When you think about horror movies from the ’90s, 1998 specifically, a lot of great titles come to mind. There’s I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and John Carpenter’s Vampires. You might even find yourself talking for hours about the forever quotable Bride of Chucky, but one film (to me) stood out above the rest. The Faculty was a movie that came along at the right time, with the right stars aligning. It was directed by Robert Rodriguez from a script by Kevin Williamson (and a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel), fresh off his success with the first Scream film just two years earlier.
The first thing that jumped off the screen was the choice of music. The film sported an amazing soundtrack comprising mostly of covers, highlighted by the superstar group Class of ’99. We were then introduced to the first member of the faculty, Coach Willis, played by Robert Patrick, who is every bit as scary in this role (even before he gets an alien inside him) as he was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. His opening line, which I will NOT repeat here, is pretty unforgettable. Then the movie just didn’t let up, character after character is introduced, all with a solid actor behind them. I mean, there was Jordana Brewster and Clea DuVall, we have Laura Harris and Josh Hartnett, and also Shawn Hatosy, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Usher Raymond, Elijah Wood, as well as the hero (in my eyes) of the piece, Jon Stewart. Okay, so Mr. Furlong isn’t in any way the hero, but if not for him, the kids wouldn’t have figured out that their street drug, produced by Hartnett’s character, was the key to victory. So, he gets a couple hero points just for being stabbed in the eye with a pen. This is the part where I tell you the moral of the story is that the pen is mightier than the sword, or in this case, mightier than the alien. It’s a weak dad joke, forgive me.
The Faculty worked for so many different reasons, all of which can be tied back to Kevin Williamson, the man writes angsty teens better than just about anyone in the business. From the way he handled the high school class system all the way down to taking peer pressure to the next level (take drugs or it proves you’re an alien) he went all-out drawing believable characters for us to hate or root for. Speaking of the kids, all of the actors were on point. Josh Hartnett had a particularly big horror year in ’98, as he was also in Halloween: H20. Did that man ever comb his hair back then? I don’t think so.
The movie wasted no time jumping right into the horror, but the scene that sticks with me the most happened a little ways in: the shower scene. That old lady’s scalp coming off in Stan’s (played by Shawn Hatosy) hand is something I (unwillingly) think about at least once a week. It was disturbing and gross and perfect for setting up the things to come. Of course, Elijah Wood is the one to figure out what’s going on, and in perfect horror movie fashion the adults do not believe him, hell, even the other students don’t believe him, but in a nice change of pace for the time that didn’t last long. By the end of that scene, poor Jon Stewart is taken out, but luckily, if you stick around until the very end, not forever.
The cast of this movie were all perfectly chosen for their roles. Even Usher did a great job, and this was the first time I had ever seen him in an acting capacity. He did such a fantastic job pretending to be a jerk and a jock, I can remember at the time worrying this would hurt his music career, as no one would want to support such a hotheaded jerk.
One thing I really appreciated in this movie were the numerous callbacks to the films and stories that came before it, with Invasion of the Body Snatchers being referenced more than once. It was refreshing that it acknowledged that it wasn’t the first to explore this territory, it just came in and had fun with the formula. In a way, to me, The Faculty was more of a very dark comedy than it was a horror film and that was okay, it never tried to be anything that it wasn’t. It was fun. It was aware. It was just a well-done piece of entertainment, with Elijah Wood figuring out that all they had to do was kill the queen and all would be right in the world, and by god, he did. He crushed her with the bleachers, something I was scared would happen to me every time I went back there to smoke in high school.
The movie did have probably the most ’90s ending ever, with Wood’s character being on the cover of many magazines and the subject of constant media attention. The slow pullback at the end before we faded to black really sealed the deal.
I bring up The Faculty a lot when people ask me about horror movies that I think are underappreciated. It’s one that didn’t get a lot of love when it came out (apart from the soundtrack) and one that still doesn’t get a lot of love today. It really had current and future stars piled together in a fun and weird story, written by a great and directed by one of the best. If you haven’t watched it yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s fun and checks all the boxes. The story makes sense, it’s gross and gory, it has great music and good acting. The camerawork is fantastic, and the mix of practical and digital effects still really holds up. There hasn’t been anything like it since ’98, so if you don’t know what to do this weekend, you have to fit this movie into your plans.