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IN SHORT:Story over slice 'n' dice. Best Scary Flick of the Year. [Rated R]
Long term readers know that Cranky, pretty much as a rule, doesn't watch horror flicks especially since that genre has devolved into 90 minutes of ritualistic flying body parts sorely lacking in substantial story. Writer Kevin Williamson breathed new life into the formula with Scream and its comedic counterpart Scream 2. This year he moves from horror to SF terror (meaning the story is stronger and the emphasis is not on how cleverly a character can separate an eye from its socket) with The Faculty, inspired by (and acknowledged as such) by one of the few truly classic SF movies of the 1950s, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Williamson follows the pattern laid down in both Scream-fests, meaning a great opening sequence and a scene in which two principal characters discuss how their "real" lives are like movies that they've seen. The template still works and Williamson is smart enough to help out an old fogey like Cranky by making sure that all the characters played by the unknown actors listed above get their names mentioned a bunch of times; director Robert Rodriguez even paints the names across the screen in a Ralph Steadman font, so there's no confusion. [and yes, I know who Elijah Wood is, so don't flame me for generalizing.]
Ohio's Herrington High School, a run down institution where the teachers are pathetic losers and the kids are worse, is the setting for this tale of kidlet paranoia run rampant. Things have run akilter at Herrington: Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the Captain of the Football team has quit the team to devote his brain to getting the "D" he knows he's capable of. This means endsville with the head cheerleader/editor of the school paper, a knock down thumpa thumpa arrogant bitch with $67 lips by Estee Lauder named Delilah (Jordana Brewster). New kid Marybeth Louise Hutchinson (Laura Harris) from Atlanta is doing her best to make friends, targeting as her prey the top anti-socialist Stokely (Clea DuVall) and class punching bag Casey (Wood). The smartest kid in the class is the biggest loser, a walking convenience store named is Zeke (Josh Hartnett). This being his second trip through the twelfth grade and, motivated guy that he is, if you need a professional looking false ID, bootleg tapes, home brewed pharmaceuticals he's the man.
Shortly after Casey finds a tiny, strange looking animal kind of organism on the school football field, the normally strange school lifestyle (this is High School, after all) gets even stranger. Bio teacher Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart) declares that Casey may have found a new life form, one with razor sharp teeth. Mousy English teacher Miss Burke (Famke Janssen), who had been trying to nail Zeke for dealing gets a makeover and, looking damn fine, attempts to nail him in a different way. Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) disappears. Delilah and Casey see Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) get physical with Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek) -- a great story for the school paper except for the fact that . . .
. . .nah, that would be telling.
The trailer and TV spots tell you that the kidlets think the teachers are from another planet, which leads to Williamson's history of SF horror mentioned above. That and a couple of references to movies like Alien and Outbreak and you're set for some high goosebump thrills.
I'll say it again. Cranky hates flicks that have body parts flying for the cheap thrill, preferring stories written well enough to give you that scare without severing arteries. The Faculty delivers the goods, and there are enough special effects and gore to keep the slice 'n' dice fans happy too. The Faculty is the last movie I will see in AD 1998, and it is also the last movie to make it on to my year end Best Of list. Highly recommended if you're looking for a thrill.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Faculty ,he would have paid...
If Cranky were still a teen, deeply into babes, SF and Lovecraft-ian alien scares, The Faculty would easily hit the perfect, see it more than once, $8 rating. I'm still into babes, but Jordana Brewster is probably young enough to be my daughter, which is something to take up with the shrink next Thursday at 5. It's either that or jealousy over Harry Knowles' credited bit part on screen <sigh>.
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