THE WASP WOMAN (1959) Blu-ray
Directors: Roger Corman
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

THE WASP WOMAN is an oldie that re-defined the word "schlock". Produced in the late 1950s for Roger and brother Gene Corman’s distribution company, The Filmgroup, the film has been a public domain staple for years and subject of numerous budget DVD releases as well as one Blu-ray. Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory arm gives the film a surprise Blu-ray treatment (through a deal with Corman himself as the disc carries the “New Horizons” moniker), and we’re not hating it, especially when you witness how good it now looks!

THE WASP WOMAN is a Corman-directed effort written by frequent collaborator Leo Gordon, a memorable character actor in numerous Corman films (such as THE INTRUDER and THE HAUNTED PALACE) and had previously scripted Corman’s THE CRY-BABY KILLER, Jack Nicholson’s first feature. Presumably inspired by the-then success of THE FLY (which had the luxury of being shot in Scope and glorious color), the film stars Susan Cabot (WAR OF THE SATELLITES) as Janice Starlin, the 40-something owner of a glamorous New York cosmetic firm. She learns that her fading beauty is not only harming her personal life but also causing her business to dip. She gets wrapped up with nutty, aging scientist Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark, familiar to monster movie fans for his appearances in FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) who has developed a new serum from the enzymes of wasps (or is it bees?), transforming aging skin back to youthful beauty. Janice takes the treatments and she starts to appear much younger, but the formula changes her personality. Slowly, the lecherous nature of the queen wasp asserts itself inside her. She now turns into a killer black bug-eyed creature with pipe cleaners sticking out of her head and oven mitts on her hands.

In typical Corman cheapie fashion, Cabot's makeup doesn't conceal her neck, making the monster all the more notorious and laughable for the few times you actually see it on screen. Are these scenes memorable? You bet they are! Originally released by AIP on a double bill with BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE, THE WASP WOMAN was actually the very first film produced for The Filmgroup company, and it features some of Corman's regulars including lovely Barboura Morris (THE TRIP) as Janice's secretary and rotund Bruno Ve Sota (THE GIANT LEECHES) as a night watchman. DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN star Anthony Eisley (here billed as "Fred" Eisley) is the hero, William Roerick (NOT OF THIS EARTH) is an employee who goes “missing” and Corman himself has an unbilled cameo as a doctor. BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE star Frank Wolf appears briefly as a flirting furniture delivery man, and Frank Gerstle (star of MONSTROSITY aka THE ATOMIC BRAIN) is a private detective.

As THE WAS WOMAN was not lengthy enough for television broadcasts when first aired, a longer TV version was constructed with Corman hiring Jack Hill to write and direct the honey ranch sequence which was then edited on to the beginning and featured Michael Mark reprising his role as the scientist, as well as AIP regular Aron Kincaid (THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI) and Karl Schanzer (BLOOD BATH). Hill also added the scene of the detective agency's search for the scientist, and the director can be seen answering a phone and driving around town. This longer Allied Artists TV version (1:12:57) is represented on this Blu-ray as is the theatrical version (1:01:07). With both versions being from new 2K scan of an archival fine grain print, the transfers are certainly a revelation when compared to all past home video versions, with the extra added TV bits not showing any drop in picture quality. Presented in 1080p HD in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, grain is tight and completely natural looking. Contrast is exceptional, supported by a nicely modulated gray scale, while the image remains sharp throughout the presentation. Black levels are properly deep and white levels are stable and consistent. Blemishes are few and far between, limited to a few scant lines in the print source. The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, and it has adequately balanced dialogue, music (by Fred Katz) and background effects. English SDH subtitles are also included.

Two commentaries have been furnished for this Blu-ray. One has film historian/author Tom Weaver with participation from Dr. Robert J. Kiss. Weaver discusses the creation and history of The Filmgroup (and points out Gene Corman’s quick cameo in the film), how the script came together (Corman told Weaver he was not only influenced by THE FLY but also THE WOLF MAN) and the entrance of Leo Gordon to scribe a modern screenplay based on the story by Kinta Zertuche (her appearance is also pointed out). Dr. Kiss is on the track for about 10 minutes to talk about the film’s theatrical distribution (it played with a number of features in addition to BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE) and television distribution (it was first shown on TV in 1963). Weaver shares a number of quotes from Susan Cabot from his interview with her (he first met Cabot in 1984, two years before her death), and details his meetings with her at great length, as well as her tragic personal life, death and career. The other commentary has film historian/author Troy Howarth, a big fan of Corman. Howarth talks about Jack Hill’s participation in the TV version, the careers of the various cast members, as well as Corman and his directorial approach here. A full-frame theatrical trailer is also included. (George R. Reis)