Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its related projects are pretty jovial, but there always seems to be bits of drama that pop up in the course of movie riffing. There’s Joe Don Baker’s supposed hatred of the show’s treatment of him in “Mitchell,” the fan-generated Joel vs. Mike flamewars and grumblings by former cast members when the 2015 Kickstarter was announced. With “The Wasp Woman,” there were a few items of note.
First, there was a prominently placed note on the cover of the DVD, which also ran before AND after the movie:
“This version of The Wasp Woman has been altered from its original form by Cinema Titan LLC. These alterations are not prepared by, authorized, licensed, sponsored or endorsed by the film’s original authors or proprietors who have no association with the alterations. This version of ‘The Wasp Woman’ is not to be confused with the 1995 production of the same name.”
I’m not sure what might have caused this disclaimer since it’s a public domain film. “The Wasp Woman” was the second film riffed by Cinematic Titanic, premiering April 26, 2008, as a part of the USA Film Festival in Dallas. It was next supposed to be performed June 21, 2008, in Hollywood, but the screening changed to “Doomsday Machine.” If the list of live performances on Wikipedia is accurate, they didn’t perform The Wasp Woman live again until Cinematic Titanic’s final show, Dec. 30, 2013, in Glendale, PA.
Then there was Stuart Galbraith IV’s scathing review of the release on a site I frequented, DVDtalk.com. Galbraith was not the regular reviewer of CT titles, which normally got positive reviews from the site. It seemed odd that Galbraith would review this title, rather than DVDtalk’s regular MST3K/Cinematic Titanic reviewer, Brian Orndorf. I later heard from another reviewer that Galbraith had laid claim to the title thinking it was a regular release of “The Wasp Woman” and was unpleasantly surprised to find it riffed. He pulled no punches:
“It’s as if people like Hodgson et.al., lack the talent to create their own, original comedy, so instead like parasites they latch onto the efforts of others. People like Hodgson prefer to describe what they do as “[riffing] the movies we love,” but that’s really just a euphemism for contempt-laden mockery. Maybe what I find so unfunny about a show like this is that while on one hand it’s a type of humor rooted in an attitude of superiority – We’re so much hipper than that garbage – yet the unfunny material utterly contradicts that assertion because it’s on such an anti-creative level.”
It wasn’t Galbraith’s first brush with riff-hatred, though. Back in 1993, Galbraith wrote a piece called “Hopping mad over MST3000,” which ran in the Ann Arbor News. I do have to agree with him there that non-professional riffing can ruin a night at the movies. But his “painfully unfunny” description of MST3K? Well, let’s just say that humor is subjective.
As for the film itself? It’s an interesting B-movie idea, with an aging cosmetics company owner turns to enzymes from the royal jelly of wasps to restore her youth, which causes her to mutate into the titular Wasp Woman. It’s kind of like a female version of “The Fly,” if it all took place inside the grayest office building ever. It’s not a visually exciting film.
Release date: Aug. 7, 2008
As our riffers enter the studio, one of the hosts states that he hopes their “living pods” are comfortable, and Joel mentions a “plasma bed.” Trace asks if anyone else’s cable went out the night before, and we find out that it’s not cable, and that all entertainment they have access to has been “through the process” and has been “data stabilized.”
The host mentions that “The Wasp Woman” is “one of only six films” Roger Corman directed in 1959. That’s not quite accurate, IMDB lists him as directing three films in 1959 and four in 1960, though I suppose some of those could just been released in 1960 or completed in a 12-month span. Either way, seven films in two years. Corman certainly had quantity over quality down.
In addition to Josh getting dragged into the theater by armed guards for “doing his business” in a secure area, Frank brings up the tragic backstory of star Susan Cabot. In 1986, her dwarf son beat her to death with a weightlifting bar. Her son claimed it was self-defense, and his lawyers made the case that drugs to counteract his dwarfism had played a part in his aggression. A messed up and sad story all around.
We’ve got movie break: About 25 minutes in, Mary Jo pauses the film to call a board meeting. A table comes up and Mary Jo berates the guys, sounding very much like Pearl. Trace manages to calm things down with some serious brown nosing.
The group gets a lot of mileage out of heroin use in this film, thanks to many, many scenes that involve injecting the rejuvenating Wasp jelly. At one point Joel says “Oh brother, she’s shooting up again and I’m out of heroin references.”
We’ve got movie break: At about the 52-minute mark, the jazzy score leads to Frank pausing the film for Frank Conniff’s Hollywood Entertainment Cavalcade. “Back by popular demand!” To which Josh retorts “You’re not a big internet reader, are you?”
Frank brings out drummer Buddy Rich, played by Simpsons writer Dana Gould. Fans may remember Gould’s appearance as Dr. Zaius during the MST3K telethon. He was announced as a writer for season 11 but was never credited on any episodes. Several MST3K cast members have appeared on Gould’s Dana Gould Hour podcast.
Bonus feature: There are no special features on the disc, but if you ordered directly from the Titans the DVD came with an autographed photo of Mary Jo.
Other riffing connections
The Wasp Woman was featured in the 1995 Elvira special Attack of the Killer B-Movies, which aired on NBC. A fresh-from-MST3K Frank Conniff wrote for the special, which also featured Killers From Space, which would later be riffed by The Film Crew.
Director Roger Corman is “The King of B-Movies,” and has deep ties to MST3K. Other of his films that have been riffed by MST3K/Rifftrax include “Gunslinger,” “It Conquered the World,” “The Undead,” “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent,” “Teenage Cave Man,” “Swamp Diamonds,” “The Sword and the Dragon,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Avalanche.” Are there more I’m missing? Probably
Jack Hill, who directed the new portions of the film designed to pad it out, wrote “City on Fire.”
Screenwriter Leo Gordon acted in “Kitten with a Whip” and wrote “Attack of the Giant Leeches.”
The story was by Kinta Zertuche, who was a production secretary for “Attack of the Giant Leeches.”
Actor Susan Cabot was also in “The Saga of the Viking Women.”
Actor Anthony Eisley was also in the later Cinematic Titanic experiment “The Doll Squad.”
Actor Barboura Morris was also in “Teenage Cave Man.”
Actor Bruno VeSta was also in “The Wild World of Batwoman,” “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” “The Undead,” “Gunslinger” and “Daddy-O.”
Actor Roy Gordon was also in “War of the Colossal Beast” and “The Unearthly.”
Actor Gene Corman (younger brother of Roger) was a producer of “Attack of the Giant Leeches” and “Night of the Blood Beast,” which he also wrote.
Composer Fred Katz’s score was reused for “The Little Shop of Horrors,” which was riffed by Rifftrax.
Film editor Carlo Lodato also edited “Attack of the Giant Leeches” and “High School Big Shot.”
Art director Daniel Haller also did art direction on “The Little Shop of Horrors,” “Attack of the Giant Leeches” and “Night of the Blood Beast.”