3/27/08

CT003 The Wasp Woman

(1959, Horror, b&w)

Rating: **1/2

The title is synopsis enough.

In a nutshell:

A wasp-based elixir of youth turns its user into a murderous insect/human hybrid.

Summary:

I guess bees are kind of wasp-like.The avuncular and vaguely Eastern European Dr. Zinthrop collects wasps for study, hoping to use wasp queen jelly to reverse the aging process. The honey company that bankrolls his research feels that he really ought to have been studying bees instead, so they let him go.

Fortunately for him, aging cosmetics magnate Janice Starlin has been searching for ways make her lined face smooth again, and summons him to demonstrate his discovery. (Apparently she never thought of, oh, wiping off her poorly painted forehead lines and crow’s feet.) Using massive injections of distilled waspiness, Zinthrop shows her how he can turn cats into smaller cats and guinea pigs into rats. The excited Starlin promises to fund all his future research if he will use her as his first human test subject.

We break here for a lengthy, irrelevant and profoundly boring subplot in which several of Starlin’s employees suspect Zinthrop of running a scam and snoop for clues to that effect. They don’t find any, the end (of the subplot). There’s at least thirty minutes killed, with another ten if you count the lengthy apologies after Starlin gets her first few doses and turns up at work without glasses, with shorter hair and with more flattering makeup.

Trace keeps his lips in tip-top butt-kissing shape.Shortly thereafter, one of Zinthrop’s test subjects goes insane and attacks him. Zinthrop kills it and incinerates the body before he wanders, despondent, from the building. He’s too busy shaking his head and muttering to himself to look both ways before he crosses the street, and predictably becomes someone’s hood ornament.

Starlin becomes frantic when she can’t find him. She’s been juicing herself with every clear liquid she can find in Zinthrop’s laboratory fridge, and finds the prospect of getting cut off from her source quite alarming. Break again for another lengthy etc. subplot cut from an entirely different film. (The riffers note that the footage looks like it’s from a Driver’s Ed short, and it does, but I can’t find anything online that says for sure.) I think this unrelated footage is supposed to be a searching sequence, and indeed it ends about ten minutes later with someone back in the main film answering a phone and saying “They’ve found him.”

Zinthrop awakes after several days of coma, and he knows he has to warn someone about something or other, but he can’t remember what. By this time, Starlin has transmogrified into a wasp/human hybrid several times to kill and devour her chief scientist, a doughy night watchman and a nurse. The last one happens in front of Zinthrop’s hospital bed, jogging his memory enough to warn the rest of the staff. There’s a showdown in his old lab, ending when Zinthrop throws acid in her transmogrified face while another employee pushes her out a window. Zinthrop dies of a heart attack immediately afterwards. Then the survivors look over at a close-up of Starlin’s partially dissolved wasp face lying nearby, so I guess she fell back in the window while we weren’t looking.

Thoughts:

Buddy Rich, on the other hand, exercises his mouth by hurling profanity at his hosts.Roger Corman films are kind like balloons in that they look the same size as other movies, but they’re mostly made of air. According to this simile, they should also float away as soon as I let go of their strings, but I just can’t seem to make that happen. No analogy is perfect, I guess.

Anyway, Wasp Woman is about as Corman as a film can get. Single digit cast? Check. Sparse and stilted script? Check. Endless scenes of the characters getting from one place from another? Oh yeah. Roger Corman doesn’t even bother to film his own transportation scenes this time, as the driving sequences have all been lifted from other sources. Even this does not appear to have filled out the running time adequately, as Corman supplements with endless board room and injection sequences as well. Their one tiny special effect—furry gloves and a wasp mask made from papier-mache and pipe cleaners—appears to have been too expensive to overuse. It’s a seventy-nine minute movie, and the eponymous wasp woman doesn’t even show up until halfway through minute fifty-nine.

The Cinematic Titanic crew only stops the movie twice this time: First, when Mary Jo calls a pointless board meeting to berate her fellow riffers. All except Trace, who brownnoses shamelessly. Second, when Frank reprises his dead jazz musician performance series with an appearance by Buddy Rich. Having arrived, Mr. Rich refuses to play, heaping verbal abuse on everyone involved until they release a cloud of killer wasps to drive him off the stage. Both vignettes depend on insult humor and both are decently funny.

The riffing goes decently as well, though even with five riffers, a film as empty as this one requires them to go on the occasional tangent when the mockable material runs out. As the film starts off, J. Elvis notes, “Directed by Corman, so you know this was three days well spent.” While Starlin sneaks around the office in the dead of night, Trace says, “She’s treading awfully lightly for someone who owns the building.” As the borrowed driving footage drags on, Mary Jo asks, “Why build suspense when you can build hostility?” After at least a dozen injection scenes (accompanied by at least twice that many drug jokes from the riffers) Joel says, “She’s shooting up again, and I’m all out of heroin references.” When the thing finally ends with Starlin’s acid-soaked corpse, Frank says, “‘Twas beauty killed the bees.” As a whole, Wasp Woman is fun but not special, like an average episode of MST3K.