The Faculty (1998)
The 90s were a time of some high quality horror movie…somethings. I hesitate to say parodies, because that conjures images of the Scary Movie franchise, so let us say horror movie metas. The first Scream film hit cinemas in 1996, bringing with it a simultaneous celebration and critique of the slasher subgenre, and of the movie brat culture spawned by a generation of fans who knew just a little too much about genre. In Scream’s wake came The Faculty, Robert Rodriguez’s delirious salute to alien invasion films that engages with sci-fi tropes in much the same that Scream did slashers.
The Faculty hits the ground running. We open on Herrington High School during football practice, where Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) loudly abuses his team and flips a table. That’s about all we get to know about the coach, because he’s immediately possessed by a weird alien lifeform. A bit of a bloodbath later, and the opening credits actually roll. The rest of the film hits first on all of the typical high school movie tropes before we return to the aliens: we meet the captain of the football team Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the clever geek Casey (Elijah Wood), the bad boy drug dealer Zeke (Josh Harnett), the bitchy head cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), the new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris), and the goth girl Stokes (Clea DuVall). As the film goes on, each trope is carefully subverted, fleshing the characters into existence outside of their generic markers. It’s a clever conceit in itself, but one that couldn’t be sustained without those aliens and some good body horror to back it up.
As more and more faculty members fall prey to the parasite, our small band of clichés must come together to defeat the alien menace. A good part of this is figuring out the rules by which the parasites operate, which is where Stokes comes in: a sci-fi geek, she knows everything from The Thing to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the books on which they are based. With her guidance and a bit of luck, the students navigate the changing school and try to suss out how to kill the aliens…preferably without killing everyone else in the process.
While the notion of rules is more thoroughly played out in Scream, The Faculty is all that it sets out to be. There’s a healthy dose of body horror, indulged in with all the delicious glee that one expects from Rodriguez. The plot certainly borrows heavily from the films that it’s referencing, but that’s to be expected: if you go into The Faculty with the expectation that it will fail to fulfill generic expectations, you will be disappointed. The actors are all game for their roles, but the adults appear to be having a lot more fun than the young people. If you thought you didn’t need Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie as a tag team of malevolence, you were very wrong – they’re delightful. Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, and Selma Hayek all get in on the action, with Famke Janssen’s mousey English teacher finally letting go in a scene that probably most put-upon professors have dreamt of once in a while. The Faculty gleefully lets the teachers take revenge against bullying students, and then gives the students their chance as well.
While never quite rising to the heights of its meta-movie counterparts, The Faculty succeeds in its project to make an alien invasion film with a difference. It’s simply entertaining, an enjoyable diversion that hits all the right notes. I might not have finished it with the same sense of exhilaration that I did the Scream franchise but damn if it wasn’t fun getting there.