For Reel

The Wasp Woman (1959)
June 12, 2016, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roger Corman
2 Stars
The Wasp WomanLegendary director Roger Corman turned to exploitation films in the mid-1950s, marketing towards a teen audience by quickly and cheaply making films relevant to the day’s trends. The Wasp Woman comes on the heels of the success of The Fly and brings a score of energetic jazz music to keep the action fresh and exciting. If as a horror film it is not particularly monumental, The Wasp Woman represents Corman at his most socially conscious, whether by accident or not. The screenplay by Leo Gordon (from a story by Kinta Zertuche) upends the mad scientist genre altogether in its sympathetic depiction of Janice Starling, the president of a major cosmetics company (played by Corman staple Susan Cabot). Whereas women in similar films might search for a youth serum in order to attract a mate, in The Wasp Woman the serum is almost thrust upon Starling as a means of preserving the financial stability of her company. An early boardroom scene shows complaints that Starling has become too old to continue to be the face of the company, and her aging is to blame for the plummeting sales. Her abuse of the serum that leads to her demise is driven by her desire for power, her empire having been destroyed by the beauty standards of her era. If the film is a key feminist text of the late-1950s, however, it fails as both a horror film in both delivering the scares and in creating a psychological tension in its lead character. Although Starling goes on a killing streak, her amnesia sweeps the consequences under the rug. Had Starling been wrought as being aware of the mayhem she causes, the drama might have amplified the film’s sense of tragedy.

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