Giant Gila Monster, The/The Wasp Woman

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Creature Features Wasp Woman and Giant Gila Monster given Drive-In Movie treatment

Mar 14, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fun extras.  Wasp Woman is above average.

Cons:Cheesy, very low budget movies

The Bottom Line: Fun Drive-In-Movie experience features makes the two 1959 movies more entertaining to watch.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

1959’s The Giant Gila Monster  and The Wasp Woman are well known cheap, and cheesy creature features that were made to be shown at drive-in movie theaters.   Roger Corman’s Wasp Woman is the better of the two and has been over-praised because of its strong over-interpreted feminist angle—the main character is a woman CEO (who’s very vain and eventually vengeful).

The treat in this now regrettably out of print Elite Entertainment  Drive in Disc Volume 2 DVD is in its presentation.  I wouldn’t recommend Gila Monster except to real creature feature freaks and The Wasp Woman is mainly worthwhile for Roger Corman or Baaad movie lovers.  However this particular circa 2001 DVD package makes for a very fun evening.

Why?


You turn on the features for the drive-in-movie experience and you’ll find out.

Things begin with a vintage Betty Boop cartoon (that probably never actually played a Drive-In—but that’s okay).  And coming attractions trailer for I Bury the Living).    (I’ll explain more… later if you keep reading).

You also can click on DISTORTO SOUNDthe latest in low fidelity technology.    You will then get the movie’s sound from your front left speaker in sort of an old school drive in theater single hang on your window speaker sound.  The other speakers will bring you ambient sound which includes people walking on gravel ‘near your car’, a car pulling up next to yours,  car doors slamming,  people pounding on the trunk of the car wanting to be let out,  some people inside your car making stupid remarks about the movie, an airplane flying overhead, crickets chirping very loudly outside  and a few other sounds.

Yes, it’s a gimmick that gets a bit annoying after a while, but it’s FUN!!!!   The DVD also had a pullout slip sheet that included a short biography of a classic Cape Cod drive-in Theater.

The movies look pretty good.   Elite had intended to do a 15 volume set of these Drive In Discs, but it never happened and only 3 double feature discs were ever produced and released.  They all had the same sort of sound effects on them and only a few minutes of the extra content varies (and different cartoons).  Sure if I put on my nitpicker hat I could tell you this is a great idea but it could have been done a lot better with more Drive In Movie stuff put onto it that you might have actually seen in Drive-Ins.  I would have had the cricket noises only show up once in a while and come up with an even wider diversity of noises and less bad joke patter from the supposed people in the car.  (There’s almost no people chatter when the movies are playing however).

A pull-out slip sheet contains a "bio" of a classic Cape Cod drive-in theater

THE MOVIES


1959’s The Wasp Woman  is not Roger Corman’s best creature feature or even his cheapest, but it’s entertaining and it’s even been analyzed for its feminist viewpoint (though that’s a real stretch).   Corman was cashing in on the original classic The FLY (1958).  He made it quickly with one of his favorite leading ladies:  Susan Cabot who would wind up all over the news right after they finished filming this because or her scandalously shocking fling with Jordan’s King Hussein!  

Janice Starlin, (Cabot in her last movie) owner of a cosmetic firm is almost 40 and beginning to look her age.  At a board meeting, it is revealed the sales figures have declined three months in a row.  Why?  Well the reason must be because 4 months ago, the  ‘face’ of the company in advertisements changed.  After 16 years, Janice Starlin, let someone else be the face on ads for the company.  It’s all explained by a young marketing man named Bill played by a young Anthony (Fred) Eisley (famous for the film Naked Kiss and TVs Hawaiian Eye).   Thinking about this, Janice explains that she’s gotten older and thought it was much wiser to have a younger looking person advertise her products.  “But it is your face they trust,” argues Bill.  She agrees, but what can she do?

Janice meets with her company vice president.  She asks him if he believes that Royal Bee Jelly really helps people or is it just a gimmick.  He believes it does help some people and isn’t just a gimmick, but it certainly isn’t a miracle.  Janice tells him she’s heard about experiments using Wasp Jelly and the vice president explains that the Queen Wasp is like a black widow and not as kind as a Bee Queen (there’s actually no such thing as Wasp jelly, but let’s not go there).  Their conversation ends and Janice then meets with eccentric inventor Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark) who has discovered that extracted enzymes from Queen Wasp jelly reverses the aging process.  Janice is skeptical, but Zinthrop is prepared to prove his claim.  He injects an old guinea pig with his serum and the guinea pig becomes a young white lab rat.

Yep… guinea pig to white lab rat.    We’re supposed to believe the old guinea pig transformed into a very young guinea pig, but Corman didn’t have a young Guinea Pig so decided to use a white lab rat instead hoping it wouldn’t bother people too much.     

Janis Starlin wants to make a deal with eccentric scientist.   Zinthrop asks to be set up with a well-equipped lab, have his bills taken care of and if he is successful in developing the age reversing serum a percentage of profits.  Janice agrees but add that she wants him to experiment on her.   Zinthrop tries to explain that he’s never tried it on a human but he agrees to her terms.

 The company executives are very suspicious about Zinthrop.  Is he a scam artist?  Is he a quack?  He’s set up in a secret lab, his bills are paid for.  What’s going on?  Eventually Zinthrop develops more serum and gives Janice a small dose.  Is anything happening?  She’s not sure.

Janice is impatient.  She wants Zinthrop to inject her with more of the serum, but Zinthrop won’t do it for fear of not yet knowing any after effects of the serum.
Janice breaks into the lab and takes a mega-dose of the serum.  It works wonders.  Everyone notices the difference.  She wants to start work on the new advertising campaign and she wants to start manufacturing a new cosmetic using the Zinthrop Wasp derived serum.  She looks younger, she acts a bit more hyper.

The company executives aren’t sure about this.   After all they don’t trust Zinthrop.  He might be a quack, he might be just extorting money from Janice Starlin.

Bill:  “ Janice Starlin has spent her whole life selling people youth and beauty and now that she’s losing it, she’s scared to death.”


Zinthrop meanwhile discovers that a cat that was aged reversed into being a kitten has suddenly become violent and somewhat dangerous.  The cat attacks him and he has to kill it.  Zinthrop has to tell Janice there’s a problem with the formula, it has side-effects.  But something happens to him and Janice injects herself with even more serum to stop the bad headaches she’s been having and soon she turns into the violent Wasp Woman.

The new company slogan is  Return to Youth with Janice Starlin.  The executives  are cautious about bringing the new product to market, however.  Rightly so it turns out.

This is a very low budget Roger Corman creature feature.  The monster mask when its revealed is not very convincing and looks very cheap.  Wisely it’s kept mostly in the shadows and is hard to see.  It does look like pipe cleaners are sticking out of its side and other than her face and her hands, Janice looks normal (not like the cool poster of the movie at all).

The occasional shots of Bees in a hive (not wasps) might also be  confusing.   The original 61 minute feature was designed to play on double feature bills at hard tops (inside movie theaters)  and on popular triple feature bills at Drive Ins.  The strong woman CEO character, her need to make sure she looks young, were wonderful ideas not seen in cheap creature feature movies ever before.   Susan Cabot’s acting is quite good.

In order to sell the movie to television (so that it would play in a 90 minute time slots) at a good price, Roger Corman had to have movies in the 75 minute range.  So he  had director Jack Hill add a nearly 12 minute prologue to the movie where we watch Zinthrop move a Bee Hive and then get visited by some company executives.   Zinthrop shows the executives some results of his experiments, what looks like a full grown dog and a puppy.  He claims they are both the same age.  He claims the reason for this is the Wasp Jelly Serum  he’s been working on.   Well, he’s supposed to be working on Royal Bee Jelly, so the executives fire him.  The unnecessary prologue delays the fairly exciting final 20 minutes of the film.   The film drags a bit as a result.

The 72 minute version is the one shown on this disc (even though it didn’t originally play in movie theaters or Drive-Ins  in this form.

I have a great time watching this one, though it does drag for ten or fifteen minutes in the middle and the climax is modest, so taking 70 minutes to get there is a bit long.  (It would have been better as a 61 minute movie). Look for a quick cameo by Roger Corman as Zinthrop’s doctor. And if you were wondering about Fred Katz familiar film score for this movie; yes Corman re-used a lot of it for his ultra cheapie Little Shop of Horrors.

There’s a wonderful bit where one of the secretaries who normally talks in a thick New York accent, answers the phone using a phony vaguely French sexy accent when she answers the phone or greets new clients in person.  (Director Joe Dante and others have borrowed this idea for other movies).

BOTTOM LINE:


THE WASP WOMAN is an above average very cheap Roger Corman produced and directed creature feature.  It’s effects are minimal and cheap and there’s a few parts that drag a bit, but an interesting and ridiculously far-fetched premise plus some good acting from Susan Cabot and Michael Mark (as Zinthrop) make this one an above average campy creature feature.  The script by actor Leo Gordon pokes some fun at stereotypes and even though it’s fashionable to say so, there’s actually not much to the feminist movie claims made by some other critics. Barbara Stanwyk, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn and many others had strong leading roles with ‘feminist’ overtones several years before. 

Interesting Trivia:  Susan Cabot had a controversial fling with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1959.  The King broke off contact with her when he discovered she was Jewish (real name Shapiro).  After the controversy Cabot mostly worked on stage and very occasionally on TV shows.  She was in 6 movies with Corman and they probably had a romantic involvement.  Cabot  grew up in at least 8 foster homes as a child, married to get out of going to another foster home, was under contract to Universal but was typecast playing supporting roles in Westerns and Arabian Nights movies. Corman lured her back to films from Broadway in the mid-1950s.  Her son Timothy was born with dwarfism in 1964 and on December 10th 1986, killed Susan  by beating her with  a weight lifting bar in the bedroom of her Encino home (she was 59 and had divorced her second husband Michael Roman in 1983).  Timothy  was charged with involuntary manslaughter citing years of mental and physical abuse by her as his defense.  He received a three year suspended sentence and was placed on probation for the crime. 

INTERMISSION

The Distorto Soundtrack noised during Wasp Women are minimal;  mostly crickets and a few people walking on crushed gravel.

During the intermission announcements, snack bar ads and patriotic music and pictures we hear the voices of the people in the car making comments, singing along to the Let’s All Go to the Snack Bar song, and having a great time.  Then they try to figure out where the pictures are from that are showing while an instrumental of My Country Tis of Thee plays. 

Since we get pictures of men on the moon, this is obviously not something that would have played on Drive in Screens during the late 50s or early 60s when these movies were made.

But who cares.  Seeing the filler ads and pictures along with the sounds and even rather lame comments are fun.  And then we get the 5 minute countdown!!!

And oh yes, the chilly dilly, chilled pickle ads and Hot Dog ads.

The Short Subject is a Popeye Cartoon  Fright to the Finish with an appropriate Halloween Ghost Story theme.

The next feature is the one and only  Giant Gila Monster


2ND FEATURE


1959’s The Giant Gila Monster is low budget creature feature shot in Texas by producer Ken Curtis and director Ray Kellogg which was originally released on a double bill the other movie they made:  The Killer Shrews.


It starts off with a monster attacking a car. We see a close up of lizard, though we don’t really get any sense of its size.  A young couple are in a car, suddenly they see something, and a giant paw/claw comes down on the camera; cut to the credits.  

Sheriff Jeff :  Have you heard the reports of a "giant lizard"?
Mr. Wheeler:   Yes, but it's just not possible.
Sheriff Jeff: Well, why not? There have been giants before!

This bit of inane dialogue doesn’t happen until we’re about 40 minutes into the feature.  For the first 30 minutes we are introduced to a number of characters.    Meet Chase Winstead (played with a lot of charm by Don Sullivan), a remarkably responsible older teenager and leader of a gang of pretty nice young fellas.   Chase is on great terms with Sheriff Jeff (played by likeable Fred Graham) who’s sort of Chase’s surrogate step-dad.   There’s Old Man Harris, the loveable town drunk who is sort of on the wagon (played by Shug Fisher).    The likeability of these three and on-location filming almost makes us forget how dull and slow all of this time-killing stuff is.

Sheriff Jeff is worried about two teenagers that are missing.  The town’s rich and powerful Mr. Wheeler (Bob Thompson) is upset the Sheriff doesn’t seem to be doing much about the missing boys.   He also thinks Chase and his hot-rodding teenage buddies are  nothing but trouble-makers.  We also learn that Mr. Wheeler owned the company where an industrial accident killed Chase’s father.

Actually Chase and his buddies are responsible for discovering what happened to the missing teens.  They were killed by the giant monster lizard before the credits.

Of course no one believes them at first. I mean Giant Lizard?  Come on.  Well you know how this one plays out.  Giant Lizard attacks truck driver,  attacks a model train in a cheap unconvincing effects scene *and eventually attacks the big Barn dance.  Chase also is in a rock and roll band, so there’s very bad rock and roll in this thing to.  The love interest girl friend is Lisa played by Lisa Simone.    There’s other small town clichéd characters too.  Chase gets to be the big hero of the day, risking his life to do battle with the title monster—in an utterly inadvisable manner (ahh those wacky teenagers).

If you ever seen 1958’s The Blob with Steve McQueen you’ll  realize this movie is an extremely low-budget twist on it.   However in Gila Monster you don’t have an interesting monster (a normal sized lizard—not even a Gila Monster is photographed near scale models and toys to look big in unconvincing effects shots).  Like The Blob you do get a good lead performance, but Don Sullivan  didn’t become an international superstar like Steve McQueen.  He made a handful of movies (mostly low budget horror and juvenile delinquent moves) before fading into a non-celebrity life after 1962.

Director Ray Kellog specialized in photographic effects and second unit director work.  He went on to work on films like 1963’s Cleopatra and 1966’s Batman and 1970s Tora Tora Tora.  Oh, and he did direct one of John Wayne’s worst movies 1968’s The Green Berets (the won where the Sun rises in the West and sets in the East).

One of the most ridiculous parts of the Giant Gila Monster is the explanation of how it got so big.  In most giant bug/monster movies of the 50’s radiation from atomic bombs was the reason for the Gigantic Ants in THEM, the giant grasshopper in Beginning of the End,  the giant Crabs in Attack of the Crab Monster  etc, etc.    Here however, we learn the monster got so big because its pituitary gland was affected by a change in its diet.

Sheriff Jeff figures this out, you see.  He explains the bones of giant animals have been found in a nearby valley, certain salts from the animals bones have been washed into the soil and was absorbed by the plants in the area and eaten by the Lizard (which isn’t actually a Gila Monster).  Now, real Gila monsters  actually eat small animals and eggs NOT plants and you also have to wonder  if it’s the lizards diet that made it so big… why aren’t there other giant plant eating animals and insects attacking people?   Well, I’m not going to argue with Sheriff Jeff—I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about.
The Giant Gila Monster is a slow and mostly dull 75 minute low budget production with hilariously awful special effects.  The actors are charismatic and seem to enjoy playing their roles which makes things somewhat bearable.  All of it is very familiar and predictable, so I can’t recommend it when there are both much better and far worse (and more fun) creature features to watch.  The movie itself I’d rate the movie just a bit above 2 stars.

BOTTOM LINE
1959’s The Wasp Woman is a decent but utterly ludicrous Roger Corman produced and directed creature feature.  Susan Cabot’s performance is focused and pretty believable.  The monster make-up is pretty laughable and un-convincing.    1959’s The Giant Gila Monster is a predictable, very low-budget production with very cheap and unconvincing special effects but it has likeable performances from its cast.  I wouldn’t recommend the film on its own.  The Drive in Disc package was pretty unique in 2001 and still fun—but it could have been done more accurately and better.   Over-all rating for the package 3 ½  raised to a 4


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups


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