Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
The thing about teachers is that even the good ones are a little scary. They're older, they have power over you, they can give you detention, they see little monsters like you all the time. In many ways, teachers are perpetual parents, except they can make your life miserable all the time but not actually have to live with you. They can be your worst nightmare.
For this week's Debate Club, we look at the five scariest movie teachers.
Class ... is in.
The whole faculty from The Faculty (1998)
There are those who will claim that Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson's 1998 the-teachers-are-evil-alien-monsters movie is a secret classic.
We're not willing to go that far, but we will say it is perfectly cast, from the students (Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster and... Usher!) to, particularly, those teachers. Look at all the teachers who get to ham it up; Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick (as a gym teacher, of course), Salma Hayek and, most famously, Jon Stewart, as you have never seen him before and mercifully never would again. Wow, that goatee.
Kitty Farmer from Donnie Darko (2001)
Those who can, do — those who can't, teach. But in the case of Kitty Farmer, she can't even do that.
As played by Beth Grant, this benign Donnie Darko menace is like a lot of teachers we all had — not necessarily evil, but simply bad at her job. Obsessed with banning Graham Greene short stories — "Pornography is being taught in our curriculum!" — and determined to discourage independent thinking, Kitty doesn't inspire people to learn, only to obey. Grant makes the character both loathsome and pitiful — the character may not be terrifying, but she's all too familiar in our schools
Steven Wilkins in Trick 'r Treat (2007)
Dylan Baker has an ability to play seemingly ordinary guys who are demented or troubled underneath (look no further than his great work in the 1998 Todd Solondz drama Happiness, in which he plays a pedophile.) He harnesses that skill in Trick 'r Treat, in which he stars as a pretty nerdy principal — well, at least on the outside. Turns out he's a serial killer, so stay away from his house on Halloween, because he may poison you and turn your head into a jack- o'-lantern.
Baker nails both the horror and the humor of Principal Wilkins, weaponizing our childhood suspicion that, deep down, our kindly teachers are up to something.
Mr. Strickland from Back to the Future (1985) and Back to the Future Part II (1989)
We don't know a lot about Mr. Strickland, other than that he has all sorts of issues with the McFly family — he seems to exist merely to make their life harder — and, boy oh boy, does he not like slackers.
He is an equal opportunity slacker-hater, though; he gets Biff Tannen for the offense, stealing his copy of Ooh La La magazine in the process. And like all bad-guy teachers, he has plenty of malapropisms; just know he has a nickel's worth of free advice for you.
Severus Snape from the Harry Potter films (2001-2011)
Before Alan Rickman signed up to be a Hogwarts professor, audiences were familiar with the late actor's résumé of evil roles. But as Snape, there was something especially sinister about the performance, with Rickman dialing up the menace but turning down his energy level. It was a stroke of brilliance: Severus is so adept at the Dark Arts that he doesn't need to do very much to convey what a frightening figure he is.
And yet, the character found redemption by giving his life for Hogwarts, proving to be a secret hero all along. In fact, Rickman knew this scary teacher would end up being a good guy — J.K. Rowling told him in confidence years before it would be revealed in the books.
"When we started she had only written three of the books so it was like trying to walk down two potential roads not at all knowing what the end would be but having some sense of what that man's life was," Rickman said in 2011. "I knew with Snape I was working as a double agent, as it turns out, and a very good one at that."
Maybe, but before then, the man expertly creeped us out.