The Faculty 1998

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The nineties were not a good period for horror movies. The crazy asthetic of the 1980s had given way to sown thing a bit more sensible but also duller. There was no movement like the slasher or the Italian shocker. The masters of horror were either going off the boil or had given up working all together. What we were left with was a few big studio efforts and some hangovers from the big franchises of the eighties, none of which managed to reignite the box office or the horror fan’s imagination. It was during this time I stopped getting Fangoria magazine, something I’d been buying religiously since I was twelve when my father told me I was never to have such a foul rag in the house again.

It was only with the advent of Scream that suddenly the studios realised that there was still an audience for horror. Most of them started to make stupid meta slasher rip offs, however it was Scream’s makers, Dimension Films, who realised that it wasn’t the slasher genre itself that people wanted to see but subversions of classic horror tropes. So what we have here in The Faculty is as simple a pitch as you could hope for:

The Breakfast Club meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I can imagine the Weinstien’s wrote that check without even reading the first page of the script. They probably micro managed the post production to death later but that’s how they roll I guess.

We in Texas high school that could be anywhere in America. The teachers are rapidly taken over by an alien parasite, the pupils are next and only a disparite gang of youths can defeat them. That’s it. Plot done.

The Faculty wears is two main influences on it’s sleave. It has a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse as the main heroes. They come from different walks of life and do not get on at all initially. The main difference from John Hugh’s classic is that Josh Harnett as the drug dealing rebel of the gang doesn’t hold a candle to Judd Nelson on the cool stakes. This is mainly because his hair seems to be styled on Jim Carrey’s in Dumb and Dumber. On the other side the aliens take over their victims behind closed doors and afterwards walk about like semi robots giving sly looks to each other. bclassic body snatching behaviour. The aliens themselves are tentacle-like bugs harking back to Able Ferrera’s version of the seminal classic from just a few years before. The characters even discuss what the invaders do in the book and film (“they win” the recluse says ominously).

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The Faculty is in no way breaking new grounds then and the, at the time, innovative digital effects do not hold up well at all (the practical effects on the other hand still look tangible and life like). But the lack of originality doesn’t really matter, by putting the classic invasion story into a school if gives the whole event a fun playfulness that we can all relate to. Who hasn’t thought of teachers as the “other” when you’ve had to stagger through those awful teenage years and out the far side into adulthood. Robert Patrick, having fun with cold villainous stare like his T-1000, may play an archetypal bullying gym teacher but it’s a character we’ve all met in our lives so can root against. Besides he’s taken over by the aliens in the opening scene and his character doesn’t seem to become any more psychotic after assimilation then he was before.

What makes The Faculty a good film really is the cast. On the teachers’ side you’ve got Patrick but also Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen and a snuffling Salma Hayek as a permanently sick school nurse. Plus great character actors like Daniel Von Bargen and Bebe Neuwirth as the principal, all of them having a great time mucking about as aliens. And Jon Stewart as a Professor Edward Furlong, which is kind of weird.

Meanwhile the kids are lead by genre hero Elijah Wood, Hartnett and Fast and Furious‘ Jordana Brewster. Also Shawn Hatosy as the doubting jock who would rather get an earned D grade than a faked A just because he’s good at football. Hatosy has gone on to have a lifetime of performances of jocks or thugs with a hidden side to them and this is like his proto version of those characters.

The other star of the show is director Robert Rodriguez coming off From Dusk Til Dawn and still with a spring in his step. Maybe everything is a little safe here, there aren’t many big surprises in store and the direction is solid rather than edgy, but then this was probably his first decently budgeted film so maybe he felt he had to play it a bit safe.

It’s still very entertaining though and it’s a reminder that whilst the nineties did suffer from a drought of horror, there were still studios willing to pump a fair amount of cash into a fun monster movie. Those times seem to have long gone. Now it’s either under a million for something like Spring or over a hundred million for Godzilla, there’s no room for a Faculty now. So maybe the nineties weren’t so bad after all…

Apart from those young-cast-in-a-V on the posters… we all got sick of those real fast. Ugh…

 

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