I've got lots of them and I'm sure you do too. Favorite science fiction or horror short stories that you read years ago (maybe decades ago) but that stuck in your mind because they were pretty damn cool. So you can imagine my delight when I was flipping through the channels and came across an episode of Masters of Horror that was based on one of those very cool stories! Now if they can just do a good job of telling it.
THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION (Episode 7 of Season 2 of Masters of Horror) was directed by Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, THE HOWLING, GREMLINS, GREMLINS 2, THE HOMECOMING) and written by Sam Hamm (THE HOMECOMING), based on the very cool short story by James Tiptree, Jr. aka, Alice Sheldon (1915-1987), a strange woman with a background in military intelligence and an excellent science fiction writer.
At a dinner party we meet loving couple Anne (Kerry Norton: VIRTUAL TERROR) and Alan (Jason Priestley: EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, DARKNESS FALLING) and their fourteen-year-old daughter Amy (Brenna O’Brien: X-MEN III). Anne works at a woman’s shelter and Alan works on eliminating pestilent insects in the developing world.
Alan and his colleague Barney (Elliot Gould: THE LONG GOODBYE, WHO?, NIGHT VISITOR) discuss their recent project which involved ridding a South American community of the screwfly (a pest that can transmit fatal infections to cattle) by interrupting its breeding cycle. Thousands of sterile male screwflies were released, thus preventing a new generation from being born.
Dinner guest Bella (Linda Darlow: THE 4400 [TV]), a doctor with the CDC, doesn’t like the idea of messing with nature and goes on a spiel about how Nature with a capital "N" – the conscious entity many environmentalists fantasize about – will strike back one day. In other words her sympathies lie with the parasitic insects and not the poor people of South America.
Reports come in of dramatic increases in violence against women and huge numbers of women murdered in Florida. The CDC sends Bella because they suspect a viral cause. Florida also seems to be the starting point of a new religious revival. Preachers are talking about women leading men into temptation and sexy images of women on billboards are being covered with painted on clothes. Odd behavior in the Christian West (but normal, everyday fare in Islam).
Men in Florida (and other states as the infection spreads) are turned into serial killers, wanting to murder women instead of have sex with them, all the while justifying it within the new religion: Many men report seeing angels.
Alan and Barney go to work on the problem while Alan worries for the safety of his wife and daughter. He wants to protect them but he knows that he should stay away lest he become dangerous to them himself.
Women's shelters are quickly overloaded and women go into hiding to avoid being gathered into camps. Everyone knows this is bio-terror but no one speculates about the obvious source, in spite of the strange meteors they keep seeing. And the only immediate solution Alan and Barney come up with is chemical castration. If you turn off a man’s sex drive you turn off his desire to kill.
Wow, talking about castration made me uncomfortable. Let’s change the subject with a manly
But could a virus turn a man into a serial killer? Sure, if you assume that the difference between a normal man and a serial killer is some physical deformity of the brain. Once you know the cause, designing a virus that induces it is quite plausible.
All well and good, you say, but did it suck?
Sadly, yes, it kind of did. Part of the reason was the addition of a whole lot of politically correct environmental nonsense that was not part of the original story. Characters talk as though humanity deserves to die for all its environmental crimes, an act of genocide that makes Hitler, Stalin and Mao look like amateurs.
Speaking of amateurs, much of the production felt amateurish. The dialogue was often ridiculous and stilted, many scenes were poorly put together and details were ignored. At one point Anne must disguise herself as a man to stay alive, but her lame disguise shouldn't have fooled anyone. How about a little effort, Mr. Dante?
I give THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION two shriek girls.
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