Unpretentious and entertaining, Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty (1998) is a peculiar little throwback to 1980s sci-fi horror — with more than a passing nod to 1950s alien-invasion paranoia. The premise is that some alien life form is taking over the faculty — with an eye on the students, the whole town and eventually the world, of course — of an otherwise average John Hughes-style high school in some small town. Actually, it might be fairer to call the school a parody of John Hughes, since this place is a good bit rougher than the Hughes brand of teen fantasy. However, it does use all the standard Hughes tropes — the put-upon geek (Elijah Wood), the outsider girl (Clea DuVall), the popular jock (Shawn Hatosy), the bad boy hero (Josh Hartnett and his simian brow), the smart girl (Jordana Brewster) and the pretty newcomer (Laura Harris). The difference here is that one of them may not be what he or she seems.
The adult menace — headed up by Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie — is pretty much in the key of the taken-over authority figures in William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars (1953), which is to say that they’re creepily emotionless (well, apart from their passionate need to consume oceans of water). Here, however, the alien control is some kind of icky Cronenbergian body-horror parasite that’s introduced through the ear. In other words, the film is essentially a mishmash of other movies — something that doesn’t diminish its entertainment value, nor does it prevent The Faculty from having its own quirky identity. It’s not a great movie and it’s not a Rodriguez essential, but it is fun.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Faculty Thursday, Sept. 5, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.