After seeing “Machete” carve through the box office, it stands to reason that anything director Robert Rodriguez does is star-stutted, and “The Faculty” is no exception. This underrated 1998 sci-fi thriller features everyone from Usher to Jon Stewart in an enjoyable by-the-numbers tribute to 50’s paranoia flicks.
When people start acting strangely in Herrington High, Ohio, it’s the school outcasts – lead by class nerd Casey Connor (Elijah Wood) – who take notice. Sure enough, the school is being overrun by a crafty alien parasite shepherded by a possessed football coach (T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick). When the student body succumbs to the wormy alien invaders, a motley crew of conflicting cliques (including Fast and the Furious’ Jordana Brewster and Dead Like Me’s Laura Harris) turn to their local drug-pusher-with-a-heart-of-gold (Josh Hartnett) after discovering the aliens are more susceptible to cocaine than Lindsey Lohan’s career. Banding together, the last uninfected students in the school set out to rid their town of alien influence, but with one alien already in their mists, the students must avoid falling victim to the town’s vanishing humanity.
With a script by Kevin Williamson (Scream), the film succeeds as Rodriguez unabashedly showcases his passion in this geeky horror film. Like “Scream” and many other films of the 90’s, the movie is genre-conscious, with a discussion of Robert Heinlein’s “Puppet Masters” providing much of the necessary exposition. But what saves “Faculty” from the accusations of pretension against “Scream” is the sheer unbridled enthusiasm Rodriguez brings to the screen. As Hartnett’s Zeke learns, you just can’t be pretentious when your teacher’s head is growing tentacles (straight out of “The Thing”) and crawling around on its own. The film also makes gleeful use of its star-power. Salma Hayek plays one of the first victims in a suspenseful and voyeuristic scene. Jon Stewart plays a professor who learns its all fun and games until someone takes a needle full of cocaine-like substance in the eye,. And on top of all that, Usher manages to sneak onto the film’s movie poster despite having barely a background role.
But even an encyclopedic knowledge of 50’s sci-fi doesn’t protect the film from a few plot holes. Unlike the films it references, “The Faculty” can never quite seem to agree on what the alien parasites are doing to its victims. Are they controlling their hosts internally (ala “Invaders from Mars”) or are they creating perfect duplicates of their victims (circa “The Body Snatchers”)? Whatever is happening, the victims can be shot, stabbed, flung through a windshield or even decapitated and then appear fine once freed from alien control. This produces an inconsistent plot hole no amount of “suspension of disbelief” can clear up.
Despite this oversight, the film is rapidly enjoyable. The climactic twist is played with clever cheese instead of ham-fisted ho-hum, and the soundtrack includes then-current artists like Shawn Mullins, Creed and Class of ’99 providing decent covers of David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd. With the resulting mix of suspense and tongue-in-cheek humor, Rodriguez keeps the entertainment level beyond pandering and pretension, giving “The Faculty” high marks as a rare B-move with both an A-List cast as well as A-List execution.
Score “The Faculty” on DVD for $8.69 shipped at Buy.com.