"When the monster's dead, the movie's over."
Shot in five to six days with a budget of only $50,000, Roger Corman's 1959 monster movie, THE WASP WOMAN, is a classic example of what made the legendary genre auteur the king of the "B"'s. It's got an alliterative, attention grabbing title (working titles included THE BEE GIRL and INSECT WOMAN), and a bait-and-switch poster that promises far more than the film can possibly deliver. For one thing, the monster is not a gigantic wasp with a woman's head, it's a woman with a wasp's head (ala THE FLY (1958)).
The opening credits play against stock footage of a bee hive, not a wasps' nest. In fact, there's no depiction of a real wasp anywhere in the film's sixty-one minute running time (when WASP WOMAN was sold to television in the 1960s, a prologue featuring Dr. Zinthrop (Michael Mark) was shot by Jack Hill to pad out the running time to seventy-three minutes and allow for more commercials in a ninety minute block of programming). Zinthrop has been conducting experiments with the jelly produced by queen wasps as a way to reverse the aging process in animals. He's ready to try out the serum on a human subject but he needs someone to act as an investor and a willing guinea pig.
He finds such a person in the form of Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), owner of a large cosmetics company. Sales of her products have taken a nose dive especially since cover-girl and spokesperson Janice has begun to show horrible signs of age (she's only forty!). Desperate to regain her lost beauty and rescue her company from financial ruin, Janice agrees to fund Zinthrop and let him inject her with his serum. After all, it worked on a guinea pig and a cat, what could possibly go wrong by shooting the juice into a human?
At first, nothing goes wrong. Janice is restored to her former stunning good looks (loose the glasses, re-arrange her hair and remove the "age" lines and voila!). But Zinthrop discovers that there are some serious side effects and, devastated by this knowledge, steps off a curb into the path of a truck, an accident which renders him temporarily comatose. With Zinthrop out of service, Janice breaks into the lab and shoots herself up with more of the serum. This is where things take a turn for the worse.
The junk causes her to grow a wasp-like head and black, fuzzy waspish hands (actually, furry mittens) and to develop a taste for human blood. That's right, she's a vampire wasp woman (hey, that would have made a great title!). Zinthrop recovers, and warns Janice to stop using the serum but it's too late, she's gone insane. Zinthrop and PR man Bill Lane (Fred Eisley), confront the monster in the lab where she's doused with acid and shoved out of a window. The end.
Despite it's non-scientific plot, WASP WOMAN is an effective little thriller competently staged and efficiently shot by Corman and cinematographer Harry Neumann. The jazzy score by Fred Katz works and the Corman stock company of actors hit their marks and say their lines with practiced aplomb. The sets are minimal but they're nicely dressed with mid-century goodies courtesy of art director Daniel Haller. There's not much room in Leo Gordon's script for a sub-plot but a budding relationship between Lane and Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris), provides some romance. Two secretaries, Carolyn Hughes and Lynn Cartwright, talk about seeing DR. CYCLOPS (1940) on the late show, while Corman himself appears in one scene as a doctor.
WASP WOMAN was the first movie Corman made under the auspices of his own production company, Filmgroup, and, not having someone else's money to play with, it's obvious that he makes every shot count. Released on a double bill with BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, WASP WOMAN is exactly what you think it is: cheap, quick and entertaining.