Reviewing a Cult Classic – The Faculty (1998)

So, ‘Spooktober’ is right around the corner and I’m preparing some good horror reviews but, in the meantime, let’s have a taster of what’s to come.

I’ve seen ‘The Faculty’ many times in the past and I recently watched it again with my family and it’s strange how watching something when you’re older has the consequence of you perceiving it differently.

Now that I’ve done this site for nearly three years, I’ve learned certain things about the movie industry and learned that there is always a movie that is so successful that it has a series of imitators. That is probably the most common aspect of the movie industry, particularly in horror. One other thing that is not as common but none the less present is an active participant of the thing that was popular also having an active role in the imitator.

That person is Kevin Williamson, the man who wrote ‘Scream’. He also wrote ‘The Faculty’ and it’s painfully obvious that this script is a blanket rip-off of ‘Scream’. All in good time.

‘The Faculty’ focuses on a small group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio who discover that the teachers in their high school have been taken over by alien parasites. Ohio of course being the prime starting area for a take-over of Earth.

So that’s the plot, but what about the characters. Every main character is some kind of stereotype from every single teen horror movie ever. There’s the nerd who’s constantly bullied by the jocks (Casey, Elijah Wood); the tall, cool guy who’s probably a stoner (Zeke, Josh Hartnett), the goth (Stokely, Clea DuVall), the bitchy cheerleader and the editor of the school magazine (Delilah, Jordana Brewster), her boyfriend who is captain of the football team (Stan, Shawn Hatosy) and the sweet, southern, nice girl (Marybeth, Laura Harris).

I just want to say that there have been some severe casting issues with a couple of the roles. Roles like Casey are perfect for Elijah Wood because you would completely believe him in that role, and he did a brilliant job but there are some other roles that are not right for the person they cast.

I’m going to start with Stan. Shawn Hatosy does not look like the typical jock, in fact, none of the football players look like actual football players. American football is a contact sport, it’s dangerous which is why gigantic men tend to play it. So, this film casts little, skinny guys to play this aggressive, high contact sport… OK. One thing I did notice was that Mr Hatosy had a habit of walking with his arms a little further out to the sides, as if he had big muscles.

His girlfriend pisses me off as well because she is an absolute bitch. But that’s her character, isn’t it? There is no depth and complexity to a lot of these characters, they’re just there to fill a stereotype. To tick a box. That’s all. So, Stan wants to leave the football team and become and focus on his studies. He doesn’t want to get into university on an athletic scholarship but rather get there by using his brain which is noble and if I were his girlfriend, I would be proud of him for making such a grown-up and positive decision about his life and his future. Is she happy? Is she fuck!

No, because she’s the head cheerleader even though we never see her do any cheerleading whatsoever, she has to date the captain of the football team because the laws of high school deem it so. She can’t be seen dating a nerd which will prove to be very ironic by the end of the film. My point is, she had to be the editor of the school newspaper for the purposes of the story, but did she have to be the head cheerleader also? Especially since we don’t see her wave one pompom in a short skirt.

The next casting question mark goes to Famke Janssen’s character, Miss Elizabeth Burke. Miss Burke is put forward as a very plain, timid and shy character but Famke Janssen is a very beautiful lady. Not just beautiful, we’re talking ‘Hollywood’ gorgeous and it is virtually impossible to make her look ‘plain’ and ‘ordinary’. I can see her wearing the granny glasses and the swamp coloured cardigan but I’m not buying it. Later on, when she’s infected and becomes more ‘un-inhibited’ and arrives at school in a tight red dress, I’m thinking, ‘That’s more like it’. I see the tactics. The idea was to hire an actress who would fit the role of the ‘red-dressed seductress’ to tempt Zeke but they forgot that they would have to make her look as plain as possible to show the transformation and the point of having a ‘red-dressed seductress’ is that they don’t do plain. My point is, why could they have hired a more normal looking actress and then given her a makeover? That would have been more to the imagination.

If we’re talking good, interesting and complicated characters then Zeke and Stockley are probably as well-rounded as you’re going to get.

Zeke is a very smart but troubled man who is repeating his senior year and selling ‘drugs’ which is really just crushed caffeine tablets and other goods out of his car.

Stockley is the goth girl who doesn’t want to make friends with anyone, but Marybeth takes a shine to her and constantly asks her questions about her life. Stockley dislikes and is constantly taunted by Delilah for being a lesbian but it turns out that she’s not really a lesbian as Stockley spread that rumour herself so people who leave her alone, a plot thread that I’m still confused by because she’s got a crush on Stan which is probably why Stockley doesn’t like Delilah apart from all the other reasons to not like Delilah.

Then there’s Casey who’s adorable and the smart one and the virgin, therefore the obvious hero.

Can I just ask? What’s with the big stars in this seemingly B Movie? To start, there’s Robert Patrick. That’s right. The T-1000. And also, Elijah Wood had made a pretty good name for himself by 1998 which is the same year that ‘Deep Impact’ came out but before that, there was ‘Flipper’ and ‘The Adventures of Huck Finn’, so there was quite a bit of weight to Mr Wood’s name. Josh Hartnett had not yet become the star that he is today but 1998 saw the release of his first two feature length movies, one being ‘The Faculty’ and the other being ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later’. Not a bad start to the business. And to round things off nicely, Salma Hayek! Also, former late-night host, Jon Stewart when he was a jobbing actor.

It’s obvious that this was a film coming off the back of ‘Scream’ because of the sheer amount of movie and literature references. ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ is the main reference since Stokely is the sci-fi fan and knows the story inside out. One of Casey’s theories is that Aliens have been inundating popular culture with stuff about Aliens so when the aliens actually show up, no one will believe the people who are suspicious.

Also, I’m wondering what threat the aliens pose? They don’t want to blow up the Earth like in ‘Independence Day’ which is another reference that gets banded about. The aliens seem really docile around each other. There is a scary scene at the start where Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) chases Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) but when the aliens are around each other, they seem fine. We know that the aliens need a lot of water to survive so maybe the ultimate endgame is that they will just drain the Earth but that’s going to happen anyway. As far as I can tell, the infected people still have their free will and seem generally fine with being infected.

The theory is that if the group can kill the queen then all of their friends at school will be returned to normal. There’s a moment where they arrive at the school and corner Principal Drake who they believe is the queen but we the audience know that she can’t be because Coach Willis was the first to get infected and then he attacked Drake and then Drake was attacked by Mrs Olson (Piper Laurie), unaware that she is infected.

They start intimidating her into taking Zeke’s drug to prove that she’s not an alien but we all know that she is until finally, Zeke shoots her in the head. There’s a moment where it looks like she’s actually human and Zeke has committed murder. In the few seconds before Drake stands up and shrugs it off, no one seems to be that bothered about the fact that they’re all accomplices to murder.

I think that they should have been drawn more towards Coach Willis, but I have a strong suspicion that they couldn’t afford to have Robert Patrick in the final act. Taking the film as a whole, he’s not in it that much and he’s painted as being the main villain, the ultimate challenge. The person that everyone is afraid of.

But he’s not. Instead, it’s Marybeth. She’s the queen alien and that was obvious because she was the new girl and this girl was not given any character at all. They’ve tried to go down the road of ‘it’s the last person you’d expect’ angle but to make that work, you have to give everyone some character and make them all equally unlikely so it’s genuinely surprising. Mr Williamson, you understood this perfectly for ‘Scream’, what’s changed?

I suppose now would be a good time to say that whilst Kevin Williamson did write the shooting script, the story is not his. David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel wrote the first draft but no one was interested and after the success of ‘Scream’ which was developed by ‘Dimension’, the same studio picked up ‘The Faculty’ and had their star pupil, Mr Williamson drafted in to re-write the script to make more appealing and fit in to the new wave of self-referential horror that he started. Williamson was also slated to direct, but he waved directing the project to focus on his own film, ‘Teaching Mrs Tingle’. Robert Rodriguez ended up directing.

In the end, Casey manages to trap the queen and stabs her in the eye with Zeke’s drugs after a cheesy one liner. I can’t even remember what the line was. My mind has blocked it, it was that cheesy. It was so cheesy that I’ve gained half a stone.

Luckily, the theory was right, and everyone is returned to normal. In the end, Stockley stops being a goth and starts dating Stan. Zeke becomes a football player. The media seem to be making no bones about the fact that there was an alien invasion and Casey is shown to be a hero and is also dating Delilah for some reason.

The end.

‘The Faculty’ didn’t do bad at the box office, bringing in $40.3 Million against a $15 Million budget and it gained relatively mixed reviews but has gained a cult following since.

There also seems to have been a bit of a cock-up with the movie poster. The one that I’ve seen and will hopefully be using for this review has Usher Raymond’s character in the poster whilst Stan is absent. Usher Raymond is in the movie and he’s in a couple of scenes with dialogue and everything, his part is not as big as Stan’s part. There are other posters with Stan in it. Maybe Usher Raymond had a bigger part and then things got changed? Was Usher Raymond a big name in the mid-90’s and his name and face used to sell tickets? I don’t know.

All in all. Weird movie. It’s not bad. I can sit through it and enjoy it for what it is. Like I said before, whilst this is a fun little strange movie, given the sheer talent in its core, this film could have been so much more. I’m not going to say I’m disappointed because I was entertained.

Baffled? That feels more like it.

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