Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution


Review By Scott Weinberg
Ever since I was old enough to actually give a crap about such things, I've been a huge fan of director Joe Dante. It was his early horror films (particularly "Piranha" and "The Howling") that gave me reason enough to remember Mr. Dante's name, but throughout my childhood and teenage years, the guy delivered a colorful bunch of really entertaining movies: "Gremlins," "Explorers," "Innerspace," "The 'burbs," "Gremlins 2," and "Matinee" are my favorites, although I although have a soft spot for recent efforts like "Small Soldiers" and (yes) "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." Anyway, I'm a fan.

So when Joe Dante was invited to join the first season of "Masters of Horror," and he turned out the clever little offering called "Homecoming," I was pretty satisfied. But then came season two, and with it came Joe Dante's "The Screwfly Solution," which is really quite excellent and may well be the finest episode of "MOH" so far.

Based on the short story by James Tiptree Jr. (and adapted for television by fine writer Sam Hamm), "Screwfly" is a bleak little slow-burn indeed. Seemingly inspired by the most paranoid of the '70s sci-fi classics, it's about a global epidemic that causes perfectly sane males to explode into a frenzy and attack the nearest woman ... whenever he gets sexually aroused. (Someone tell me where I can track down Tiptree's original story!)

As is often the case in stories like these, the collapse of the planet is viewed through the eyes of one normal family. As the early stages of the "virus" are detected, a mother and her pre-teen daughter must hit the road -- and manage to stay away from all things connected to testosterone. On the surface, it's a pretty basic (although clever) tale of sci-fi apocalypse.

And when it comes to the subtextual messages, well, Dante and Hamm know they're already dealing with a story loaded with metaphors and morals, so the filmmakers are smart enough to keep things fast-paced and off-kilter. In lieu of obvious speeches and ham-fisted symbolism, we get a creepy-cool story and an unpredictable presentation. "The Screwfly Solution" is a fantastic little throwback, a smart and dark mixture of horror and science fiction, and the best work from Joe Dante since, I dunno, at least "Matinee."

Since Starz / Anchor Bay is asking about fifteen bucks for a 50-minute movie, they're smart enough to always offer some nifty special features. The two featurettes (a 10-minute general piece and 5-minute FX piece) are full of on-set material and some half-decent interview segments, but the audio commentary (between Joe Dante and Sam Hamm) is really quite excellent.