Back in 1994, aspiring screenwriter Kevin Williamson wrote a script for a film he titled Scary Movie. Loosely inspired by a real-life serial killer in Florida, Williamson aimed to bring slashers back to theaters in frightening fashion.
This horror subgenre, then led by Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, had become associated with endless sequels and subsequently diminishing returns. But Williamson remembered the horror of watching Halloween as a kid and knew there was some forgotten magic to be recaptured. When his script was bought (by the now-disgraced Bob and Harvey Weinstein), it was retitled and released as Scream.
With pitch-black humor and gruesome violence, Scream sparked a revolution in teen-targeted horror much like the one Williamson had seen growing up. Riding this wave was Dimension Films, the horror imprint within Miramax, the Weinsteins’ company. They scored a massive hit with Scream and found similar success with Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
By 1998, Dimension was ready to try again with another star-studded cast, a script rewritten by Williamson, and rising-star director Robert Rodriguez. But the resulting film, The Faculty, was different — and in many ways is remembered today as a cult classic of the ‘90s. Now that it’s streaming on Amazon Prime, here’s why you should see it.
A modest hit at the box office, The Faculty was simply too weird to earn the approval of the mainstream upon its initial release. A mixture of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, The Faculty was the odd one out when held up against more conventional ‘90s meta-slashers, a would-be summer megahit that instead became a genre-movie curio.
The Faculty opens by “offering a view into the mechanics that oppress” teenagers, according to Alexandra West in The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and a New Hollywood Formula. First, we see Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, the T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgment Day) yelling at star players Stan (Shawn Hatosy) and Gabe (Usher), acting like an angry lunatic before a mysterious figure approaches him. The film abruptly cuts to Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) in a faculty meeting, informing disappointed teachers that none of them are getting the funds they asked for, as all that was available in the school’s budget has been allotted to the football team.
After the meeting, Willis surprises Drake in her office. Acting incredibly creepy, he asks her repeatedly for a pencil. When she finally gives him one, he attacks her with it, successfully stabbing his superior. On the run from Willis, Drake manages to escape through a padlocked exit door at the last possible second. But no sooner than she’s free is Drake stabbed with scissors by the elderly Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie, of Twin Peaks).
But the teen protagonists know nothing of this gruesome incident. Deliliah (Jordana Brewster) is the Type-A head cheerleader dating Stan, drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is repeating senior year, and on the peripheries of both their social circles are loner goth Stokely (Clea DuVall), the nerdy Casey (Elijah Wood), and friendly new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris).
Soon enough, it’s revealed that there’s more to these students than the high school pecking order would have you think. The school’s star quarterback, Stan decides to quit the team after becoming disgusted by the overwhelming favoritism he’s been shown in light of his athletic success. Zeke, meanwhile, is far from stupid, engaging in a complex and oddly flirtatious relationship with Mrs. Burke (Famke Janssen). And Delilah’s mother has a drinking problem, which complicates her life at home and school.
One day, Delilah and Casey, who reluctantly work together on the school paper, are shocked to see Mrs. Olson and Coach Willis attacking nurse Rosa Harper (Salma Hayek), shoving something down her ear. The two tell the principal what they’ve witnessed, and Casey tries to tell his parents, but nobody believes them. It’s harder to accept their story once Nurse Harper is spotted walking around, seemingly fine. Suddenly, these kids have no idea who they can trust.
Part of the joy in watching The Faculty today comes from wondering at its truly stacked cast. I haven’t even mentioned Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart), the school’s science teacher, or Casey’s dad Frank (Christopher MacDonald, best known as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore). Wood was only a few years away from starring in the Lord of the Rings movies, Brewster not far from The Fast and The Furious, and Janssen even closer to her breakthrough role as Jean Grey in X-Men.
But after the shock of Jon Stewart teaching Usher wears off, there’s still a lot to recommend about The Faculty. Rodriguez, who’d wanted to work with Williamson ever since he had read Scream (back when it was Scary Movie), said in a 1998 interview that the movie’s Herrington High “felt like a real high school to me. Not trusting the adults, not knowing who you are, not knowing who your friends are. And everyone’s changing constantly.”
The antagonists in The Faculty are revealed by its title, but that’s hardly the full story. The fear of alienation hits deeply for the students. Rodriguez and Williamson dig deep into challenging each student’s archetypes, asking if the things that make them different might be what keeps them alive.
The Faculty is now streaming on Amazon Prime.