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 Thread Rating: 12 votes, 5.00 average.
Old 10-04-2004, 03:50 PM
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Default Drive-In Discs Volume Two




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: January 1, 2002

Released by: Elite Entertainment
Release date: 7/24/2001
MSRP: $29.95
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes



The Story

inline ImageThe Wasp Woman (1960) begins as the eccentric scientist Dr. Eric Zinthrope (Michael Mark) captures wasps for his experiments. Zinthrope's research is being funded by a company that wants him to extract royal jelly from bees for use in cosmetics, but his work has since branched out and he is now focusing on making compounds from wasp royal jelly that he hopes will actually set back the process of aging. One day Zinthrope is visited by a representative from the company who is concerned because the doctor is spending too much money. He tries to convince the man of the value of his work by showing him two dogs, one old, one young, which he claims are exactly the same age. The young dog became that way due to regular injections of a serum which he's developed. The company official doesn't buy the story and instead fires Zinthrope. Now how is the poor doctor going to continue his work?

inline ImageAs luck would have it, Zinthrope finds someone who is more than eager to fund his research. That person is Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), the middle-aged founder and CEO of Janice Starlin Enterprises, a multi-million dollar cosmetics firm that has fallen on hard times. Starlin Enterprises has always used Janice as their only model in advertising, but now that her looks are fading she has replaced herself with new models. Bill Lane (Anthony Eisley), her most senior executive, believes that this is the reason that sales are falling. Needless to say, Janice is extremely unhappy with the situation, so when she receives a letter from Zinthrope talking about his work, she agrees to meet him. He shows her something amazing - using two very old guinea pigs as test subjects, he injects them with a serum he's developed from wasp enzymes, and before Janice's eyes the animals miraculously turn young again. She immediately agrees to fund his research, but with one condition: Zinthrope must use her as a test subject. The doctor is apprehensive about doing that due to the possible dangers involved, but reluctantly agrees.

inline ImageHe starts giving her injections of his serum soon after, but the results are slow to come and she grows impatient. As a result, she starts sneaking into his laboratory and giving herself extra shots to speed the process. The results are dramatic: Janice immediately begins to look like she was in her early 20's again. However, Bill, her secretary Mary (Barboura Morris) and Cooper (William Roerick), the company's chief scientist, all begin to worry that the experiments may have unhealthy effects on Janice. And as it turns out, they're right! One day Zinthrope enters his laboratory and is attacked by a cat that he was experimenting on. The feline has become mutated by the serum, growing wings like a wasp. He kills it and incinerates the body. Upset by the apparent failure of his work, the dazed scientist walks out of the building and is hit by a car. Although he survives, he suffers major head trauma and is unable to recall anything about his experiments. He is unable to tell anybody what he now knows about his serum: it will turn Janice into a horrible, wasp-like monster that will kill ruthlessly unless destroyed!

inline ImageThe Giant Gila Monster (1959) opens as a solemn narrator lectures about the mysterious Gila monster and how, in the desolate, uninhabited backcountry of the United States, just how big these creatures get is a mystery. We then see two kids on a lonely road in rural Texas romance. Suddenly, their car is pushed off the side of the road and smashed, and they are brutally killed. The only sight of their assailant we get is a huge claw. What did this to them?

inline ImageThe boy was none other than Pat Wheeler, son of Mr. Wheeler (Bob Thompson), the area's richest and meanest man. When Pat doesn't come home, Mr. Wheeler goes to the local lawman, Sheriff Jeff (Fred Graham) to report his son's disappearance. Jeff suggests that Pat might have eloped with his girlfriend. Wheeler gets all riled up at this suggestion and states that if Pat did run off and get married, it was probably because Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) put the idea in his head. Chase is a local teen whom Wheeler despises. Because Chase is older than the other kids he hangs out with and is already out of high school, Wheeler believes that he is a bad influence on his son and the other kids. The sheriff retorts that Chase, whose father died working on an oil rig owned by Wheeler, has been more of a good influence on Pat and the other kids than anything else.

inline ImageSoon after Pat and his girlfriend disappear, a wrecked car belonging to someone else is discovered on a lonely road. Sheriff Jeff shows up to investigate and Chase, who works for a local mechanic, shows up to tow the vehicle back to town. The two make several unsettling discoveries: there's blood all over the car yet no bodies to be found, and the car skidded at a direct right angle to the direction it was traveling, something very unlikely. It's almost like something pushed the car off the road. Meanwhile, on a road nearby, a traveling businessman is trying to hitch a ride when he is attacked and devoured by none other than a giant Gila monster. Chase and Jeff discover his briefcase lying abandoned by the side of the road. The two wonder what could have happened to it's owner. After several more strange occurrences, the two realize that something is very wrong in their town. Will they be able to figure out what the creature is and how to destroy it before any more innocent lives are lost?

inline ImageBoth The Wasp Woman and The Giant Gila Monster are low-budget 50's monster movies, although neither of them has much of camp value that we associate with those old films. Both of them were produced in 1959, a time when the decade's long and profitable monster movie boom was really running out of steam. These two movies have neither the technical polish of classics like Them!, the intelligence of movies like the British Quatermass series, or the charm of cheesy flicks The Brain from Planet Arous. However, while neither of them is very good, they do have some qualities that make them an acceptable way to blow seventy or so minutes of your life.

inline Image Of the two, The Wasp Woman is the poorer film. It was reportedly shot for about $50,000 and in less than two weeks, and it looks it, even though it was directed by none other than Roger Corman, who has been able to make some very good movies under similar conditions. The film's acting isn't bad; Susan Cabot is very believable as Janice, and the rest of the actors do a decent job as well. Some of the dialogue is also witty. However movie is far too claustrophobic - almost the entire running time is spent inside Janice's office building - and there's far too little action, with the wasp woman only making a few appearances towards the end. What we do get is a lot of talking and a lot of people walking in and out of each other's offices. There is also too much material that doesn't bring anything to the story; for example, several scenes are devoted to a secretary discussing with another girl her lazy husband and his love for the movie Dr. Cyclops. Although this is amusing, the movie is so short that this seems like a real waste of screen time. On the other hand, the wasp woman herself is a real hoot. This "creature" is little more than a cheap, bug-eyed mask and some doctored oven mitts!

Interestingly enough, the version of the film presented here is actually an extended TV cut; when first shown in theaters, it was actually much shorter. However, when the film was sold to television, Corman realized that it was too short to fit comfortably inside a normal time slot, so the opening sequence where Zinthrope is fired, and some additional scraps of footage midway through were all added. The opening scene is a mixed blessing; it definitely helps flesh out the character of Zinthrope, but at the expense of really slowing down the plot.

The Giant Gila Monster is far more enjoyable, though not perfect. Filmed on location in Texas, the barren, rugged landscapes and bleak photography lend many scenes a genuinely menacing atmosphere. The script features many unusual elements not usually seen in 50's monster movies. The character of Chase is unusual in that he comes from a broken, poor family and has to support everyone. Poverty is depicted as common; we see kids crippled by polio, characters with phones on party lines (multiple phones hooked up to one line), and characters too poor to afford a phone. The storyline is a bit frustrating; it functions like a mystery, and it takes the characters forever to figure out that they're being terrorized by a giant Gila monster, something we were able to figure out just by looking at the title. Most of the acting is amateurish, but the film is moves much smoother and is better paced than The Wasp Woman. The climax, which pits Chase and his hot rod against the Gila monster, is actually one of the more exciting finales of a monster movie from this period.

Image Quality

Both films look superior to any version that I've seen on VHS. However, that being said, these transfer are still inferior to the work being done on other films from this era by companies like Image (through the Wade Williams Collection) and Something Weird. Both films are given a matted presentation letterboxed at 1.78:1 (the box says it's 1.85:1, but the actual ratio does measure out to 1.78:1) and with anamorphic enhancement. The framing for both films looks very good. Unlike the first Drive-In Disc, where the letterboxing seemed overdone and inappropriate, the letterboxing here gives the films a more theatrical feel without making them seem uncomfortably cramped. Although I no longer have The Wasp Woman on VHS, I was able to compare the The Giant Gila Monster to an old tape and found that the DVD added as much image to the sides of the frame than was lost through the letterboxing, so it's a pretty good trade-off.

The Wasp Woman is an acceptable, though unspectacular, presentation. The image is clear with good black levels, if somewhat soft-looking as well. The darks scenes do appear a tad overly dark, but not by that much. The elements do show their age at times, as there are quite a few specks, blemishes, splices and scratches visible throughout the presentation, as well as a large number of vertical lines present to some degree in almost every scene. Some minor artifacting is noticeable. Overall it's a decent transfer of an old movie that has certainly looked a lot worse.

The Giant Gila Monster is a little more disappointing. The picture often appears blurry and washed out, and artifacting is visible as well. However, the single biggest flaw in the transfer is that every night scene appears way too dark, to the point where it's impossible to tell what's going on in a few of them. When I compared the DVD to my old VHS, I was surprised to find that this is not the fault of the original production. In the VHS, the night scenes are very easy to make out and they were clearly filmed with sufficient lighting. On the other hand, this transfer does have one advantage over The Wasp Woman, and that is that there is less print damage and it's less distracting. There are still a fair number of nicks, scratches and vertical lines, but they are not nearly as intrusive.

Sound

The Wasp Woman is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and is a disappointment. The soundtrack is plagued by almost constant distortion - popping, hissing, crackling, whatever you want to call it - as well as several very noticeable audio dropouts and sounds that sound like someone blowing into a microphone. Despite all this, dialogue sounds clear and intelligible and is almost overwhelmed by the noise, but it quite distracting nonetheless.

The Giant Gila Monster is also in Dolby 2.0 Mono, also suffers from quite a bit of distortion, but the audio is overall superior to that of the other film. Popping and hissing is audible intermittently on the soundtrack, although it's not as noticeable as on the other film. There were no audio dropouts to be detected and dialogue was usually clear and intelligible, and was never overwhelmed by any of the background noise.

Elite has also included a Dolby 5.1 Surround track called "Distorto." This sound option is available both on the movies themselves and on the supplemental material. The basic idea of distorto is that it recreates the experience of actually being at a drive-in by replicating the horrible quality of the average drive-in sound system. The soundtracks to the films themselves sound deliberately hollow and flat and are limited to the front, while the track's additional channels are used to pipe through a variety of other sounds - people talking, planes going overhead, crickets chirping - that one would also here at an actual drive-in. Distorto was also used on Elite's first Drive-In Disc, and like that one, here it never lives up to its potential. Other than the sound of chirping crickets, there's not much going on in the other channels. In fact, most of the really fun things on this track (like heckling teenagers) occur during the concession stand and intermission materials, not the features themselves.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Like their first volume in this series, Elite has packed this release full of drive-in related material, and has given the viewer the option of watching it and the features separately or all at once in one long presentation. It's a really fun way to watch the features and a good trip down memory lane for people old enough to have gone to shows like this at the drive-in (which, unfortunately, does not include me). There are a variety of concession stand ads included, as well as other drive-in related material like a warning to kids not to be loud, a warning to romancing teenagers not to get too horny, and an ad for mosquito repellent. A ten-minute intermission is sandwiched between the two films, featuring a lot of nature and landscape photographs set to music. There is also a black and white "Betty Boop" cartoon included, a color "Popeye" one, and a trailer for I Bury the Living (which will apparently be one of the next films to get the "Drive-In Discs" treatment, even though it ahs already gotten a very good "official" release from MGM).

I was a bit disappointed however, because a lot of this material is recycled from Elite's first try. Aside from the films, cartoons, the trailer and the intermission (there was no intermission at all on the first volume), almost everything else already appeared on the original Drive-In Disc.

Final Thoughts

Elite's second volume in their Drive-In Discs series offers an appreciable improvement in image quality over the first volume, although it still falls short. Let's hope that the next volume, which is set to include I Bury the Living and The Hand, continues the trend of improvement (although Elite may have a hard time topping the nice transfer of I Bury on MGM's recent release). The whole idea of recreating an evening at the drive-in proves to be still be a lot of fun the second time around, and although the movies themselves are not the best, viewing them together along with the drive-in supplements still proved to be a very enjoyable evening for me!

Rating

The Wasp Woman
Movie - C
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C-

The Giant Gila Monster
Movie - B-
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C

Supplements B

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - The Wasp Woman - 1 hour 13 minutes
  • Running Time - The Giant Gila Monster - 1 hour 14 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 16 Chapter Stops (8 for each film)
  • English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
  • "Distorto" Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements
  • Concession stand ads & intermission material
  • Betty Boop cartoon
  • Popeye cartoon
  • I Bury the Living trailer
Other Pictures

 

 

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