Start with The Breakfast Club formula—a preppy popular girl, a jock, the burn-out/bad boy, the new girl, the geek, the goth—and throw in the body horror of parasitic aliens. Stir in plenty of knowing sci-fi riffs and you’ve got The Faculty, a little film with cult classic cred.
Herrington High is your typical small town Midwestern school: perpetually strapped for cash, with a bunch of teachers who are almost as apathetic as their students, and notable only for its championship football team. But one night, after a disappointing budget meeting, the principal (Bebe Neuwirth) has an unsavory encounter with the coach (Robert Patrick), and things take a turn for the bloody.
In a single day, the faculty starts behaving strangely. Soon, the students are following suit. By Friday night the only people unaffected are a small group of misfits.
Casey (Elijah Wood) is the resident geek and the scrawny photographer for the school paper who faces relentless bullying. Delilah (Jordana Brewster) is the paper’s editor, head cheerleader, and the hot girl Casey’s had his eye on for ages. Stan (Shawn Hatosy) is Delilah’s quarterback boyfriend and is having second thoughts about his football career. Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is the school’s bad boy and drug dealer, but is also much smarter than others assume since he’s repeating his senior year. Stokely (Clea DuVall) is a goth loner hiding behind a lesbian reputation, and Marybeth (Laura Harris) has just transferred from Georgia.
When Casey comes across a strange creature on the football field, science teacher Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart) excitedly reports that he’s discovered a new species of aquatic parasite. Then Stan has an unsettling experience in the gym showers when the elderly Mrs. Brummel staggers towards him while her skin sloughs off.
And, as the cherry to the day’s creeptastic sundae, Delilah and Casey—hiding in the faculty lounge closet in search of a cover story—witness the coach violently assault the school nurse (Salma Hayek). Before they can make good their escape, they discover the body of the now-dead Mrs. Brummel.
Obviously something very sinister is going down on school grounds.
Naturally, the local police don’t buy Casey’s story, and the teen is desperate to avoid returning to school the following day now that the faculty knows he’s onto them. Luckily for Casey, he and Delilah, Stan, Stokely, Zeke, and Marybeth band together when the others see exactly what they’re up against.
Each of the teens bring something to the table: Casey is plucky and the fastest runner, Delilah has a keen investigative nose, Stan is the muscle, Stokely has extensive science fiction knowledge that comes in handy, and Marybeth is the kind-hearted mediator.
And Zeke not only provides a sharp brain but also a weapon they discover is especially effective against the alien threat: a homemade drug he calls Scat. As is always the case, the aliens have a fatal flaw—a dependence on water that makes them vulnerable to death-by-dehydration—that the teens are quick to hone in on. Scat also proves a handy way of telling who’s infected or not when anyone in town could be a Pod Person.
As Stokely explains, alien parasites in stories like The Puppet Masters and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are usually hive-mind creatures, all connected to a queen bee or single master. If they can figure out who the leader is and kill them, the rest of the town would “wake” up. Armed with pens full of Scat, the group heads back to school ready for a fight to save their classmates and determine the fate of the world.
The Faculty is nothing ground-breaking or new. What it is is a very fun, often tongue-in-cheek homage to previous science fiction stories that also plays with the typical tropes of a high school drama. It’s no coincidence that Jon Stewart’s character is named Edward Furlong when you’ve got the T-1000 screaming at the football players on the school field.
Creatures that can look and act like normal humans calls to mind Carpenter’s classic The Thing—and when one of the faculty is beheaded, their severed noggin grows tentacles to propel itself across the parking lot. Even the “test” scene with the Scat evokes the infamous blood testing in that seminal film.
Director Robert Rodriguez stretched out a little from his Mexican roots with this film, following the success of his indie outings El Mariachi and Desperado. But it’s still got his fingerprints all over it, with the zooms, sharp cuts, and knowing nods to other films that make From Dusk Till Dawn and Planet Terror so much schlocky fun.
And the cast is a riot, too. Where else will you find Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, and Jordana Brewster teaming up against the likes of Robert Patrick, Usher, Jon Stewart, and Famke Janssen? Just scanning the credits on the IMDB page is its own game of “I know that face!”
We all have those movies that hold nostalgic places in our hearts simply because of the timing of their release/the first time we saw them. When this came to video, I was at that prime age of sleepover horror movie marathons and this one saw regular rotation. Once you’ve seen something with ten other screaming girls, you’ll never forget the experience, and rewatching this now shoots me straight back to that time—when I was also rather obsessed with the Animorphs series.
Obviously the 90’s was a boom time for the parasitic alien story.
If you like: Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Degrassi.
Why you should watch it: A notable cast of familiar faces and plenty of winking nods to classic sci-fi and horror.
Favorite moment(s): The confrontation with Mr. Furlong; “Guaranteed to jack you up!”
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.