When I'm reviewing an age old movie what I'm really talking about is remake and reboot. Is the movie I'm telling you about worth improving upon?
When it comes to THE WASP WOMAN, there is nothing but room for improvement of course, but the only point to making a remake this old with an audience population that's practically nil is, was the concept good enough in the first place?
One year earlier in 1958, 20th Century Fox had a surprise hit with their creature feature, THE FLY. The movie was such a hit, that Fox chose to rush out a crappy sequel (Corporate Culture at Fox), RETURN OF THE FLY, released only six months later. At this point, of course, every low budget studio wanted their own insect-human monster movie. So up steps a very young, ambitiously Capitalist Roger Corman.
So yeah, people turning into insects was a great concept, it just wasn't Corman's concept. Also, Corman didn't start out directing THE WASP WOMAN, Jack Hill did (find out what happened there in Roger Corman's book, How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime.)
THE WASP WOMAN begins with 11 minutes and thirty seconds of what can generously be called, wasted celluloid. There's just no reason for it, other than to pad a 62 minute movie out to a required 73 minute movie to get a feature film length that theaters will accept.
So the first part, involving Mr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY'S HAND, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, PHANTOM FROM SPACE, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, RETURN OF THE FLY) as a doddering scientist following his own research instead of doing the research his boss wanted, is long, drawn-out, and yawn worthy.
The movie really begins in the city where Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot: WAR OF THE SATELLITES) of Janice Starlin Enterprises, is holding a executive meeting. When she demands answers to the problem of slumping sales, one of her smirky salesmen, Bill Lane (Anthony Eisley: THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME, THE WITCHMAKER, THE MIGHTY GORGA, THE MUMMY AND THE CURSE OF THE JACKALS, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN , MONSTROID, DEEP SPACE, EVIL SPIRITS, DEADLY DECEPTION) not only puts the blame at her feet, but convincingly explains how.
Later, Janice privately takes one of her other executives, Arthur Cooper (William Roerick: NOT OF THIS EARTH, THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, GOD TOLD ME TO), aside. In her office, Janice questions Arthur about royal jelly, not from bees, but from wasps. Arthur's answer, his entire attitude, is patronizing and disrespectful. Janice is going to have to find her answers elsewhere.
Those answers will come pretty damn quick, as one Mr. Eric Zinthrop has been impatiently waiting outside her office for his appointment. As Starlin and Zinthrop greet each other, they summarize everything in the first eleven minutes of the movie in a matter of seconds, and then bring us to the point in an additional two minutes. If you thought the whole opening with beekeepers was a drag while you were watching it, you're really going to grind your teeth when you see Director Roger Corman reduce it to nothing but empty filler.
Zinthrop quickly demonstrates what a mad genius (with a heart of gold) he is when, armed with nothing more than a hypodermic needle and a couple of rats in a cage, turns one and then the other younger with a mere injection. With a proper laboratory and more money, he wants to do more animal tests, working his way up to humans.
God damn, Zinthrop! You rock!
Not to be outdone, Starlin in turn, demonstrates what a mad CEO (with a heart of gold) she is. Janice wants Eric to forget all that working his way up nonsense and start right in on this royal jelly youth thing by experimenting on her.
Holy freaking crap, Starlin! You're insane!
Kindly old ethical scientist Zinthrop points out how dangerous such an experiment could be, but what the hell? As long as he gets full credit, he'll do it!
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Now bear with me on a sidetrack here: did story pitcher, Kinta Zertuche, screenwriter, Leo Gordon (ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, TOWER OF LONDON, THE TERROR), and Director Roger Corman really believe that this Looney Tunes set-up was adequate Suspension of Disbelief, outside of a Wile E. Coyote strategy?
Did they really think that everyday people, especially self-made millionaires struggling to maintain an empire, would chuck it all out the window on a moment's notice and jump at the chance to be a quote, "human guinea pig"?
I mean, we haven't even got to the whole insect woman part yet and already this trudging slow movie is going off the rails (not so much flying off at break-neck speed as slowly tipping over onto its side). If you were watching this yourself, you'd see that it took 22 minutes out of a 73 minute movie to get to the plot, which the audience already knows because they've seen the poster and the title is called THE WASP WOMAN.
Next thing you know, Janice is announcing to the executive board that Janice Starlin Enterprises will soon be back on top, something that aggravates Arthur Cooper. Janice also introduces Mr. Zinthrop (say, why isn't this guy Dr. Zinthrop?) and plays her cards close to her chest. The board doesn't know exactly what Zinthrop will be doing, so they secretly conspire against her.
What's more, they connive the women closest to Janice, her sultry-voiced secretary, Maureen Reardon (Lynn Cartwright: THE CRY BABY KILLER, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, SOMETHING EVIL, THE LUCIFER COMPLEX, THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE), and her personal assistant Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris: A BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE HAUNTED PALACE, THE DUNWICH HORROR), to work against her. They dig through her desk, find receipts and paperwork, and tell the boys on the board.
The men know nothing of Zinthrop's research, but they don't respect Janice and so impugn anything she attempts to do without their approval first. The conspirators are led around by Cooper, who thinks nothing of putting his underlings jobs and safety at risk to "get to the bottom of things". Bill Lane, like the sap he is, puts his faith in Cooper despite the obvious warning signs.
Janice, meanwhile, is getting impatient, and I can't blame her. So at the 36 minute mark (only 36 minutes left to go before end credits! Hang in there!) Janice shoots herself up with as much dosage as she wants.
And yeah, the first thing that happens is, Janice looks considerably younger. Nearly the whole board is excited by the change, except for Cooper, who is clearly upset and uncomfortable. In private, Janice's personal assistant, Mary, is so overcome with emotion over the change that she spills the whole conspiracy to Janice, including Cooper's part in it. Janice, delighted with her rejuvenated youth, laughs forgivingly.
Dr. Zinthrop, meanwhile, gets a nasty surprise from one of his research animals.
Later at lunch, Cooper is dismissing Janet's youth and poisoning Mary against Dr. Zinthrop, making Mary think that her betrayal of Janice is for the poor CEO's own good.
Between betraying Janice - for her own good - and being entirely up front about her betrayal whenever Janice asks, Mary is an odd lynch pin to this story. Soon Dr./Mr. Zinthrop goes missing and Janice is having headaches or who knows what. She hires a Private Detective, Les Hellman (Frank Gerstle: D.O.A., THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, THE NEANDERTHAL MAN, KILLERS FROM SPACE, THE ATOMIC BRAIN, SHOCK CORRIDOR), to track the Doctor down.
They find Zinthrop in a hospital, in a coma, suffering from brain damage. Emotionally overcome, Janice puts her trust back in Arthur Cooper, who is so touched he seems to be humbled by her forgiveness, oh wait.
We're at the 52 minute mark before something finally happens and... it doesn't come close to the monster on the poster. Worse! Roger actually has Janice repeat a famous line from THE FLY!
I can imagine what a let down the monster was for audiences in 1959. They waited and waited and, when the monster appears, it is a pathetic joke!
And if the writing and direction wasn't bad enough, the music consisted of nothing more than dramatic stings from, of all people, accomplished jazz cellist and pianist, Fred Katz!
It took a long time for the Fly to reveal itself in THE FLY, but when it did, by golly it delivered! If anything, it was more horrifying than the poster!
So back to my opening: Is this a concept worth remaking?
Hell no. But in 1995, Roger did anyway with Jim Wynorski Directing. It was just as bad, but in color. Color didn't save it. Both movies are available as public domain.
Two Shriek Girls.
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