Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution (US - DVD R1)
Gabe swears the girl was dead when he found her. He had nothing to do with it...
An unexplained outbreak of isolated homicides—1,100 women slaughtered in one city alone—is multiplying. Around the world, normal male sexual urges have suddenly mutated into violent rage. Now a pair of scientists (Jason Priestley and Elliott Gould) are locked in a desperate race against time to figure out how—and why—the war between the sexes turned murderous. Is a mysterious virus making every red-blooded man a potential lady-killer? Could the extermination of all women lead to the extinction of the human race?
Joe Dante kicked all kinds of ass with his first Masters of Horror short Homecoming, a venomous satirical attack on the war in Iraq. It was easily the man's best film in decades. For his second Masters of Horror release Dante has re-teaming with scriptwriter Sam Hamm and tackling another hot button, sociological problem—spousal abuse. The question is, was Dante's success due to his high concept script and dependable crew of standard actors, or did Dante find his inspiration once again.
Hamm comes to this show with his A-game blazing, the script is a keeper. The concept alone is enough to build a nightmare on, and like many of the better scripts in the Masters of Horror repertoire it might have been better as a feature length film rather than an hour-long television episode. It's not Hamm's story, but he seems to adapt it very well (I'm guessing here, I never read James Tiptree Jr.'s original story), and there is a genuine sense of dread and apocalypse in the story. I only wish there hadn't been a final explanation for the plague. I prefer the George Romero school of mysterious apocalypse.
Dante, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Sometimes he's really on, and the shifting gears of the film's first and second halves are deftly handled. Other times he falls back on lazy camera work, and his actor direction seems stilted. Dante's style has always been very deliberate and purposefully old fashion, but here he isn't able to fall back on the easy chair of comedy, and seems uncomfortable with the hard horror elements (he admits as such in the special features). He handles these elements well, but the stuff around them becomes awkward, and this is very evident in the film's performances. The actors here are not pushovers, but some of their performances are entirely unnatural. This clears up when the horror kicks in, but echoed in my mind the entire runtime.
Screwfly Solution is the most ambitious episode of Masters of Horror yet, and it's occasional failure is actually pretty forgivable. The point of Masters of Horror was to make movies, not TV shows, and too many episodes don't aim for the fences. Both of Dante's episodes have been epic in scope and deep in allegory, and I have nothing but respect for ambitious failures, especially when they're only an hour long.
All these Masters of Horror releases are more or less the same as far as A/V goes, but I'll repeat myself and praise season two's overall quality, especially above season one. Screwfly Solution probably looks the best of any release yet. This might be because this is the first episode of the series shot in HD (I thought the whole series was HD, silly me). The image is slightly soft overall, but this is most likely attributed to the lighting choices made by Dante and the DP. Noise is almost non-existent, and though softened overall, details are impressive. Colours appear accurate, though black levels are slightly greyer than I might have liked. Top to bottom, not bad at all.
Again, the audio here isn't all that impressive, but works well with the low budget material. Everything is mixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and though this is mostly a standard television sounding production, occasionally there is a neat sound effect (like a helicopter). Dialogue is clear, and even the more messy scenes are discernable. I was going to complain about the lip-sync a few times, but the commentary track seemed to suggest it was a looping issue. I wasn't very impressed with the music on this episode, it was a little too typical of the material, but it sounded very rich.
Dante and writer Sam Hamm's commentary track is a good one. They bounce off each other, assess their weaknesses, give us a behind the scenes listen into the Masters of Horror production, and most importantly (probably due to the presence of Hamm) talk about the adaptation. The feature itself doesn't quite make me want to read the original story, but the talk of what was left out and changed makes me very interested. There isn't a lot of silence on the track, and I enjoyed watching it from beginning to end.
Our featurettes are entertaining enough, but pretty fluffy overall. The career retrospectives on the season one discs were just so good it's hard not to be a bit disappointed. ‘The Cinematic Solution’ is a grouping of behind the scenes and interview footage, and it offers little insight to the process. The brief interview with series producer Mick Garris is pretty funny; it appears the crew caught him on his way out of the bathroom or something. ‘The Exterminators’ effects 'how-too' is a huge spoiler to the film's finale, so I don't really want to talk about it. I do have to say that this is the first time I've been at all impressed with the series' digital effects though.
The rest of the disc is made up of the Masters of Horror usuals—sills, trailers, and a DVD-ROM screenplay. The trailer for Black Cat fills me with hope for a decent episode out of Stuart Gordon, who botched Dreams in the Witch-House pretty thoroughly.
The Screwfly Solution could've been great, and it could've made an interesting feature length film. With the appropriate budget we could have a truly dark, apocalyptic horror story on our hands. Dante, Hamm, and the actors all do their best, but it comes out feeling a little to 'made for television'. Fans of the themes presented in last year’s best film Children of Men, and the best comic still in print Y: The Last Man will find something to love here, but overall it’s just a missed opportunity. So close. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hunt down the original story.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th June 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, The Cinematic Solution, The Exterminators, Trailers, DVDROM Screenplay, Photo Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Elliott Gould, Jason Priestley, Kerry Norton
Length: 58 minutes
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