Few Movies Blended Sci-Fi and Horror Better than an Underseen ‘90s Classic
High school can be terrifying.
A high school is the perfect setting for a horror movie. With so many different people on the verge of becoming adults, a few bad seeds going rogue is believable. Scream, The Craft, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Carrie have all become classics within this ready-made ensemble scenario.
One movie deserves to stand alongside those heavy hitters, but it’s been besmirched by its sci-fi crossover tone and nebulous title. Twenty-five years later, it’s clear that between its all-star ‘90s ensemble cast and paranoid alien impersonator threat, it may as well have been called That “Thing” You Do.
The Faculty begins, as all the best horror movies do, with a cold open. Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) returns to Herrington High School after hours to get her keys, only to be attacked by the football coach and drama teacher. But then there’s a stark shift in tone, albeit an unsurprising one if you know the film is written by Scream mastermind Kevin Williamson. The movie shifts to the mundane worries of the school’s students, like how to get a good scoop for the paper or whether to quit football.
Queen bee Delilah (Jordana Brewster) and eager photographer Casey (Elijah Wood) become entangled with burnout dealer Zeke (Oppenheimer standout Josh Hartnett), naive Marybeth (Laura Harris), and alt-girl outcast Stokely (Clea DuVall) when they find a strange, fossil-like creature on the football field and witness teachers attack and seemingly infect the school nurse. As they investigate, Casey comes up with a harebrained theory: what if the creature is an alien slowly infecting the school’s adults?
They run the theory by science teacher Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart), who confirms it by exposing his own infestation. They quickly learn the creature’s likes (water) and dislikes (Zeke’s merchandise), and form a plan to fight back before realizing any one of them could be infected. This leads to paranoid drama ripped straight out of classic sci-fi: true allegiances are revealed, the alien queen makes herself known, and the group is forced to make sacrifices for the cause.
The Faculty, which feels like John Hughes meets John Carpenter, answers a question no one may have asked, yet everyone could still find intriguing: what if the kids from The Breakfast Club had to single-handedly save the world from an alien infection? The tension never lets up, the creature effects are great, and Robert Rodriguez’s stylized direction and editing lend themselves to the tonal tightrope the script walks so well.
While the world has certainly moved on from some of The Faculty’s ‘90s relics (Stokely gets an entirely unnecessary Ally-Sheedy-esque makeover at the end, and the third-act twist preys on dangerous misogynist tropes), it still stands as one of the most undeservedly overlooked movies of its era. It was too horrific for sci-fi fans, and too science-y for gorehounds. But the space between the two can blur the genres and produce hidden gems like this one.