Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Faculty

Back in the 1990s, Kevin Williamson probably did more than anyone to bring horror movies back to popularity. The writer who was best known as the creator of the angsty teen drama Dawson’s Creek also created the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises, making slasher movies hip for Generation X. In 1998, he turned his formula to a re-visioning of the alien body-snatching subgenre, with The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn).

In a typical high school in Ohio, we find a fairly standard collection of students. There is Delilah the mean girl (Jordana Brewster), Zeke the slacker drug dealer (Josh Hartnett), Stokes the goth girl everyone thinks is gay (Clea Duvall), Stan the jock who wants to be known for more than his physical skills (Shawn Hatosy), and Casey the hopeless geek (Frodo Elijah Woods). We are introduced to each in short illustrative vignettes, most notably a group of students picking up Casey and slamming him crotch-first into a flag pole, over and over. As a confirmed hobbit-hater, I approve of this. The kids have little in common except the usual teenager’s belief that adults are aliens. In this case, they’re right.

Starting with the teachers, people are taken over and controlled by alien entities that love water and conformity. Our gang of misfits are the only ones who tumble to the truth before it’s too late, and it is up to them to stop the alien takeover. They have two advantages. Stokes is a science fiction reader, so she knows they only have to find the alien queen and kill her to end the reign of terror. They have a weapon when they discover Zeke’s homemade speed is lethal to the invaders (Nerdism: Zeke says his power works against the water-based aliens because it is a diuretic. I think he means it is a dessicant, because it doesn’t give the ETs an uncontrollable urge to pee.).

This is not a terribly well-regarded movie. Robert Rodriguez has mostly disavowed it, saying he only did it to learn how to work with CGI and to satisfy a contractual obligation. It is the only one of his movies without his distinctive special features on the home video release, and has little of his individual style. It currently has just a 6.3/10 rating on imdb.com.

Still, I love this movie. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and try to be something it’s not. It is, I think, a lot of fun. Williamson was the first screenwriter to write a slasher movie where the characters realize they are in a slasher movie, and here, thanks to the character of Stokes, they are aware of the science fictional precedents. Stokes quotes Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, even getting the name right on the later. Curiously, she doesn’t mention John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, but that maybe because The Faculty steals/pays homage to it so directly. For instance, when our heroic band decides to test themselves to see if any of them are aliens, it is virtually the same scene as the test sequence from The Thing, right down to the couch and the revealed alien crashing through a wall to get outside.

If this sort of a thing interests you and you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to give The Faculty a try. If you are a political conservative, you will probably be delighted when Jon Stewart gets stabbed in the eye. (In the interest of political balance, liberals should watch Anaconda, where Jon Voight gets eaten by a snake.
The police say they have some questions for Bill O'Reilly


Jacob Long said...

Never have seen this movie. I remember songs from the soundtrack, though. Nothing quite as terrible as hearing Creed cover an Alice Cooper classic. Maybe that's what scared me away from the movie.

KentAllard said...

True, very true. But that song comes at the beginning of the film, so you quickly get past it. And it could be worse. It could be Creed doing a Creed song.