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The Faculty Was Jon Stewart’s Greatest Acting Achievement
Nice-guy science teacher who knows how to reach the kids? Check. Evil alien with a gory exploding eyeball? Also check.
The teachers start acting weird just as people start going missing at small-town Herrington High School — so of course it’s gotta be aliens, right? That’s the skin-deep sci-fi-horror setup for 1998’s The Faculty, an ensemble scare flick directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Kevin Williamson that seems forever fated to live in the shadow of bigger Williamson-penned 1990s vintage horror hits like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
That’s a real shame — because despite its stupidly simple premise, The Faculty (streaming here on Peacock) strikes a distinctive vibe among all 10 or so members of its enormously awesome cast. It’s the kind of movie where everyone gets to show something real and authentic about who they are before all the big alien-smashing action erupts — even with limited screen time to juggle its giant array of faces. Heck, even Jon Stewart gets a moment to shine as an accommodating science teacher who (sadly, yet super-grossly) gets infested with the movie’s alien mind-control bug. In The Faculty, you see, there are no truly disposable characters.
Hangin' with Hartnett: The Faculty's 1980s high school vibe
One common thread that runs through all of Williamson’s ‘90s fright-film successes is the endearing, authentic way that their too-cool-for-school teens all talk to each other. But with a lineup of star power that includes Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Salma Hayek, Robert Patrick, Famke Janssen, Jon Stewart, Bebe Neuwirth, Clea DuVall, Usher (in his pre-“Yeah!” early days), and many, many more, The Faculty takes his gift for curating teen group dynamics close to The Breakfast Club levels of cool.
Nope, we're not even kidding. Creepy movies can be plenty creepy without ever striving too hard to make their characters stand out. But there’s just something that much more extra about fright flicks that do slow down and really get to know their would-be victims and heroes. Along with 2001’s Donnie Darko, The Faculty has the peculiar distinction of being one of the few turn-of-the-millennium scary movies carrying loads of 1980s teen-movie DNA in its high-school-hangout system.
It’s safe to say, really, that both Donnie Darko and The Faculty are essentially conventional, coming-of-age movies that cleverly hide their spot-on social vibes inside a supernaturally scary wrapper. Maybe that’s why The Faculty has since become a cult classic of its own, even though it's still did kinda-respectable domestic horror-movie box office numbers — $40 million against a $15 million production budget — when it released around Christmas of 1998.
Who are the movie’s biggest stars? It’s a credit to Williamson’s screenplay (and Rodriguez’ direction) that it’s almost impossible to really say. Snooty cheerleader Delilah (Brewster), her perennially picked-on high school newspaper nerd assistant Casey (Wood), and new-in-town southerner Marybeth (Laura Harris) — “from Atlanta!” — all have vital story roles, whether it’s discovering the mysterious squid-y species that seems to be causing all the mayhem or hiding the big secret that actually explains the mystery itself.
But The Faculty is really Hartnett’s movie. Channeling more than a little of that same rebel energy that made Judd Nelson the sleeper star of The Breakfast Club, his wacked-out, 13th-grade deadbeat Zeke serves as the glue that ties the rest of the gang together. After all, nearly everyone (including the teachers!) has a hookup with the parking-lot drug-dealer guy!
Even without him, there are dozens of Halloween-season reasons to keep The Faculty on your binge list: Watching Patrick go from his T2 terminator role to a seriously ‘roided-up football coach; spotting Janssen’s severed head bobbing around atop its slithery, cephalopod-bodied host; or watching Stewart’s science guy getting his alien-possessed eyeball blasted out... all while a gaggle of horrified kids stands there and wonders what kind of trouble they're in. But with the way Hartnett glides between acting like a scummy loser and a bona fide, school-saving hero (and remember — he only had one other movie under his belt at the time!), you really only need just the one.
Just in case you’ve never seen it, we’re staying well away from spoiling this movie’s story. It's not exactly original if you’ve seen, like, any horror movie at all, like ever — but then again, that’s not really what keeps love for The Faculty burning in the hearts of its loyal cult followers a quarter-century on from its release. If alien parasites ever did try to take over the Earth by staging their first strategic move at a high school in Ohio, this is the way we’d hope they’d do it… and if we’re lucky, a 12th grade-repeating burnout like Zeke would still be lurking around campus somewhere, just waiting for his chance to save the day.
Check out The Faculty, streaming on Peacock here.