The 90’s is an underrated period for horror. Even though horror films were being released at a steady rate, it wasn’t until Scream (1996) that 90’s horror returned to ‘Best of’ lists. The fanfare surrounding Wes Craven’s high school slasher smash paved the for it’s high school hell sibling, The Faculty.
The Faculty hit theaters on Christmas Day in 1998. Written by Kevin Williamson (Scream) and directed by horror alumni Robert Rodriguez, The Faculty is akin to Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the lesser known The Puppet Masters.
To the students at Harrington High, the principal and her posse of teachers have always been a little odd, but lately they’ve been behaving positively alien. Controlled by otherworldly parasites, the faculty try to infect students one by one. Cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy), drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) team up with some of their other classmates to fight back against the invaders.
The film’s structure was again, quite similar to that of Scream‘s. Cast a bunch of relatively unknown teenage actors as the students, and throw in some veteran actors to fill in the roles of parents and teachers. Josh Hartnett, fresh off his film debut in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, starred as Zeke Tyler. Alongside was former child actor Elijah Wood as Casey Conner. Rounding out the students were relatively unknowns at the time: Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hatosy and Laura Harris. They also snagged Usher Raymond in his theatrical debut, whose music career had just taken off the previous year.
As for the veteran actors and actresses, Selma Hayek portrayed the school nurse, Rosa Harper. Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Jon Stewart and Daniel von Bargen filed out the staff. Bebe Neuwirth played the school principal Valerie Drake and Robert Patrick as the football coach, Joe Willis. After this point, there will be spoilers. If you want to be surprised, hop in your time machine, check it out and come back.
Why The Faculty Is Still Relevant
This film explores that greatest fear of all teenagers. Am I the only normal one around here??? The original concept for Invasion of the Body Snatchers from the 1950’s was an allegory for who was and who wasn’t a communist. In the 1990’s, this was no longer a concern, yet it still works. Zeke forcing everyone to use his drug to ensure they’re human gets very tense. It does get a little overdone though when everyone refuses to take it, before finally giving in. That’s when they realize that Delilah is an alien. Teens tend to put up a facade to ensure that fit in while in high school. With aliens taking over the body, our rag-tag band of misfits start to lose their identity and what makes them who they are. The entity chasing them creates a one-consciousness-fits-all-society. On paper this sounds good, until it takes away what makes us each great.
This concept of not knowing who is taken over is even scarier when you realize the only way to tell who has been taken over, is by observing very subtle changes in their character character. For example. Coach Willis is established as a hot-headed antagonist, only to be seen later as a more restrained, calm “individual”. Delilah and Stan carry on as normal after they are both taken over. She does show the slightest difference by wearing glasses to school instead of her contacts but they assume she’s adopted a more bookish look. She is the head of the newspaper after all. Stan uncharacteristically quits the football team, but he himself is NOT an alien. Teenagers are prone to making rash decisions, we all now this. The Faculty reminds us that teenagers minds are as impenetrable today as they have always been, making life altering decisions at the drop of a hat. One minute you though you knew someone and the next, their trying to eat your face.
The way people treat others in this film is still something that is happening today. Casey is bullied to the extreme. He of course is a nerd in the film, a performance Elijah Wood makes absolutely believable. We see him physically abused with no one coming to his aid. Bullying is still front and center in society today. The Faculty was not the first film to showcase the severity of bullying in our school systems, but it came at a time that we would all look back on as the calm before the storm. The Columbine shooting would take place the following year, changing how we see bullies and the bullied portrayed on screen forever. And in a turn that may be quite a bit more dark today. it is great to see Casey become our hero.
Williamson also brings back his patented meta-commentary to this film. Obviously The Faculty isn’t the first film to try this and it’s still being done today (See: Cabin in the Woods). Casey seeks out Stokes because she reads Sci-Fi novels. She is almost an alien expert due to this. Also, when Stan questions why an alien invasion would happen here.,Casey’s reply is, “If you’re going to conquer Earth, would you come in Independence Day style and blow up the White House or through the backdoor in Ohio”. This is a logical choice and believable strategy. It also is tying in other films from the genre and using them as references. Stokes also brings up the The Puppet Masters, which is the basis of the films that The Faculty borrows heavily from. And really, probably a good touch to reference them when reworking the story.
This is a film that flies under the radar. This hidden horror is one of brighter films that helped genre get back to where it is today. The Faculty is a modern retelling of a classic that, despite its minor flaws, is a solid horror film. This gem is worth a viewing for not only its entertainment, but the underlying messages it carries.