Joe Dante ruffled a few feathers with Homecoming, his first directorial effort for Showtime's Masters Of Horror. While that entry was certainly more than a little heavy handed with its politics, it was never the less a well made and at times fairly intelligent satire on the current administration's Iraq war debacle and some of the better known pro-Republican flag waving media attention whores. This time around, Dante's entry is less partisan and it's all the better for it.
Alan (Jason Priestly) and Barney (Elliott Gould) are a pair of hard working biologists who have just returned from a strange assignment in South America where they had to deal with stop an massive plague of bugs. Soon enough, a common friend, Bella (Linda Darlow), is called off to Florida where she has to investigate a rash of brutal killings. When she gets there it turns out that this is huge - hundreds of women have been brutally slaughtered by their husbands and male friends and relatives. As the investigation begins, it soon comes to light that there's a crazed religious cult known as The Sons Of Adam involved in all of this, although Alan and Barney don't think that the cult is necessarily directly responsible for the killings, instead they suspect a behind the scenes figure is actually using the male populace of Florida as guinea pigs in his mad experiment.
Dante subverted the werewolf film when he made The Howling and he subverted the kiddie-monster film when he made Gremlins so it should be no surprise that with The Screwfly Solution we once again find him toying with specific genre conventions albeit in a most unusual way. Violence against women has long been a part of the horror genre, for better or for worse, and much has been written about the symbolism and potential effects of what many people see as flat out misogynist filmmaking. Dante is obviously aware of that as he pushes the envelope a bit here, portraying men not so much as typically dominant (though there is that here) but as sick - though it's made very clear here that the women are still very much the victims. Politics play a part in Dante's story, at this point it almost seems like they have to, but here it feels a lot less forced and a lot less overbearing when compared to Homecoming. This is more underhanded, and that's meant as a compliment as the story is very clever.
Performance wise, the three leads do a fine job with the material at hand. It's interesting to see Jason Priestly show up here and he and Gould definitely have a decent chemistry together. Darlow is just as good as the two male leads and she definitely proves herself quite a capable actress towards the last half of the movie. Effects wise there's some obvious CGI work here and there but aside from that, KNB does their typically strong job on the grue and the gore. Ultimately, however, it's the story here that really makes The Screwfly Solution work. It's worth watching twice as there are a lot of sly inferences and little details that you might not pick up on the first time. Dante's film is very definitely multilayered, making it a smart, darkly comic, and very effective little horror movie.
The Screwfly Solution is, like every episode in the series so far, presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. For the most part, things look pretty good on this disc. There are some mild compression artifacts present here and there in the darker scenes, but aside from that the image is decent if just a little bit soft (which for whatever reason seems to be the case with the second season releases in the series). Color reproduction looks accurate and flesh tones look lifelike, and there's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie - you'll definitely notice this during a few key gore scenes. Like the rest of the second season discs, this is not a flawless transfer, but it is a very good one.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. As expected, the 5.1 track beats the 2.0 track with superior atmosphere and more interesting directional effects. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll likely be quite pleased. Dialogue is clean and clear, the bizarre score sounds great, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Levels all appear to be in check and there's really very little to complain about here.
The best and most substantial of the supplements on this release is a commentary track from director Joe Dante and writer Sam Hamm who spend a fair bit of time explaining how this project came together and what they were going for with this particular effort. Alongside that, we're also made privy to details surrounding casting choices, effects work and the standard trivia that a decent commentary usually unveils. The two men have a good sense of humor about themselves and while there's a lot of information it's obvious that they're having a good time here which makes the track all the more listenable.
From there we move on to The Cinematic Solution which is a fairly standard look behind the scenes of the production by way of interviews with the cast and crew and some decent raw, fly-on-the-wall footage that shows us how certain scenes were handled during the shoot. A second, brief featurette on the special effects entitled The Exterminators is also included, it just shows us how the effects team did their thing and why their talents were integral to the finished product.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for other entries in the Masters Of Horror series, a still gallery, and the screenplay in DVD-ROM format. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
Smart, quirky and actually somewhat disturbing at times, The Screwfly Solution is thinking man's horror done right. Dante does a great job with the pacing and the script is tight, lean and well thought out. Anchor Bay's disc could have used a few more extras but is otherwise a nice package. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.