starlin a sympathetic character. She could have been vain and unlikeable, but they take the time to show her vulnerability and desperation. This makes for a more balanced character that engages the audience. Far too many filmmakers considered movies like this fodder for the drive-in crowd, but Corman is trying to make a movie with real characters and it shows.

Being a complete nerd, I noticed and appreciated how the filmmakers cut corners without making it too noticeable. Pay attention and you will notice how few locations there are as they clearly shot most of this on a couple of sets. There is an effort made to make the same walls look different, but it is clear what they were up to. When they do venture outside it is either stock footage or new footage shot without sound to save money. None of this hurts the story at all and I’m not complaining. I like pointing it out because I’ve seen it done horribly by other filmmakers, but Corman is one of those guys that knows how to make it work.

Since this is a monster movie, we have to talk creature effects. For a low budget horror flick from the late fifties I was satisfied with what we get. It is clearly just the actress wearing a mask and gloves, but they are nice looking. As much as I dig the rubber suit craziness that we get elsewhere not every movie has the budget for that sort of thing. The kills are all offscreen and we don’t really see any bodies. But that is typical of a movie from the fifties.

I love this movie. Cheaply made and cheesy as hell, even by Corman standards, The Wasp Woman knows what it is and is the best version of that. I’ve said this before and will say it here again. Not everything needs to be art, sometimes being fun is good enough. I highly recommend this gem from one of the greatest and most prolific independent filmmakers of all time.

Note: Instead of a trailer I've linked the entire movie above. 

© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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