Elite's second volume in their "Drive-In Discs" collection brings us two more features that re-define the word "schlock." First up is THE WASP WOMAN, a 1960 Roger Corman effort presumably inspired by the success of THE FLY. Susan Cabot stars as the 40-something owner of a glamorous 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 a nutty scientist who has developed a new medical cosmetic from the enzymes of wasps, transforming aging skin back to youthful beauty.
Cabot 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 black bug-eyed creature with pipe cleaners sticking out of her head and oven mittens on her hands. In typical Corman cheapie fashion, Cabot's make-up doesn't conceal her neck, making the monster all the more notorious and laughable.
Originally released by AIP on a double bill with BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE, THE WASP WOMAN was the first film produced for Corman's Filmgroup company, and it features some of his regulars including Barboura Morris (THE TRIP) and fatboy Bruno Ve Sota as a night watchman. DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN star Anthony Eisley (here billed as "Fred" Eisley) is the hero, and Corman himself appears briefly as doctor.
Not lengthy enough for television broadcasts when first aired, Corman hired 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. Hill also added the scene of the detective agency's search for the scientist, and the director can be seen answering a phone. This longer Allied Artists TV version is cut of the film represented on the disc.
The other feature on the disc is THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, directed by Ray Kellogg who gave us the more interesting THE KILLER SHREWS the same year. In it, a small town starts having mysterious disappearances out in the desert. After a while, the residents finally figure out that it's a very hungry giant gila monster. It attacks a barn, gets shot at, and is blown up by an empty car filled with nitro during the exciting conclusion.
THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is one of the most unconvincing of all 50s creatures. Using a real "gila monster" lizard, the poor thing is seen stomping on Lionel Train scale models and never once can the viewer let his imagination go and think that it's really giant. It's filled with hot-rodding teens, a bewildered sheriff and inspiring music numbers by the mechanic/hero who also plays the ukulele. Some will love this on the guilty pleasure level, others will stare in disbelief.
Being in the public domain, both films have already been released on DVD a few times over, but Elite's overall presentation is the most appealing yet. Both films are 16x9 enhanced (though seeming to be obscuring some picture information on the top and bottom of the screen). THE WASP WOMAN looks fairly sharp and smooth with minimal lines and other signs of wear. THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (which has never faired well on home video) looks soft and somewhat blurry, with dark scenes really suffering. Video artifacting is apparent in sections of both films, especially in black areas.
Like Elite's "Drive-In Discs Volume 1," you can view the entire program as one big drive-in show complete with concession stand ads, theater announcements and promotions, cartoon shorts (a "Betty Boop" and a "Popeye" cartoon in this case), and a trailer for I BURY THE LIVING (coming soon with THE HAND as Elite's third installment of the series). There is also the secondary DISTORTO! track, which authentically recreates the drive-in sounds, including feet prancing in the sand, car doors slamming, and heckling teenagers.
Elite plans to release many more installments in their "Drive-In Discs," and I do hope these fun, nostalgic DVDs keep coming. But I wish that they'd aim for more obscure titles in the future, as well as stuff that's not already been tried on disc before. After all, I BURY THE LIVING is due from MGM in November and will probably be remastered from the original UA negative. How about a double feature of two of Barbara Steele's Italian films? (George R. Reis)
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