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Friday, August 19, 2016

Sci-Fi With A Stinger On It

Corman's Filmgroup Does The Wasp Woman (1959)

Roger Corman takes initiative to do his own sci-fi cheapies outside Jim/Sam oversee. He was a maverick that way, tried same again with one of the Poes (Premature Burial), but got outflanked by wily Arkoff. All these guys kept steely eye on the purse, w/ aesthetics in a back seat. That may be what made pictures better, or at least gave them nervous energy. The Wasp Woman was allegedly done in five days for $50K, and for all I know, that's a high guess. Actors always spoke of Corman thrift in awed terms. He evidently made PRC look like a plush sofa by comparison. Just how cheap? Well, by not copyrighting any of his Filmgroup indies for a start, not so bad a bungle where it's disposable tissue like The Wasp Woman, but 1963's The Terror could have enhanced groceries right to a present day. Instead, both these and other Filmgroups enrich scavengers who labored none of (at least) eighteen-hour days Roger put in.

I submit that The Wasp Woman could be nicely remade with CGI. The concept, if not execution in 1959, has real value. If the movie's PD, couldn't someone update Kinta Kertuche's story and cash checks from there? Scripting was Leo Gordon, who I could never picture at a typewriter. He was toughest guy or menace in a hundred films, then played the part at autograph fairs in the 90's. I was frankly too afraid to approach him. The man fairly growled at fans. Who did he think he was --- Leo Gordon? The Wasp Woman tackles femme issues as would year-later The Leech Woman, these exploitable now as then. Will Susan Cabot's age and loss of looks cost her a career in cosmetics? She'll try a doubtful serum to turn back clocks, always a mistake in movies (I wish for once it would work, and make everyone, including viewers, happy). Cabot makes far-fetch believable, a good actress bringing expertise from a seven-year U-I contract to bear on Corman's speed-the-plow. How she real-life perished is a bone-chiller (murdered by her dwarfism-beset son, details horrific).

The Wasp Woman was sold on the top-end of a dualler with Beast From Haunted Cave, latter by most accounts a real stinker. 1959 was late to be fobbing off black-and-white combos. There had been too many ... and too few giving value for money. Even kids were now wary. Shocker money derived better from color (Horrors Of The Black Museum) or chillers more saleable (House On Haunted Hill with sure-thing Vincent Price). Roger Corman was wise enough to see dips ahead and so cast lot with AIP to do Price-in-color House Of Usher, a goose to the genre that would garner profits way ahead of  B/W cheaters. How to promote The Wasp Woman other than with sarcasm? Cartoon ads looked like corner of pages from The New Yorker, flattering suckers that they were above such silliness, but come and let us take your money anyway. The device had been used by Bill Castle on behalf of Macabre (a big hit for such undeserving product) and House On Haunted Hill, then Columbia pinched it for The Stranglers Of Bombay. Ridicule of horrors, even if gently applied, meant the brand was in trouble unless someone breathed in new life, which would come with the Poes, and of course, Psycho, which turned all of screen thrilling on its head and made effort like The Wasp Woman look all a more feeble by comparison.


Blogger MDG14450 said...

I actually prefer Beast from Haunted Cave to Wasp Woman, if only for more interesting characters and a less familiar location.

I also believe that both flicks were just barely feature length, so they had to add footage to sell them to TV.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Dave G said...

That 'mother-in-law' cartoon nearly made me spill my coffee, I laughed so hard. Good job my wife isn't around to ask what was so funny ...

11:06 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

"The Leech Woman." Yes, that was the other one. I always get "The Leech Woman" and "The Wasp Woman" mixed up. "The Leech Woman" at least has the benefit of being owned by Universal and being under copyright, so the DVD looks good. The last time I saw "Wasp Woman," it looked like what I was seeing originated from one of those copy of a copy of a copy of a bad 16mm dupe things that tend to circulate among diehard collectors. I have a friend who would love to have "Wasp Woman" and other early Corman efforts on razor-sharp, mastered from the original camera negatives, Blu-rays, though I'm really not sure that movies like these would really be flattered by Blu-ray's sometimes unforgiving eye for detail.

7:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

As it happens, Randy, TCM's print of "The Wasp Woman" is really excellent. I was able to project its full-frame on a screen cropped for 1.85 and the result was fine. By all means, keep an eye open for their next run, as this is one that turns up fairly regularly at TCM.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Watched THE WASP WOMAN three or four years back. I put it in the "good bad movie" category. I had fun with it.

I was sitting on a bench with Leo Gordon at one of the countless Burbank collectors shows one Sunday afternoon. He was actually quite pleasant, and I was enjoying our conversation. Then some nerdy geek approached and blurted out, "Gee, Mr. Gordon. Can I take your picture?" To which Mr. Gordon replied, "Well, I guess you can if you have a f***ing camera."

The humanoid left and Leo said to me, "F***ing freak, what a dumb ass. I'm going to the liquor store and going home."

My highlight of that day.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Ha! WASP WOMAN Susan Cabot made her first movie appearance in KISS OF DEATH, the film that 'introduced' LEECH WOMAN Colleen Gray. A mere dozen years or so later, both actresses, still in their thirties, play aging murderesses who go to some pretty crazy-ass extremes in regaining their lost youth. I'd rate WASP WOMAN on the higher end of Corman's super-cheapies (hey! it's watchable!) LEECH WOMAN, for me, sits on the bottom rung of UI's last-gasp-almost-done-and-out-of-here-sci-fi cycle (hey! it's watchable!) The latter has the slight edge with a more interesting cast and better make-up/masks. I imagine Craig Reardon might have some thoughts on Ms. Gray's neat (and marvelously artificial looking) old age get-up in that one.

By the way, Chris Nashawaty's CRAB MONSTERS, TEENAGE CAVEMEN AND CANDY STRIPE NURSES is a terrific addition to any movie geek bookshelf.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Corman re-made this in color as he did a number of his films. Like this version much more.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Everything Old Is New Again...

Finished reading this post, and got this pop-up 2 minutes later on AOL -- NOT an endorsement, but had to pass it along!

8:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Again I say --- this story could be very effectively remade today.

Someone should take on "The Wasp Woman" anew!

4:30 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

I'm sorry John, but the concept's bullcaca-it was so then, and it is so now. Also, moviemakers want to remake successes, not failures. There's no way that The Wasp Woman could be conceived today and work for audiences, and young women would be blasting it as misogynist and sexist online. Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but for me I don't feel that it will happen.

12:29 AM  

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