director Roger Corman, Jack Hill
Roger Corman might have been a visionary (of a variety of aspects of filmmaking) but early in his career, his failure to establish copyrights was a real lack of perspective on how his work would be seen in its perpetuity. His 1959 horror thriller The Wasp Woman is a prime example, part of Corman’s unintentional donation to the trove of the public domain.
A couple truisms about Roger Corman’s 1950’s-early 1960’s films: the posters were often the best thing about them, often designed by Albert Kallis (not sure who designed The Wasp Woman poster), and the poster could be as misleading and far-out as you needed to get the people into the theater. The films themselves are varying degrees of care and utter lack of care, usually determined by Corman’s budget-mindedness. But Corman himself came to start appreciating movies after a while and would be known to put a little more in on a film if it was his own or something he cared about, most notably in his Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe series.
The Wasp Woman is an interesting riff on the cult of youth in feminine beauty, about a make-up mogul, Susan Cabot, whose empire is on the wane as she, not only the president but the face of her company, is giving in to the mild ravages of age. She takes an intravenous hit of a wasp-derived youth serum and starts to look younger, but then turns into a killer Wasp Woman. Those side effects will get you.
The social critique isn’t heavy, but has merit. The film’s other qualities include some nice scenes with the gabby secretaries and some glaring points of not caring an iota for reality on Corman’s part: Los Angeles stand-in for New York City in a canvassing scene or a rat standing in for a baby guinea pig (frankly, if you injected a ratty guinea pig with something that turned it into a rat, you’ve really got something strange in your syringe.)
It is quite funny how little the film’s wasp woman has in common with her poster’s presentation. I really wonder what a 1959 audience for this picture thought when they saw this.