Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Sam Hamm
Starring: Kerry Norton, Jason Priestly, Elliot Gould, Linda Darlow, Brenna O’Brien
Oh yes…someone watched us, saw the worst in us…decided the world would be a nicer place without us. Maybe it will be.
As I mentioned in the Howling review I have a great deal of admiration for Joe Dante, he is easily one of my favorite directors. As well as being a huge horror film fan he always comes off to me as being a kid at heart. Look at some of the non-horror films he has directed to see what I mean. Explorers, Innerspace, Matinee, Small Soldiers, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action have all been directed by Joe Dante in addition to quite a bit of television work including Eerie, Indiana (1991). So being such a big fan I hope you can see that I was quite ready for his two entries in the Master of Horror series, Homecoming, and the Screwfly Solution. I was not disappointed by the films and I doubt you will be either.
The film starts in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in the month of July where we see Joe setting about to what looks like the chore of watering his backyard lawn. Betty, who is trimming the hedge that separates their properties brings up the rising heat of the morning and Joe informs her that it is a hot one already. Betty asks if Joe might want a glass of lemonade if she fixed one. He thanks her for the offer but declines politely. She crosses over to his property saying that it would be no trouble but she stops dead in her tracks. Joe with a warm smile on his face is hosing off his patio, which is coated in blood. It looks like someone has gutted an animal or something. Not noticing Betty’s horror he just smiles as he goes about his task, “Thanks just the same. I’m fine.”
We next see Joe doing more household chores…this time he is cleaning his blood splattered oven. Joe is interrupted by the doorbell and when he answers it he finds three policeman standing on his doorstep. They explain there was a call and that they need to search his home if he wouldn’t mind, Joe’s reaction is far from troubled, he is just completely confused as to why they would be there, he invites them in and apologizes about the mess of the place. The three officers quickly find bloodstained sheets in the bedroom, in the bathroom a bloody shower curtain has been taken from its rod and placed in the corner of the room, and in the garage the officers find a workbench with three bloody corpses wrapped in plastic sheeting.
The officers arrest Joe and lead him to one of their patrol cars as they read him his rights but the lead officer just can’t stand it and demands to know why he had killed his family. Joe calmly informs them that the Lord spoke to him and when he is placed in the car the officer asks what he was told, “Joe, clean up this place.” As the patrol car pulls away, Betty and her husband, Phil, look on in sadness at what has transpired next door. Phil shakes his head and mutters, “Poor old Joe.”, which causes Betty to give him a look of disgust as she storms off back into their home.
In the next scene it is now August and we meet Anne Alstein(Norton), a director of a Women’s Center located in Ann Arbor, Michigan as she councils an abuse victim, Brenda. A poor woman who has been beaten black and blue by her husband, we learn this is the third time that Brenda has been to the shelter. Anne wonders if Brenda’s sister in Florida, who has apparently offered to take her sister in, could help. Brenda tearfully explains that she can’t get a hold of her sister, she has tried for over a week but every time she phones her sister’s husband, Nick, answers and says his wife is out at the moment and when pressed further he doesn’t know where she is but he will leave a message. This of course causes some confusion for Anne but Brenda continues and explains what scares her is that her niece lives in Florida as well and when she calls her cell phone…Nick answers…and repeats the exact same thing he says about Brenda’s sister.
Later in the evening at the Alstein house, Anne, and her daughter, Amy (O’Brien), and close family friend, Bella Sartiano(Darlow) who is a staunch feminist epidemiologist, are preparing a welcome back party for Alan Alstein (Priestley), and yet another close friend, Barney Braithewaite(Gould). The two men are scientists that have been working to eradicate the canefly infestation problem in the Colombian rain forest for the past five months and are due back that evening. The television the three are watching as they prepare a cake holds their attention as a report of 150 women being publicly executed in Saudi Arabia for violations of the so-called Sharia law and we learn a similar incident occurred the week before in Iran. The television switches to a new story in Jacksonville, Florida where over 100 members of a religious group that have named themselves the Sons of Adam rallied to the support of two men convicted of killing an exotic dancer. Anne is just remarking that her client’s sister lives there when Alan and Barney arrive at the house. During the dinner Bella receives a call on her cell phone from the National Institutes of Health, she has to get on a plane in the morning, when asked what the problem is she casually says that it is the bird flu, when asked where she looks Anne in the eye and says it is Jacksonville, Florida…and the whole town is going under quarantine.
Now I need to stop here because any true spoilers will ruin the movie for you and that would be a grave disservice indeed. However I have to say the rest of the film really ramps up the tension and while Dante normally avoids any real gory scenes in his work…there are two moments in the movie that are very, very uncomfortable to watch and they happen at a strip club…so just be assured that once those scenes are over with the violence is pretty much all off screen.
If you end up adding the The Screwfly Solution to your collection I think you’ll want to listen to the commentary with Joe Dante and Sam Hamm as I found them to be fascinating and fun to listen to. Hamm did a wonderful job of adapting the original source story by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) who had written the story Bram Stoker style with an exchange of letters and diary entries. I’ve read some complaints about the film that to be honest do hold water, this film would have been helped if they hadn’t tried to fit it all into the Masters of Horror 60 minute time constraint, it should be a full length feature film. But considering the constraints he had to work with, Joe Dante created a fantastically dark tale. My minor complaints are that one or two scenes stretch believability in the naivety of the teenage daughter, Amy. Screwfly Solution gets a full four and a half pumpkins out of five!