The drive-in theater was dreamt up by a fella named Richard Hollingshead in the early 1930s, but it really wasn't until after World War II that his idea took hold. By 1958, the number of American drive-ins was eeking toward 5,000. That number would slowly ebb away for the next two decades before the bottom fell out in the mid-'80s due in large part to the home video boom. Now, in the digital age, Elite Entertainment has released the second of its nostalgic Drive-In Discs featuring The Wasp Woman (1960, 73 minutes) and The Giant Gila Monster (1960, 74 minutes). B-legend Roger Corman made Wasp Woman in his typically speedy and miserly fashion -- less than two weeks and $50,000. While the main feature easily doubles that budget and boasts some riotous forced-perspective special effects with an entirely average-sized lizard toppling model kits.
Wasp Woman: Janice Starlin is the aging cover girl and president of a cosmetics company who illustrates the extent some gals will go for vanity. Susan Cabot plays Starlin who enlists the aid of a mad scientist who promises to make a miracle age-reversing salve out of insect squeezings. The actress wears glasses and bad makeup to make herself appear shabby, and as she begins taking the quack's experimental injections, off come the glasses and the supporting cast can't believe her transformation. Such monkeying with nature must not go unpunished, and doesn't. Yet not before Starlin transmutates into a bug-eyed beast and starts gnawing on the hired help.
Wasp Woman Notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Gratuitous montage sequences. Cat attack. Bitch slapping. Bee husbandry. Hit-and-run accident. Pipe smoking.
Wasp Woman Quotables: Just in case the audience doesn't know, this helpful fella warns, "Wasps?! Better be careful, they can sting a man to death!" Sexist mover hits on a member of the secretarial pool, "Hi, pretty puss." There's apparent need for panic, "The enzymes! The enzymes have gone CRAZY!!!"
Wasp Woman Time codes: Guinea pig miraculously turned into rat (18:30). First injection of bug juice (35:00). Attack of Wasp Woman (52:08).
Giant Gila Monster: A rural Texas sheriff (Fred Graham) is mystified when a teen couple disappears without a trace. We, of course, know they got ate up by a great big lizard who caught them out necking with all their clothes on. Soon the sucker's flinging cars and trucks off the highway whenever it gets hungry. To distract us from all this fun is a crooning mechanic (Don Sullivan) who zips around town in his hot rod when he isn't making eyes at his French mademoiselle, or taking care of his polio-stricken kid sister. He teams with the sheriff in a county-wide search for his missing friends, but only discovers their wrecked car. It's about then that the sheriff springs his giant gila monster theory on the kid who acts like there's nothing at all extraordinary about such a thing. In fact, our hero decides it's an excellent time to go dancing.
Giant Gila Monster Notables: No breasts. Four corpses. Dancing. Exploding tanker truck. Gratuitous soda jerk. Hot rodding. Drunken disc jockey. Lionel train wreck.
Giant Gila Monster Quotables: The town drunk offers these words of advice to young people, "Buying a car, son, is just like getting married or going to New York City. Everybody ought to do it once, but nobody ought to do it twice." And later tells the sheriff, "I demand a sober-tee test."
Giant Gila Monster Time codes: First clear look at the beast (11:29). Our hero caterwauls, er, sings (24:45). There he goes again (40:00). And again (1:04:35).
Audio/Video: Both movies are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). Neither is in pristine condition, but keep in mind this is a drive-in experience. The audio level is actually stronger on the DISTORTO track, which is meant to re-create the car window-mounted speaker (your left channel). This surround track also includes ambient noises such as footsteps, laughter and even a passing jet airplane. There's some annoying Mystery Science Theater-type wisecracks from people who sound as though they're IN the car with you. (Note to Elite: We can make our own lame jokes, thank you very much). Also, the chirping insects eventually border on skull splitting.
Extras: All sorts of drive-in theater reels. The night begins with a Pledge of Allegiance animation. Another short discourages "public displays of affection." Several others admonish patrons to visit the refreshment center, including the famous "Let's All Go to the Lobby" animation. There's a trailer for I Bury the Living. Plus, two classic cartoons: Betty Boop in "Chess-Nuts" and Popeye in "Fright to the Finish." The menus are a bit confusing, but make a noble effort to keep the theme going. Printed insert features a profile of Cape Cod's Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre.
Final thought: Both flicks are available on other budget discs. However, this double-feature adeptly frames them with a great sense of nostalgia. Recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.