In 1998, horror was back in a big way. Wes Craven’s Scream kicked off a slasher-lite revival. I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know, Disturbing Behavior, and Urban Legend followed quickly, targeting teen audiences. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson also played a significant role in the 90’s horror revival. The Dawson’s Creek creator penned several horror screenplays in this time period. After collaborating with Craven, Williamson would later pair up with Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn) for teen horror/sci-fi mash-up, The Faculty. In a bold counter-programming movie, Miramax released The Faculty on Christmas Day in 1998. Though critics were less impressed, audiences showed up making The Faculty a modest box office hit. Over 20 years later, The Faculty remains a highly fun teen-centric horror movie and good example of the genre in the late 90s’s.
The Faculty Channels Sci-Fi Classics
Like Tarantino, director Robert Rodriguez is clearly a cinephile who loves to reference his favourite movies in his own films. Both Rodriguez’s directing and Williamson’s screenplay channel several sci-fi classics. Most notably, John Carpenter’s The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers influence much of The Faculty. There’s also bits of The Stepford Wives here and there. Generally, you can see the influence of these movies in The Faculty’s embracing of the same themes of paranoia, mistrust, and dangerous groupthink and conformity. In addition, there’s fun direct shout-outs for hardcore fans. Burnout Zeke’s homemade drug test to ‘weed out’ aliens or another scene where a teacher’s severed head grows tentacles and walks across a parking lot reference classic moments from The Thing. Horror fans will enjoy these homages, though they risk drawing unfavourable comparisons to classic moments.
Instead, these little homages have some ‘meta’ fun with these sci-fi tropes. It’s not unlike what Scream did with slasher movie narratives.
Fortunately, Rodriguez and Williamson reducing these sci-fi classics into adolescent retreads. This is largely due to the movie’s subversive humor. Yes, The Faculty ‘updates’ familiar idea with a ‘hip’ high school setting. Both the setting and dialogue contemporize these older movies. But Williamson is a clever writer. Not surprisingly then, he finds ways to make The Faculty more than a Rated-R, ‘your teachers really are aliens’ rip-off. Instead, these little homages have some ‘meta’ fun with sci-fi tropes. It’s not unlike what Scream did with slasher movie narratives. Subsequent movies – including Rian Johnson’s neo-noir Brick – would similarly find success by taking old movie concepts and re-working them into high settings. Williamson also flips a lot of teen genre conventions. From character tropes to even the favourable role of drugs, The Faculty subverts audience expectations.
Rodriguez’s Style Overcomes Teen-Centric Spin
In addition to Williamson’s witty screenplay, Rodriguez brings his familiar zippy and irreverent style to The Faculty. To some extent, the teen-centric nature of both the movie itself and horror trends at the time constrained Rodriguez’s more outrageous tendencies. But The Faculty is still a Rodriguez movie. From the quick zoom shots that introduce us to the main characters to the blending of over-the-top violence and humor, Rodriguez’s fingerprints are all over The Faculty. Among his influences, Rodriguez movies incorporate the irreverent gore found in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies and Peter Jackson’s early work. Again, some of these tendencies are restrained in The Faculty. And some of the special effects haven’t aged well. Nonetheless, the spirit of these scenes ensure they still work regardless of dodgy CGI.
The Faculty Is Staffed With An All-Star Cast
For what’s essentially a glorified B-movie, The Faculty is jam-packed with future stars and veteran character actors. By 1998 two years after Scream’s breakout success, horror was cool again. And like Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez attracted talented actors. On ‘The Faculty’ side, it’s an impressive collection of recognizable character actors and past Oscar nominees. Former T1000, Robert Patrick, featured prominently in the movie’s promotional materials and headlines the older cast. Arguably, Patrick may be the best part of the movie. He’s clearly having a blast with what’s his best role outside of T2: Judgment Day. The rest of ‘The Faculty’ are rounded out by Cheers alumni Bebe Neuwirth, Oscar nominee Piper Laurie (Carrie), Rodriguez regular Salma Hayek, and Famke Janssen. Even a young Jon Stewart turns up in a small role.
On ‘The Faculty’ side, it’s an impressive collection of recognizable character actors and past Oscar nominees.
But it’s The Faculty’s young cast that was the movie’s selling point. Though the promotional material positioned Josh Hartnett (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) as the star, The Faculty shot several other young performers into the spotlight. Elijah Wood (The Good Son, Maniac) was already a recognizable child star. But Jordana Brewster and Usher were both making their cinematic debuts. Before The Faculty, Clea DuVall’s biggest credits included Can’t Hardly Wait and a Buffy episode. While his career seemed to inexplicably stall, Shaw Hatosy has since found success on crime drama, Animal Kingdom. All of the young cast shine, giving the movie a cool energy.
The Faculty Still on the 90’s Horror Honour Roll List
Times change and not everything about The Faculty has aged well. But one thing that’s unlikely to change is the universal disdain kids hold for high school. Authority and conformity will always be antithetical to teens. And in part, this is why The Faculty’s reputation has grown since its release. Rodriguez and Williamson cleverly blend sci-fi tropes with adolescent rebellion in a subversive, visually fun movie. Simply put, The Faculty should be a part of your ‘back-to-school’ viewing list.