Double Feature Showdown – The Wasp Woman Vs. The Leech Woman
It’s October, so all I want to watch is horror films. I’m down with a lot of the newer stuff, but my true passion lies in the B productions from the thirties, forties, and fifties. There’s a lot of good stuff hidden behind some bad costumes, and I find myself taking a lot of pleasure from giant bugs and other diabolical monstrosities. Lately, I’ve become especially interested in lady monsters, and could not resist the awesome double feature of The Wasp Woman and The Leech Woman one Sunday afternoon. Which one of these classic lady-driven nightmares is better? Read and find out!
The Wasp Woman (1959): Cosmetics company head Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) has taken her face off the advertising for the business, and sales have plummeted. Aging has taken its natural toll, and she is pragmatic about it, until a mysterious Dr. Zinthrop (Michael Mark) contacts her about his revolutionary discovery regarding wasp enzymes. He claims he can reverse the aging process, but Starlin is skeptical, until she sees the formula in action on animal test subjects. She insists he begin testing on her immediately, and he only half-heartedly resists. It doesn’t take long before she starts looking younger and begins sneaking into the lab to give herself extra injections. Soon the animal test subjects begin displaying extremely aggressive behavior, and Starlin herself also exhibits some unusual new habits. Like turning into a wasp-headed, blood-sucking cannibal killer. (Well, I don’t know if she’s really a cannibal, but there could be an argument made for it based on the fact that we never see the bodies, and she does suck blood, after all.)
This is a great B film produced and directed by Roger Corman, who’s very good at creating solid stories that can support some seriously questionable special effects. And the special effects here are pretty bad. Starlin’s transformation from CEO to Wasp Woman mostly consists of just showing her in a silly wasp mask and gloves. But it’s kind of awesome, if not terribly frightening. There aren’t a lot of scares to be had here, but there is a lot going on about the fear of aging and the importance of appearing youthful. Starlin seizes on the opportunity to look young again, and even when she uncontrollably starts murdering anyone who stands in her way, she turns to Dr. Zinthrop for help rather than the police. One gets the feeling her focus is more in not looking like a wasp than in being able to control the killing.
The Leech Woman (1960): Unhappy June Talbot (Coleen Gray) is stuck in a loveless marriage with the much younger endocrinologist Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry). She takes solace in drink and longs for her lost youth. Things start to look up for her when Dr. Talbot is told of an African drug that can not only slow the aging process, but returns youth to those who have grown old. She believes he wants to rekindle their love during their trek to Africa, but soon discovers his main intent is on using her as the subject in his experiments. They discover not only the powder that will slow the course of aging, but the additive that will turn back time: the human pineal gland. One must die, so that another may be youthful. After an initial hesitation, June embraces the procedure—using her own husband as the source of the hormone. She is restored to her glorious youth, but, sadly, the effects are short-lived. June is determined to stay young, and as her resolve increases, so does the body count.
This is a pretty fun movie except for one thing: THERE IS NO AWESOME LEECH WOMAN MONSTER IN THIS FILM. The use of the word “leech” is a metaphor in this case, and I, for one, am bitterly disappointed. There’s not even any blood-sucking. She’s a leech in the sense that she is living off others, but that’s stretching it a little far for me. Aside from that, it’s a pretty decent little B picture directed by Edward Dein. It features Gloria Talbott in a secondary role, and it’s always nice to see her. The film relies a lot on stock footage to place the story in Africa, which works pretty well, but there is a lot of no-longer-appropriate “natives” dancing with spears going on. It’s interesting and fun, with decent performances and competent direction.
The Winner: Only one of these movies gave me an awesome lady monster, and therefore The Wasp Woman could win on that basis alone, but it’s honestly the better movie. Roger Corman is a great director with the wonderful ability to capture the details in even the schlockiest of films. Both films deal with the issue of aging, but where The Leech Woman just uses the subject as the plot driver, it’s explored a little more in The Wasp Woman. I’m not going to say The Wasp Woman is loaded with subtext, but there’s a lot going on that just isn’t there in the other movie.