Rated R - Running time: 1:40 - Released 12/25/98

Ever have a teacher you couldn't stand? You remember, the one who would drone on about integers or the battle of Hastings, mitochondria or Silas Marner? Well, be glad you didn't go to Herrington High. Those teachers give a new meaning to the term "falling bodies."

In a sort of lame tribute to some classics of the genre, horror writer Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) has adapted a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel about alien parasites that infect humans' bodies and then use them to take over the population. A familiar premise? Yes. This movie borrows so heavily from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Puppet Masters that the characters even discuss it, attempting to predict the outcome of their drama by comparing it to those films. And there are numerous elements, visual and otherwise, that hearken back to other past gore-fests. But director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, El Mariachi) and a talented band of teen actors make The Faculty watchable despite its similarity to Snatchers et al.

At the film's start, we experience an increasingly common device in teen flicks: the photo album. We meet each of the 6 principal characters by means of a name printed on the screen and a stereotype-defining bit of action. (Heaven help us if there were ever a school that just had normal kids who couldn't be pidgeonholed.) There's Casey, the intelligent wimp (Elijah Wood); Stokely, the brooding lesbian (Clea DuVall); Delilah, the sexy cheerleader (Jordana Brewster); Stan, the jock (Shawn Wayne Hatosy); Zeke, the druggie (Josh Hartnett); and Marybeth, the virginal new girl (Laura Harris).

After the intros, the plot begins: Casey finds a little dried-up anchovy on the ground that, when put in the school aquarium, turns into a bizarre fish with pointy teeth. The science teacher, Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart) has never seen one before; he thinks it might be an undiscovered species. Then the little bugger bites him.

Soon the teachers are all beginning to act strangely. They get new (and much more attractive) hair styles. They stare like zombies and guzzle gallons of water a day. And, when they get you alone, they spit an alien parasite into your ear. Talk about harassment. When Casey and Delilah witness an attack by Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) and Mrs. Olsen (Piper Laurie) on Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek), they run to tell Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth). Drake's unconcerned reaction unnerves them, but when the nurse emerges minutes later with new hair and a deadpan attitude, they really freak. Soon she's giving the entire student body a mysterious inoculation in the principal's office, and each one emerges noticeably more zombielike than before. Hmmm.

After a period of discussion about what they've seen, the six friends realize that they are pretty much all that's left of the human population at school. Following Stokely's advice (based on her extensive sci-fi knowledge), they decide that in order to eliminate the parasite and return all their friends and teachers to normal, they must find and destroy "the queen." The balance of the film is the quest for her highness, and you'll never guess who it is. (No, it's not Sigourney Weaver.)

The advent of computer graphics has helped the sci-fi horror genre immeasurably. Even with a silly story like this, cool effects can and do save the day. And it doesn't hurt that everyone infected with the parasite becomes drop-dead gorgeous. This film just makes you want to say, "Yay, beasties!" ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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