Masters of Horror:
The Screwfly Solution
(SPOILERS) Joe Dante and Sam Hamm reteamed a year after Homecoming for a less feted episode. One I think I actually preferred, even though it indulges the kind of gore one might have expected but never materialised in its predecessor. It’s also just as unsubtle in its socio-political commentary. The key difference is that The Screwfly Solution actually has a proper story to tell, albeit by way of some truly contrived character motivation, and engages right up until the closing credits.
This is an apocalypse tale, one in which man’s essential misogynistic urge is released when an (engineered) virus causes him to commit wholesale murder of women. Thrown into the mix, rather crudely, is religious mania, triggered by sexual arousal. On top of which, Screwfly begins with a conversation on the pestilence of men (“Women nurture, men destroy”).
However, the conclusion, out of left field, that aliens (rather feminised, ethereally glowing aliens at that) are responsible raises pertinent questions that are left hanging. Presumably, like man’s treatment of the screwfly, they see humans as an entirely lesser life form, also failing to draw any distinction between the destructive behaviour of men as opposed to women. Their chosen method is particularly twisted in this regard, since it has truly horrific consequences for the female of the species (as opposed to a virus that merely sterilises everyone, say).
The title derives from the genetic manipulation of the titular insect species in order to ensure its eradication, and Hamm’s teleplay is curiously offhand in the way it makes its points. Violent men require women to respond hysterically or incredibly stupidly (Brenna O’Brien leaves mum Kerry Norton stranded in the middle of nowhere so she can spend some some quality time with murderous dad Jason Priestley). Linda Darlow and Elliott Gould deliver accomplished performances, despite Hamm’s strange brew of a script rather failing to offer coherent characterisations.
Dante doesn’t stint on the brutal material, showing that, when he wants to, he can expunge all traces of the lightness and wit for which he is best known. The nonchalant opening, with a husband cheerfully scrubbing up blood after killing his wife, is chilling, and there’s more than a touch of a one-off X-Files t to the general sense of things going inexorably very awry, random violence sparking off in suburban idylls. There’s a particularly gruesome bottling incident(s) in a night club and some gruesomeness where a storekeeper has a bag made from a woman’s breast. One is left with doubts over the intent behind the message when the results indulge network imperatives regarding female mutilation and nudity wherever possible (which takes us back to Dante’s early career). And the logic; just dirtying one’s face and wearing a hat is an effective man disguise, so I guess this virus doesn’t work on the basis of pheromones or any direct, instinctive biological impulse.
The Screwfly Solution's conclusion with the aliens is rushed, and there’s a sense of a grasping at a hotchpotch of hot button issues (the extremist religious views, be they derived from Islam or Christianity) in Hamm’s adaptation of Alice Sheldon’s 1977 short story. Which I haven’t read so probably shouldn’t decry, as it seems to be highly regarded, as is Sheldon’s work on gender. But, since Hamm also invokes Richard Dawkins in his conversations, it feels as if the religious fervour aspect has been stapled awkwardly to the proceedings to make a further crass point, rather than attempting to finesse the already OTT ingredients into something less hyperbolic.