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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wasp Woman

Roger Corman, tireless producer/director that he was, put out another of his B movies in late 1959. WW is a much more conventional science-gone-wrong story. It also added to a growing sub-genre of science spawned human-animal monster stories. Leo Gordon, who wrote the screenplay, had just given us Alligator People a few months earlier. It co-ran with Return of the Fly, the famous of the human-animal monster sub group. WW amounts to a female version of The Fly but without the transporter technology. Instead, it's the more customary trope of animal juices turn you into that animal.

Quick Plot Synopsis
(never mind that the credits are over a hive of honey bees)
Research scientist Dr. Zinthrop thinks the royal jelly of the queen wasp holds the key to perpetual youth. He promotes his ideas to Janice Starlin, head of a cosmetics company. Starlin Enterprises has been steadily losing revenue since Janice -- the "face" of the company -- has lost her youthful look over the 18 years at the helm. Janice hires Zinthrop. The rest of the staff are suspicious and skeptical. Most think Zinthrop is a con man or a quack. They plot to uncover the scheme. Meanwhile, Janice does get daily injections of the serum Zinthrop developed. After 3 weeks, looks only a few years younger. Zinthrop has a new serum which is even stronger. She tells everyone to plan for a huge new product release that will save the company, etc. etc. Zinthrop is attacked by one of his test animals. The cat reverted from neo-kitten to savage beast with wing buds. Zinthrop, despondent at his failure, is hit by a car. With Zinthrop missing, and impatient with the slow progress, Janice injects herself with the untested new serum. Now she looks remarkably younger. Everyone is amazed. Not long afterward, Janice develops odd headaches. In the lab on night, Cooper snoops right after one of her injections. Now with wasp(ish) head and claws, Wasp Janice attacks and kills Cooper. She also dispatches a night watchman. A few days later, Janice takes the last dose and again becomes Wasp Woman. She kills the nurse assigned to care for Zinthrop. Bill fights with Wasp Janice to save his girlfriend Mary. Zinthrop throws a bottle of acid at WaspJanice, hitting her square in the face. Recoiling in pain, she falls out of a window and dies. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's interesting how 1959 had three human-animal monster stories. Comparing similarities and differences is food for thought. Perhaps not intentionally, the sub-genre dabbles in the fragile essence of what is humanity, vs. the beastly "nature" side, much as Dr. Jekyll did.

Cold War Angle
As with most monster movies, there is little or no Cold War analogy. Instead, there is the usual dangers-of-science moral. There is also the hubris of man thinking he (or she) can trump nature -- with the customary fatal results.

B Stars -- Susan Cabot, who does a capable job as the ill-fated woman. She also starred in a couple of Corman's prior films, War of the Satellites ('58) and the peculiar film Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent ('57). WW was her last movie role. Corman movies were no way to grow a career. Michael Marks plays Dr. Zinthrop well enough. His trace of russian accent meshing well with the eccentric scientist role. Audiences had just seen him (briefly) as the night watchman in Return of the Fly. He was also conspicuous as Emil, friend of Mr. Franz the puppet master in Attack of the Puppet People ('58)

Prologue Added -- Corman's original cut of WW is said to begin with Starlin conducting the business meeting where sagging sales are discussed. This makes the Dr. Zinthrop character a bit of a shot out of left field, but the movie gets going on its own nonetheless. When WW was released for television in 1962, director Jack Hill filmed several minutes of prologue footage. In it, we see Zinthrop as the eccentric researcher employed by a honey company. Instead of working with bees, he has been working with wasps. His honey farm boss is unimpressed with talk of reversing aging. They sell honey. Zinthrop is fired. This prologue sets up Zinthrop and his discovery (as well as need for a patron), so his appearance at Starlin Enterprises is not so much of a non-sequetor.

Opposite Imaging -- The poster artist may not have read the script or seen the film. His image of a huge wasp with a woman's head is the opposite of what happens. WaspJanice, like FlyAndre and FlyPhillipe before her, had an insect-ish head and claws, but her own human body. Handily enough, she took to wearing black knit pantsuits as the serum was taking over, so she was dressed for the killer role. The poster does give a refreshing twist on the old abduction trope, even if it's not in the movie. Here, it is a shirtless young man in the clutches of the she-monster, instead of the swooning buxom babe.

Vanity Fare -- Instead of the typical naive scientist creating the monster, we have that trope split in two. Zinthrop follows the role of naive scientist who hopes to benefit mankind with risky "science." Unlike most, he shows restraint. He was willing to call it quits when things went wrong. Janice took up the task of the fatal misstep, pushed by her desire to save her company and her vanity as a woman. She pushed nature over the edge.

Bottom line? WW is a fairly predictable science-gone-wrong tale, but capably acted and directed. There are enough entertaining moments to keep WW watchable. For fans of The Fly, it can be an amusing other-side-of-the-coin.

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