[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 19 – The Wasp Woman (1959)

Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris
Screenplay: Leo Gordon
63 mins. Not Rated.

The 1950s in horror were full of scientific perversion, either giant monsters or mad scientists turning regular humans into monsters. It’s not an era that I’m as aware of until the last few years, and even then, I’ve only scratched the surface, so I thought we’d take a deep-dive on a 50s horror movie (potential) rip-off of The Fly with The Wasp Woman.

When her cosmetics company starts losing large swaths of profit, owner Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot, Kiss of Death, The Enforcer) starts getting desperate. She used to be the face of the company, but the years have taken her youth away. When she meets the disgraced Dr. Eric Zinthrop, who says he can use enzymes from the royal jelly of a queen wasp to reverse the aging process, Janice sees a way to save the company and her youth. She begins the process with Zinthrope, but when he disappears in the middle of her treatments, she starts suffering some of the horrifying consequences.

The Wasp Woman is the kind of film that breezes along rather swiftly, running just over an hour (72 minutes with the television cut, featuring a new prologue by Jack Hill and added scenes), and that might be its saving grace. While it isn’t confirmed as ripping off The Fly, it matches a number of elements from that classic, just on a smaller budget and a lesser scale. With a campier tone and some unconvincing makeup effects, the film tries to be a dramatic and tragic tale of age and the struggle to find purpose in a society obsessed with youth, but it ultimately can’t rise to that level.

The concept is silly, and the follow—up is sillier. The film’s poster depicts a wasp with a woman’s face, but the end result is more the exact opposite. The score by Fred Katz ended up appearing in at least 7 films (Katz was notorious for submitting and selling the same score over and over. Roger Corman himself cameos as a doctor who doesn’t do a great job saving the patient, perhaps a metaphor for the director’s battle to save the film? Again, this movie can work in the right mood, a couple of friends together, not taking it seriously, just enjoying the silliness, but it’s just a little too bland at times to be a cult classic.

The Wasp Woman was released in a double-feature with The Beast from Haunted Cave, and maybe together they constitute a singular-enough experience of two half-worthy films becoming one. This is a film for hardcore Roger Corman fans and few else, though it can be fun with beer and friends if that’s what you’re looking for.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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