The Wasp Woman / The Giant Gila Monster

The Wasp Woman / The Giant Gila Monster (1960)
Elite Entertainment
Cast: Susan Cabot, Fred Eisley, Don Sullivan, Fred Graham
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Cartoons, Snack Bar Promos, Countdown Clock

Wax up the Plymouth, grab your best girl and round up the rest of the gang – we’re piling in the back seat, hiding in the trunk, and heading to the local drive-in for a night full of shrieks, freaks, and old-fashioned fun in Elite Entertainment’s ’Drive-In Discs: Volume Two.’

The disc runs quite faithfully to a nostalgic drive-in program, starting with the National Anthem, some refreshment stand promos, and a Betty Boop cartoon. With the preliminaries out of the way, this cheapie-chiller double bill gets buzzing with ’The Wasp Woman,’ a Roger Corman quickie that revolves around cosmetic queen Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) and her foolish attempts to retain youth by injecting wasp enzymes. You can guess the outcome when she impatiently O.D.s on the bug juice.

After a full 10-minute intermission and a Popeye cartoon, ’The Giant Gila Monster’ slithers onto the screen, puzzling Sheriff Jeff (Fred Graham) and the local teens over what’s been tossing the locals’ vehicles around ’as if they were toys.’ Luckily, teen hero Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) has jars of nitro-glycerin handy (he uses it for special fuel mixtures in his hot rod) to battle the beast. The town’s population – about 27 strong – looks on in awe.

Elite Entertainment is back with this second volume of their proposed 15-volume collection of delightful drive-in dreck. Both features are presented in 16×9 enhanced anamorphic widescreen at 1.85:1. The two cartoons are cutely window boxed and float in the center of your screen. The prints themselves are surprisingly clean, with ’The Wasp Woman’ showing more stable gray tones and black levels than the sporadically inky ’Gila Monster.’ Both prints are remarkably free of source defects considering they’ve likely been stored in a brown paper sack all these years.

The audio, presented in Dolby Digital Mono is suitable for standard viewing. However, to get the most of the drive-in experience, choose the Distorto option at the ticket booth – it’s the latest in low-fidelity sound that perfectly recreates that tinny quality of those battered cast aluminum window speakers of your favorite outdoor cinema. Distorto delivers the program soundtrack solely from your left-front speaker (clever) while ambient sounds of cars pulling in, footsteps in the gravel, and crickets chirping are delivered from the remaining channels. There’s quasi-commentary of folks wisecracking at the promos and cartoons that’s genuinely unfunny and often annoying. I disabled those channels and stayed with just the front-left speaker, allowing me to add my own comments that were probably just as unfunny but mine all the same.

As for special features, well, that’s pretty much the whole experience here. You can elect to view all the program material piece by piece, but I favor choosing the Distorto path and letting the disc entertain you for the ensuing two-and-a-half hours.

If you long for the drive-in experience, this disc, presented in association with the National Film Museum, is a wonderful time waiting to be had. Not for the video- or audiophiles among us, ’Drive-In Discs: Vol. 2’ is cheesy fun at it’s best. Oh, and please remember to replace the speaker to its post before exiting.