The Faculty (USA, 1998)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett
People who love classic works of literature often take a very puritanical view towards adaptations which update the setting, change the language, or otherwise make them more teen-friendly. They hold that the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen hold up without having to make concessions for more modern forms of speech and custom, and that repositioning them for adolescents doesn't so much pull in a new audience as provide them with an easy excuse for never reading the books in the first place.
They Live and Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers. While primarily based on the short story Eight O'Clock in the Morning, They Live has 'Body Snatchers running right through it, using it to send up consumerism, advertising and the kind of anti-intellectualism that the likes of Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley had warned about. Ferrara's 'Body Snatchers, which came hot on the heels of Bad Lieutenant, pared the story down and confined its setting to an army base to make a point about social conformity and a loss of purpose for America after the Cold War had ended.
The Thing, with the pens filled with drugs standing in rather creatively for the petri dishes full of blood. The Faculty doesn't have the same unrelenting claustophobia that The Thing possessed - high school is, despite what some may feel, less oppressive than the Antarctic. Its ending is also more predictably upbeat - but that's not hard, given how cold and nihlistic The Thing's final scene was. But the film follows all the main beats of Carpenter's film quite nicely, keeping as much suspense as it can while still being more of a crowd-pleaser than a fully-fledged shocker.
The Stepford Wives thrown in here and there - The Faculty works rather well, transliterating all the major plot developments and character arcs within a conventional but believable setting. The CGI is less overtly scary than Rob Bottin's groundbreaking effects from The Thing, but until the final showdown with the queen the effects are well-rendered and have a logical physicality to them. Some of the twists are well-executed and surprising, others make sense but are telegraphed to the audience; you won't shrink into your seat in terror like in the Kaufman version, but there's plenty of little jumps here and there.
Lord of the Rings Elijah Wood puts in a good performance here, but since he survives up to the halfway point, it quickly becomes certain that he will still be alive at the end - the legacy of Revenge of the Nerds as much as 'final girl' horror scenarios. Equally, the whole sexy teacher routine that Famke Janssen puts on is made just about credible by her knowingly ripe performance, but it's also a lazy bit of writing designed to pander to the target audience (albeit less lazy than Liz Hurley's similar get-up in the Bedazzled remake).
For more on cult films like The Stepford Wives, The Thing and They Live, check out The Movie Hour podcasts from Lionheart Radio.
NEXT REVIEW: Girl, Interrupted (1999)