Directed by Joe Dante
Distributed by Starz Home Entertainment
Back when Season 2 of Masters of Horror ended its run on Showtime, several members of our forums ranked the episodes from best to worst. I joined in and placed “The Screwfly Solution” smack-dab in the middle at #6. Now that some time has passed and I’ve re-watched it on DVD, my opinion remains unchanged. “Screwfly” isn’t an extraordinary film by any measure, but it isn’t horrible either and definitely does have its moments.
The story begins in Houston, Texas, with an unsettling scene in which a woman sees her neighbor, just a regular Joe, hosing off some blood from his patio. It turns out the fellow has snapped and murdered his wife and daughters. We proceed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Anne (Norton), who works in a women’s safe house, is counseling an abused wife. Although it’s obviously not the woman’s first visit to the shelter, we soon discover that she is not alone in her misery. Men all over the world are losing control of their more primal instincts, beating and killing women seemingly at random.
Anne’s friend Bella (Darlow), an epidemiologist, is sent to Jacksonville to assist the military with an investigation into one of its soldiers’ brutal murder of a stripper. It turns out the aggression is linked to sexual arousal, and the Bible and other religious writings are being quoted left and right by fanatics as justification for the men’s actions. Some even speak of seeing angels on earth. Despite being rather matronly, Bella still manages to stimulate the Jacksonville Mayor in that special way, resulting in her death at his hands. The act occurs off-screen, but it’s no less heinous and chilling, especially considering the copious amount of blood splattered on the Mayor’s clothes.
Meanwhile, Anne’s scientist husband, Alan (Priestley), and his research partner, Barney (Gould), head to Washington, DC, to determine if the disease is organic in nature like a virus, a form of bioterrorism created by a militant organization, or something else. Anne and Alan are obviously very much in love and care deeply about their teen-age daughter, Amy (O’Brien), but they’ve become used to separations due to Alan’s work. Nonetheless, as things go from bad to worse across the globe with the slaughter escalating daily, our two lovebirds try to squeeze in a quick reunion at home, but not before Alan instructs Anne to get a gun. Chemical castration (a type of vaccination against the “solution” if you will) has become mandatory for police officers and soldiers, and once Alan shuns the shot before visiting his wife and child, you see the writing on the wall for the rest of the episode.
The real “screwfly solution” — developed by the USDA in the 1960’s and continuing to this day — controls the population of the pesky screwworm fly by releasing large numbers of sterile male flies into the wild. The females lay eggs, but they do not hatch, stopping the spread of the pest. The MOH version takes that agricultural analogy to the extreme, eliminating the females entirely rather than just neutering the males. While Dante’s and writer Sam Hamm’s Season 1 Masters entry “Homecoming” (review here) was heavy on political satire, this episode is full of social commentary on both the war between the sexes and the way humans are treating the planet, forcing the viewer the decide for him/herself whether or not the solution might actually be a good thing in the long run. While some viewers probably prefer not to think too much about issues like misogyny and global warming when watching their favorite hack and slash feature, I embrace almost anything that broaches such topics and fosters intelligent debate. After all, it was bleak apocalyptic allegories like “The Screwfly Solution” that cemented my love of horror in the first place.
But that’s not to say everything about the film is hunky-dory. The second half with Anne fleeing to Canada drags, and overall I was much more interested in the male characters than the females. Priestley and Gould had nuances to their performances that made me want to know more about their characters, whereas Norton’s and Darlow’s Anne and Bella both seemed like cardboard caricatures. Norton did grow on me as the story progressed, but then we took that trip north, and she lost me again. O’Brien did well with Amy, but her character was so annoying I started hoping some horny young guy would cross her path as soon as possible. On the other hand, from what I’ve read, several people have a problem with the reveal of who or what is behind the solution, and I can appreciate their points, but it works fine for me and ties everything up nicely. So, again, I’m left with the end result of a 50/50 rating.
As for the extras, they are exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Masters. There is a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with snippets of interviews from series creator Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Elliott Gould, Jason Priestley, editor Marshall Harvey, and DP Attila Szalay. They briefly discuss the story, each other, and the process involved in filming “Screwfly,” the only MOH episode shot in HD. It’s loaded with clips from the segment; I would have preferred fewer of them and more talk from the cast and crew. Next up are “The Exterminators,” a 4-1/2-minute look at the work that went into creating the visual effects for the ending; Dante’s bio; a photo gallery (does anyone look at these?); the screenplay on DVD-ROM; and a massive amount of trailers for all of MOH Season 1, most of Season 2, Behind the Mask, and Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron.
Last but certainly not least is an audio commentary by Joe Dante and Sam Hamm. Both are full of stories about “Screwfly” ranging from Hamm’s wife’s aversion to films like this one, the drawbacks of working with such a low budget, the constraints of filming in Canada, how best to adapt a story that is epistilary in nature, and striking the delicate balance between (a) dissecting our propensity for violence and destruction and (b) exploiting the subject matter and showing too much. My only complaint about it is the modulating volume level, which was very distracting. I hope it’s something Starz corrected on later pressings of the disc.
It now seems that there won’t be a Season 3 of Masters of Horror after all, not on Showtime anyway. While most horror fans have agreed that it was a bumpy road at best while it lasted, there were a few gems that popped up along the way, “The Screwfly Solution” being among them. It raises questions about what we do to ourselves and to our planet that no thinking human being can ignore. Does it answer them satisfactorily? Of course not. But it does provoke discussion, and considering the current state of our world and our relationships, there can never be too much of that.
Commentary with director Joe Dante and screenwriter Sam Hamm
“The Cinematic Solution” behind-the-scenes featurette
“The Exterminators” special effects featurette
Joe Dante Bio
Screenplay on DVD-ROM
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Discuss Masters of Horror in our forums!