The Wasp Woman (1959)

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Susan Cabot, Michael Mark, Anthony Eisley

“Something’s happening to me. I can’t control it.” (Janice, The Wasp Woman)

If I had a penny for every 50s movie that copied the whole “scientific process goes boink” set-up of The Fly, I’d probably have around 20-25p to my name. What can I say, I’m realistic. Either way, The Wasp Woman is one such movie, and while its setting and plot begin differently to that of The Fly, things soon start to get very familiar.

After neglecting his job as a beekeeper by instead catching wasps and performing experiments on them in his office, the eccentric and elderly Eric Zinthrop is told to piss off and take his wanky little wasps with him (well, he’s fired, but I like my wording better). As far as Zinthrop sees it, it’s their loss, because he’s close to a major breakthrough on a new anti-aging formula that uses a queen wasps’ royal jelly instead of that of a queen bee.

"No, I don't dye my eyebrows you prick"

Zinthrop pays an unannounced visit to Starlin, a cosmetic firm in New York, and asks for an audience with their owner Janice Starlin. He shows her what he’s got – a serum that when injected into an animal doesn’t just stop it from aging, but actually reverses the process and makes it look younger. Stunned, Janice gives him an immediate contract and promises to pay him anything he wants to develop and perfect the formula exclusively for her company. 

Bloody junkies, can't keep them off the smack for more than half an hour

Naturally, this being a horror film there’s usually a “but” in these situations, and here it’s a pretty big “but”. Since the formula isn’t ready yet there are certain complications with it… namely that if a human uses it they look a lot younger at first but once it wears off they turn into a huge, murderous wasp monster. Better cancel your order for now, Boots.

Janice isn’t aware of this and one night, impatient at Zinthrop’s slow progress, she breaks into his lab and starts injecting the serum on a nightly basis. Everyone’s stunned by her youthful looks but at night it wears off and she transforms, killing anyone who happens to get in her way. She needs Zinthrop’s help but there’s just one problem – he’s been run over and is in hospital. Meanwhile, the serum is running low, meaning Janice will soon transform for good. She should’ve stuck to the Oil Of Olay, in hindsight.

Diana Ross was due on stage in five minutes and she hadn't even started doing her make-up yet

The Wasp Woman is, as Charles Dickens once put it, “daft as fuck”. While the acting’s of a fairly decent standard throughout the music is horrendous and the special effects are more or less non-existent. Don’t be fooled by the terrifying beast on the movie poster, the wasp costume in the actual movie is just that – a stupid furry mask with two furry gloves. On some scenes, when we see the waspified Janice from behind, we can see where her wasp mask ends and her very human neck begins.

Since it’s only around 75 minutes long, this is worth a watch if you come across it on TV for some reason. You probably shouldn’t go out of your way to hunt it down though, unless you’re an executive with a beauty firm and you want to take notes on how not to do it. In fact, you could probably say that if you were to go out and pay full price to see this just for the hell of it you’d be getting stung. I wouldn’t say that though. Only a dick would say that.

You can get The Wasp Woman for a few quid on DVD here. If you aren’t interested in the film but like the look of the poster you can buy a print of it here. If you’re a LOVEFiLM subscriber you can stream it for free as part of your package. It’s also on the US Netflix library, which UK users can access using the Netflix DNS trick.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

2 thoughts on “The Wasp Woman (1959)

  1. You might be a film buff but you’re not a musician. The music by Fred Katz is probably the best thing about the film. It’s unsettling, startling and contemporary.

    1. Great thing about opinions, everyone’s got them. I never said I was a musician but I’m still allowed to have tastes and in this occasion Katz’s score did nothing for me.

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