The Wasp Woman, 1959. 4/10

A strange movie. The first part seems to promise a sort of bee/wasp gone wild in the woods catastrophe. But, we’re abruptly dropped into the big city, in the middle of cosmetic company politics. The link is the mad doctor, Zinthrop (Michael Mark), with his anti-aging wasp extract/enzyme.

The premise justifies the setting change; but I got so involved in the secretary’s gossipy subplots that the emergence of Susan Cabot’s Janice as a giant wasp was an underwhelming development. The goofiness of the wasp head on a high-heeled body was to be expected for the low-budget ’50s sci-fi genre. But why wait until nearly the end of the movie to start the actual sci-fi?

Janice is entirely too gullible for a successful business woman. She lets Winthrop have carte blanche without any proof that his enzyme will work on humans. Making herself the ‘guinea pig’ does make some sense, since it’s established that she’s obsessed with maintaining a youthful appearance. You would think, though, that since she does begin to look younger soon after starting the injections, she’d be satisfied.

Her obsession becomes an addiction. That’s an interesting tack for a sci-fi movie to take. In a sense, it’s the goal of science fiction–to try the impossible. So, either she should turn into a teenager, a child, and end up an infant; or, to follow the creature theme, she should become a wasp woman much sooner.

The way the plot plays out though, Wasp Woman is essentially a crime drama. Woman hopped-up on enzyme injections scares co-workers in a bug suit and kills them before plunging to her death. What self-respecting monster would confine his/her mayhem to a claustrophobic high-rise office?

What’s more expected in this genre is a town, city, or world threatened by a monster or alien. At least let’s have an implication of wider danger; some stock footage of army units rolling, civilians fleeing and panicking. I guess there’s room for a sort of ‘kitchen-sink’ sci-fi, if the focus is psychological. That might’ve worked here, especially with the addiction theme. What happened instead was neither a psychological thriller nor a convincing sci-fi drama.

There was an opportunity for a sort of Jekyll (Janice) and Hyde (Wasp Woman) juxtaposition. But we don’t the transition from Janice to Wasp Woman in the creepy sort of way done in the Jekyll and Hyde or Wolfman movies. Those sorts of scenes could’ve added mystery and horror.

The movie is a mash-up of disparate elements, which, if combined with more finesse, might’ve made a much more entertaining movie. As noted in the Goofs section, the drive on the city streets shows several cars (mostly ’63 Chevys) that were still on the drawing boards when Wasp Woman was first released. Why even include that sequence anyway?

This is worth watching once; but you might need to ‘punch-in’ since the viewer spends so much time watching office staff at work. 4/10.

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