In Hill's prologue, a scientist, Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark), is fired from his job at a honey farm for experimenting with wasps.
The founder and owner of a large cosmetics company, Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), is disturbed when her firm's sales begin to drop after it becomes apparent to her customer base that she is aging. Zinthrop has been able to extract enzymes from the royal jelly of the queen wasp that can reverse the aging process. Janice agrees to fund further research, at great cost, provided she can serve as his human subject. Displeased with the slowness of the results, she breaks into the scientist's laboratory after hours and injects herself with extra doses of the formula. Zinthrop becomes aware that some of the test creatures are becoming violent and goes to warn Janice, but before he can reach anyone, he gets into a car accident. He is thus temporarily missing and Janice goes through great trouble to find him, eventually taking over his care.
Janice continues her clandestine use of the serum and sheds 20 years in a single weekend, but soon discovers that she is periodically transformed into a murderous, wasp-like creature. Eventually, Zinthrop throws a jar of carbolic acid at her face, and another character uses a chair to push her out of a window, killing her.Susan Cabot as Janice Starlin
Fred Eisley as Bill Lane
Barboura Morris as Mary Dennison
William Roerick as Arthur Cooper
Michael Mark as Dr. Eric Zinthrop
Frank Gerstle as Les Hellman
Bruno VeSota as Night Watchman
Roy Gordon as Paul Thompson
Carolyn Hughes as Jean Carson
Lynn Cartwright as Maureen Reardon
Frank Wolff as Delivery Man
Lani Mars as Secretary
Philip Barry as Delivery Man
Roger Corman as Hospital Doctor (uncredited)
The Wasp Woman has the head and hands of a wasp but the body of a woman—exactly the opposite of the creature shown in the film's poster (which does not appear in the film).
The film was made for an estimate budget of $50,000.
In 1962, director Hill added 20 minutes to the film for its eventual television syndication release.
According to Tim Dirks, the film was one of a wave of "cheap teen movies" released for the drive-in market. They consisted of "exploitative, cheap fare created especially for them [teens] in a newly-established teen/drive-in genre".
The film was re-released as part of the "100th Anniversary of Monster Movies" in March 2010.
The film's musical score, written by Fred Katz, was originally composed for A Bucket of Blood. According to Mark Thomas McGee, author of Roger Corman: The Best of the Cheap Acts, each time Katz was called upon to write music for Corman, he sold the same score as if it were new music. The score was used in a total of seven films, including The Little Shop of Horrors and Creature from the Haunted Sea.
The Wasp Woman received mixed to negative reception from critics upon its release. The film currently holds a 45% "Rotten" rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 4.7 out of 10 based on 11 reviews. Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film a mostly positive 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.
TV Guide gave the film a negative review, awarding it a score of 1 out of 4, and calling the film "laughable". Allmovie gave a negative review, criticizing the film's "ludicrous" monster costume, special effects and low budget.
On April 6, 2008, Cinematic Titanic did a live riff on the film to a theater audience. It was released on DVD on August 7, 2008. In the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "Night of the Were-Mole", Muriel can be seen watching The Wasp Woman, which she describes as "her favorite show".
In 2007, The Wasp Woman was shown on the horror hosted television series Cinema Insomnia. Apprehensive Films later released the Cinema Insomnia episode on DVD.
Rejuvenatrix (also known as The Rejuvenator) was inspired by Corman's film, with some critics calling it "a 1988 version of The Wasp Woman".
In 1995, a remake of The Wasp Woman was produced for the Roger Corman Presents series. The remake was directed by Jim Wynorski, and starred Jennifer Rubin as Janice Starlin.