Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Faculty

The Faculty (1998)

contains spoilers, so you know, proceed with caution.

So the thing about the 1990s is that they aged quickly. Things which seemed cool back then seem dated: look at Scream. Which brings us to the amusing contrary thing. That a horror film from the 1990s which I think not only has dated well, but remains great, is mostly forgotten or ignored today.

The Faculty is Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Breakfast Club, the sort of thing you could imagine RL Stine or his ilk trying in the Point Horror series. In fact, maybe they did, but my brain draws a blank. An anonymous alien arrives in a small town school, and begins to possess everyone, starting with the staff. A very young looking Elijah Wood and friends stand between the world and alien domination.

Now the cast are having an absolute ball here. Look at the faculty cast list. It includes Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Jon Stewart and Famke Janssen among others, and every single one of them is having an absolute ball, but crucially, not sending up the material. Robert Patrick might be playing the Terminator as high school coach, but he's never less than convincing, and provides several unsettling moments. Piper Laurie makes a career out of sinister ladies, and can play the part in her sleep. Jon Stewart, however, plays on his amiable persona, which has only grown with time after a long stint at the Daily Show, so turning from Jon Stewart into cold alien is quite the turn. As is Famke's mild mannered teacher turning into Xenia Onatopp.

The body snatching aspect allows Robert Rodriguez to play with the visuals, and I particularly like
the main characters walking into a school full of fighting and chaos and walking out of one entirely serene. Including one focus on a previous screaming couple, now arm in arm. You dont need to see the possessions (having seen it briefly when the underused but effective Salma Hayek is transformed) to know what's going on.

Now, there is another show which this reminds me... Yeah, that's right, Doctor Who and The War Machines
. In that, the one speaking role who fights the most against possession winds up the sole fatality. Here, we see Lilith fight for her life in the opening teaser, and who is the only staff member with a substantial role to snuff it? Poor old Principal Drake. Of course, she only works as a red herring for the characters, not the audience, who must surely put two and two together that Laurie and Patrick are infected by then thus someone else must be Queen Alien.
Which is probably obvious, but it caught me out when I was 12, so who knows? I also find it interesting the aliens, in a possible shoutout to Shivers, reduce inhibitions, so we find that subconsciously Miss Burke does actually like Zeke, and that the stuff really don't like Drake!

The football game where the school team deliberately tackle the opposing team so they can infect them, "you're all expelled", the shoutout to Happy ¤¤¤¤ing Gilmore, this is a really funny film too. And because everyone is playing it straight, it and the horror works. Ignore the metacritics and imdb scores which look down on this, I love this goofy film, and am delighted it holds up so well after two decades.

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