The Horror Honeys: BEE WARY OF HER STING


A Sci-Fi Honey Classic National Honey Month Review by Katie

The Wasp Woman (1959)

September is National Honey Month, so what better way to get in the sticky and sweet spirit than to tackle a sci-fi classic about deadly honeymakers?  The bee is one of the most feared creatures in the insect world, a fact that has been exploited in numerous horror films in the past seven decades (and even in some non-horror, R.I.P. Thomas J).  

Unless you’re allergic, however, bees are generally those pesky creatures you just shoo away from your picnic food; the WASP, on the other hand, is the most aggressive stinging insect on earth and something you want to run the hell away from.  Taking a cue from the success of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly, which premiered a year earlier, Roger Corman takes the fear of these diabolical creatures and applies it, with a little mad science and Cormanesque sci-fi cheese, to the titular deadly dame of 1959’s The Wasp Woman.

I don't care about my looks! Staaaaahhhhppp!
Neumann’s 1958 version of The Fly is still hugely influential on the sci-fi/horror genre, and was quite obviously an influence on our friend Roger Corman, who adapted the same basic premise for this female-oriented insect feature.  Susan Cabot plays Janice Starlin, president and spokesperson for a successful cosmetics company, whose net worth is dwindling because she is no longer the young, fresh-faced ingĂ©nue once featured in her product ads.  Seeking to rejuvenate both her face and her bottom line, she enlists a crackpot scientist to extract an enzyme secreted by queen wasps, known as royal jelly, that supposedly has some cosmetic significance for humans.  The scientist believes this royal jelly could be the key ingredient in a new serum that will reverse the aging process, and sells his idea to Janice in exchange for his ability to experiment and inject any number of mammals, from guinea pigs to cats, with its restorative properties.  Who cares that the cat goes insane and attacks after being given a dose of the royal jelly serum – he’s got the youthful glow of a kitten, and isn’t that what’s important here?

Alas, the “science” in sci-fi movies is usually a conduit for evil, and Janice eventually sneaks into the lab to double-dose herself on the royal jelly serum.  Over the course of the weekend, she has reverse-aged herself by 18 years, looking like she did when she started her company.  Janice has never felt looked or felt better, but there are some unintended consequences for consuming too much of this potion, like debilitating headaches, oh, and turning into THIS.

Am I sexy now?

Not THAT serum, that'll turn you into Jeff Goldblum!
Let’s just say the film’s poster is a little misleading; Janice does not have a gorgeous face with the lethal body of a winged wasp, nor does she actually sting anyone – she merely overpowers them and kills with what appears to be a bite to the neck, or death from shock by looking at her face, either one is plausible.  While the impact of the “help me!” scene in Neumann’s The Fly is still enough to give a modern viewer the chills (tiny fly with head of a man, nightmare fuel), Janice’s wasp transformation is laughable to say the least, and less inspired.  Corman is known for pulling off crazy ideas on a miniscule budget, and the homemade-costume nature of the JaniceWasp, complete with goofy antennae and wooly wasp-gloves, does not generate a sense of terror compared to, say, the BrundleFly.  

But this IS Roger Corman, after all, and there’s a reason that genre aficionados watch his special brand of sci-fi films – and it’s the same reason this movie was riffed by Cinematic Titanic.  It’s poorly written and acted, haphazardly edited, and embarrassingly low-budgeted, yet… it’s loads of awful, silly fun.  It’s everything that a B (or BEE) movie should represent, even if the thrills are cheap and most of the comedy is unintentional.  If it’s zany sci-fi camp you’re seeking, you’ll find a whole hive of it in The Wasp Woman, and the perfect antidote to the fear induced by its Fly-inspiration. 

Sci-Fi Honey Rating:  Three buzzing, fuzzy JaniceWasps out of five.