Inside we’ve posted our seventh review from this year’s Masters of Horror: Season 2 (all reviews), which airs every Friday on Showtime. Inside you’ll find Tex Massacre’s review of “The Screwfly Solution”, which was directed by Joe Dante. The film is about a nightmare virus infecting our nation, transforming men into psychotic killers who attack every woman that crosses their paths.
The Screwfly Solution (MoH 2.7)
Reviewed By: Tex Massacre
7/10 or 3.5 Skulls
Alice B. Sheldon wrote The Screwfly Solution in 1977 under the pen name Raccoona Sheldon. A psychologist and feminist, Sheldon also wrote for the better part of her career under the name James Tiptree Jr. In as much as she was respected by her literary peers–several years after her death the James Tiptree Jr. Award was created in her honor–bestowing such noted genre writers as Ursula K. Le Guin and Joe Haldeman with the prize. The reason that I mention this is ahead of today’s review is simple–Horror is often criticized for misogynistic overtones and so–for that matter alone–I think that it’s important that you understand this weeks episode of Masters of Horror comes from the base point of view of a woman.
From the mind of Sheldon, The Screwfly Solution arrives on our television sets courtesy of Director Joe Dante and Writer Sam Hamm, the duo responsible for last season’s ham-fisted, sensationalistic, anti-war statement HOMECOMING. This time around with source material to keep the pair in check, they’ve managed to create a surprisingly entertaining episode that only momentarily pontificates on the ills of man.
A clarification of the title “The Screwfly Solution” is unnecessary, as the opening moments of the film layout the historical significance of the designation before injecting us directly into the Houston suburbs where a seemingly normal suburbanite has just slaughtered his entire family. Within days a rash of murders perpetrated on the female population of the southern United Sates has government officials baffled. After the death of his wife, CDC scientist Barney (Elliott Gould) and his son-in-law Alan (Jason Priestly) begin to theorize that an airborne infection is causing the male population of the planet to violently turn against their counterparts–effectively shutting down the reproductive element of the human race. Fearing for the safety of his wife Anne (Kerry Norton) and daughter Amy (Brenna O’Brien), Alan sends them north to the Canadian wilderness to avoid the rising plague. But, is it too late for Alan, Barney and the rest of mankind? And who or what created this terrible affliction?
Dante’s film is brutal, but it never treats the violence as satire (as the filmmaker is prone to do). Instead, the murders that take place on screen are done with an uneasy detachment. In this sense the viewers see the horror of what occurs, but are almost psychologically subjected to the point of view of the murderer. This disquieting element adds immensely to what works in the episode. Hamm does a commendable job of transforming a short story–which was mainly comprised as a group of letters–into a coherent narrative. In beefing up the plotline, the liberties our filmmakers take with character interaction and motivation actually add to the drama of the film rather than depleting it or oversimplifying it.
Surprisingly, the performances from Gould, Priestly and Norton–none of which are known for the genre work–are what sell the story. Their interaction–specifically that of Gould and Norton–is what brings the audience into the terror of a global disaster.
Sheldon’s story was published a year before Stephen King’s epic, The Stand. Yet the two share a grave similarity–born of the post Vietnam era–where governmental distrust trickled down to the common man, and–in the case of Sheldon–the feminist movement was in full swing. The convergence that forged these two masterpieces of Sci-Fi horror is immediate in each volume. And that immediacy is illustrated in both by the fury of the outbreak–King destroys the earth in 19 days and Sheldon does it in just under 3 months. Both tales share a supernatural element that comes into play later on, but in reality the stories are designed to address the issue that man is the great plague of the earth.
Dante and Hamm may have redeemed themselves for the travesty of overstatement that they made last season, but the true beneficiaries of this episode are the viewers who have had a dearth of quality installments from which to choose. Not perfect by any means, the filmmakers nevertheless managed to take a classic piece of science fiction and deliver all the elements in under an hour with our getting too preachy and too cerebral. I’d call that a happy success.