A beautiful woman by day—a lusting queen wasp by night.
Only hell could breed such an enormous beast…only God could destroy it!
Growing up in New England meant many things, not the least of which was the weekend ritual of watching "The Creature Double Feature" on channel 56 out of Boston. Every Saturday afternoon we were treated to two classic cheesy horror movies. It was a veritable wasteland of giant radioactive insects, actors in vulcanized rubber costumes throwing each other around on scale models of futuristic Tokyo, and some of the worst Dracula rip-offs ever seen.
I think a lot of us have fond memories of bad movies. Movies that seemed great when we were children are looked upon with a sort of nostalgic disdain now that we know better, but there's something about those old movies that keeps us coming back.
Once upon a time in America, there were also a lot of drive-in theaters that typically screened these bad sci-fi and horror movies. Drive-ins have largely disappeared (though there is a nice one right around the corner from my apartment) but the outlet for horror movies has not. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately, depending on your perspective) Elite Entertainment is publishing a series of "Drive-In Discs" that present double features of forgotten "classics" from the days of the drive-in theater. The Wasp Woman and The Giant Gila Monster are lovingly preserved on Drive-In Discs Volume 2.
Facts of the Case
King of schlock horror Roger Corman directed The Wasp Woman, the tragic tale of cosmetics magnate Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot, in her final film role) who, with the help of a mad scientist (oh, aren't they all?), stumbles onto a youth formula derived from the royal jelly of wasps. Despite warnings not to take too much, Janice begins sneaking into the lab and increasing her dosages. The results? At night she becomes the hideous wasp woman and must kill and devour human beings out of some sort of instinct.
The second part of our double feature brings us to a small Texas town, where Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) portrays a beatnik teenager and music star hopeful who must stop a giant lizard from devouring the town. Trains and cars begin to disappear, and only Chase and the town drunk seem to know what's going on. After various musical interludes, Chase roars into action to blow up the giant radioactive beast. Hilarity ensues!
I'll just get this out of the way: these are not good movies.
The Wasp Woman features everything that is really wrong with B-movies: cheap special effects and costumes, mad scientists trying to play God, and a really stupid person who refuses to heed all the warnings of said scientist. Meanwhile, Janice's co-workers begin to see a change in her, and instead of trying to help her, they sit around at the local bar for most of the movie talking behind her back. The nerve of those people! Serves them right when the Wasp Woman attacks! The Wasp Woman makeup consists of a bizarre rubber mask that does not cover Cabot's neck, and also of two glove pieces that do not cover her wrists or arms. I'm sorry, but if you're going to be a Wasp Woman you would think you'd be a complete Wasp Woman.
Unfortunately a few things were missing from The Wasp Woman to make it a complete B-movie, and those things would be: inappropriately placed musical numbers with misguided lyrics and accompanying dance steps, the town drunk who sees the horrific title creature but nobody else does, and last but not least the oversized beast of doom represented by close-ups of a similar but non-accurate species of animal. Fortunately, The Giant Gila Monster provides all three of these items. Maybe one of the greatest moments in all of B-moviedom occurs when the Gila monster begins breaking through a barn that also happens to be the location of a barn dance. Our heroes advice to the people at the dance? "Don't panic!" Yes, when a gigantic radioactive lizard begins breaking down the only thing standing between you and it, you should never panic. Good advice, Chase! Thankfully, these plucky teens think Chase is a moron and they run screaming in terror, which is the natural reaction to enormous lizards (Steve Irwin notwithstanding).
Both The Wasp Woman and The Gigantic Gila Monster have been given anamorphic transfers for this collection, and to their credit Elite Entertainment seems to have done a pretty solid job. It does not appear, however, that too much effort was made to clean up the master prints, and the various dust mites and graininess you would expect from old B-movie prints are present. One thing to mention is that the transfer of The Giant Gila Monster is dark. Very dark. It's very nearly impossible to tell what's going on in some scenes, especially at night. I do seem to remember that this is the fault of the so-called cinematographer, but it would seem the transfer has actually enhanced this problem. The audio is a standard mono soundtrack, which is what these films were originally presented in.
The special features are an interesting mix. Elite Entertainment has made every effort to recreate the whole drive-in experience, with the exception, of course, of the mosquito swarms and any ensuing clumsy copulation attempts in the back seat of the car. Two cartoon shorts are included, and fans can entertain themselves with either "Betty Boop" or "Popeye" before watching one of the features. After seeing the "Betty Boop" cartoon, all I can say is that it must have been much easier to entertain people back when it was made. Also included are various advertisements that were common to drive-in theaters, and some of these are downright hilarious. The most interesting special feature on this DVD, however, might be Elite Entertainment's Distorto sound. When active, the front left speaker will be the only active speaker broadcasting the film soundtrack (at a drive-in a speaker was placed in the driver's side window of your car) while the surround speakers will broadcast various drive-in movie background noise, such as cars and people talking. This is a pretty original idea and it's nicely presented here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's not really too much to say here, except that I wanted to ask why the heroes of movies need to have ridiculous names like Chase Winstead. Wouldn't a name like Steve Briggs serve the same purpose without sounding really dumb?
I'd also like to point out that I can't necessarily agree with the choices of movies made for this series on this installment. There are far better "giant monster" classics out there such as Them! or the lamentable The Beginning of the End. Maybe we'll see these on future installments.
If you like these movies, I would recommend this DVD. I seriously doubt either film will receive better treatment than they have here, unless the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode featuring The Giant Gila Monster makes its way to DVD.
The movies themselves are guilty of being cheesy sci-fi/horror fare, but Elite Entertainment is acquitted and free to go on the merits of the presentation of this DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Betty Boop Cartoon
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