The Pod People Film Festival: The Faculty

The Pod People Film Festival

Wel­come to The Pod Peo­ple Film Fes­ti­val, The Dork Report’s third mini movie ret­ro­spec­tive. After catch­ing up with Rid­ley Scott and George A. Romero, we now take a look at four adap­ta­tions of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatch­ers, plus one unof­fi­cial homage / satire.

  1. Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers (1956)
  2. Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers (1978)
  3. Body Snatch­ers (1993)
  4. The Fac­ulty (1998)
  5. The Inva­sion (2007)

The Faculty movie poster


We inter­rupt this ret­ro­spec­tive look at the four offi­cial fea­ture film adap­ta­tions of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatch­ers with a kind of bonus track, a remake in all but name, Robert Rodríguez’s The Faculty.

It may be a touch campy, but hugely enter­tain­ing. All four offi­cial ver­sions are deadly seri­ous, so it’s refresh­ing for The Fac­ulty to play the con­cept for laughs. Rodríguez isn’t known for restraint, but most of the fun is likely attrib­ut­able to Kevin Williamson, the writer of Scream, one of the most influ­en­tial movies of the 1990s. Yes, I’m pre­pared to back that claim up: it was one of the first main­stream movies to be overtly Post­mod­ern, and not in a stuffy col­lege lit­er­a­ture sem­i­nar sense, but one that found low­brow thrills & chills from a high­brow intel­lec­tual per­spec­tive over the hor­ror genre. That is, Scream was both a know­ing satire of the hor­ror movie genre, in which its own char­ac­ters know­ingly com­mented upon the events that befell them with all the knowl­edge that comes from being movie geeks well-versed in hor­ror movie cliches, but was also simul­ta­ne­ously an actual func­tion­ing hor­ror movie itself. Other 1990s movies along those lines were Wild Things (one of the sex­i­est, twisti­est noirs ever made), Star­ship Troop­ers (a hilar­i­ously bleak vision of a fascis­tic world inher­ited by chil­dren), and even Shake­speare in Love’s play­ful plays-within-plays-within-a-movie (read The Dork Report review).

faculty_2.jpgThere’s be no more tears… in gym class

A pro­logue intro­duces us to the name­sake fac­ulty, from which the great (and sexy) Bebe Neuwirth checks out early, or at least seems to. The adult cast is won­der­ful over­all, even though some parts are lit­tle more than cameos. Robert Patrick brings all of his ruth­less Ter­mi­na­tor T-1000 stee­li­ness to Coach Willis (like Dr. David Kib­ner — Leonard Nimoy — in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers, a vil­lain both before and after the inva­sion), the glam­orous Famke Janssen is an improb­a­bly mousy loner, Jon Stew­art as a sym­pa­thetic sci­ence teacher, and Salma Hayek is hilar­i­ous in her brief appear­ance as Nurse Rosa Harper. On the down­side, fat slob Harry Knowles of noto­ri­ety also haunts the fac­ulty room (this was 1998, after all).

We finally meet the kids in a mon­tage set to a cover ver­sion of Pink Floyd’s infa­mous anti­au­thor­i­tar­ian anthem Another Brick in the Wall Part II, with onscreen text resem­bling Ger­ald Scarfe’s scrawled let­ter­ing on the orig­i­nal The Wall album sleeve. They’re a next-generation Break­fast Club com­prised of every key high school demo­graphic: goth loner Stokely (Clea DuVall), hot ice queen Delilah (Jor­dana Brew­ster), meat­head ath­lete Stan (Shawn Hatosy), bad boy Zeke (Josh Hart­nett), meek nerd Casey (Eli­jah Wood), and sweetness-and-light South­ern belle Mary­beth (Laura Harris).

faculty_1.jpgThis meet­ing of The Break­fast Club II is called to order

Zeke is a slacker genius with an awful hair­cut that hasn’t dated well. He has delib­er­ately failed out in order to relive the glory of his senior year within the safe bub­ble of being Big Man on Cam­pus. He ped­dles a pow­dered nar­cotic (actu­ally mostly caf­feine), dri­ves a fast car, and makes the girls swoon. But under­neath it all is an intel­lect miss­ing an aim or pur­pose. Good for him, then, that an alien inva­sion gives him the oppor­tu­nity to step up.

Trou­bled goth girl Stokely dis­guises her­self as a les­bian to avoid human con­tact. One won­ders why, then, she’s not has­sled by the school’s other les­bians. Like cud­dly mis­fit Alli­son (Ally Sheedy) in The Break­fast Club (1985), Stokely even­tu­ally con­forms to straight-girl norms by dress­ing in pink and dat­ing the jock. DuVall is said to be gay or bisex­ual, so I won­der how she felt about play­ing such a cop-out char­ac­ter. But this oddly con­ser­v­a­tive moment aside, the char­ac­ter is the key to the Post­mod­ern, metafic­tional nature of the movie. Stokely is a sci­ence fic­tion fan that explic­itly ref­er­ences Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatch­ers (but not any of the movies). In fact, she dis­par­ages the book, claim­ing it’s a poor ripoff of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Pup­pet Masters.

All Body Snatcher movies to date fea­tured sen­tient brus­sels sprouts that cre­ate evil dupli­cates of humans, destroyed the orig­i­nals, all with the aim of bring­ing a form of peace and har­mony: a uni­form soci­ety in lock­step syn­chronic­ity. But these pod aliens are more overtly evil. These aquatic par­a­sites that tem­porar­ily take over bod­ies are no emo­tion­less drones, but are actu­ally remark­ably lusty. They clearly rel­ish the sub­li­ma­tion of the stu­dents, and stage a foot­ball game like a Nazi Party rally.

All of which begs the ques­tion, if the aliens are like unleashed, unin­hib­ited ver­sions of our own ids, what’s the dif­fer­ence between them and, say, a high school kid hopped up on hor­mones? As one of them aptly puts it, “I’m not an alien, I’m just discontent.”

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.