The Faculty

This one is The Invasion of the BEd Snatchers, as teachers one by one seem to be transforming weirdly at Ohio’s Herrington High.

The Faculty teachers have had their mental faculties altered by a malevolent force that’s coming for the students, “hey, teachers leave those kids alone.”

The school’s resident nerd, Casey (elfin cerulean-eyed Elijah Wood) finds a pelagic slug far from where its home should be in this, a land-locked state. He brings it to the science teacher, Mr Furlong (Jon Stewart) and before you know it, the thing sprouts weird tendrils before biting the biologist and rolling the narrative ball downhill.

Herrington is all Breakfast Clubbed when it comes to cliques, with teen dynamics any demographic will recognize. The Faculty wisely invests in its disparate cast(e): the criminal, jock, new girl, Goth, stoner, nerd, goddess, etc, all of whom must band together Stranger Things-style to take out the queen parasite of the hive mind (it’s no accident the school’s team nickname is The Hornets).

They’re soon compelled to put differences aside and begin poking around the science lab trying to figure out what’s making the teachers act so odd. And all the while, they’re stymied by indifferent authority figures.

The Faculty comes to us at the tail end of the unforgiving 90s, a time when the horror genre was in a real slump (come to think of it, the Golden Era of Rap excepted, the same could be said for music). It’s since recovered, but after sustaining many a self-referential / ironic body blow.

Written by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, this one is all over the map tonally, complete with obvious song choices (School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall) and too long by 20 minutes. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with this talented cast and the bleacher-creature finale is off-the-charts.

*** (out of 5)

Better Watch Out

As far as Christmas horrors go, Better Watch Out is one of the better ones, a compliment so back-handed it should be at Wimbledon.

It’s too bad too, because the definitive Christmas horror movie has yet to be made despite more and more of them coming out (let’s put it this way: the bloated Krampus doesn’t provide much holiday cheer, and if the admittedly stellar Christmas Evil or Black Christmas weren’t set on the big day, they’d probably be forgotten as quickly as the pair of socks or the dad tie).

Better Watch Out is a home invasion movie turned inside out, and features a much more interesting antagonist than we’re used to seeing around the holidays. So, considering the cheap holiday cash-ins that comprise the bulk of Christmas horror features, give some credit where it’s due: maybe in the form of a gift card.

Aussie Olivia DeJonge plays babysitter Ashley, entrusted to keep an eye out on Luke, the Lerner family boy (whose dad, Robert — Patrick Warburtin, Elaine’s vacant on-again-off again beau, Puddy on Seinfeld — makes no bones about leering at her). Luke is a sharp little hellion who knows how to push his babysitter’s buttons, guzzling a bottle of family champagne and snuggling close to her during frightening moments of a horror film.

Ashley is harassed by the usual workplace hazard of her profession: the menacing phone call (heavy breathing is a staple of Black Christmas as well). Then things take a wonderful turn.

Despite its R-rating, Better Watch Out offers very little in terms of gore. As a result, the critics slobbered all over it. The LA Times even pulled this out of its hat: “[Better Watch Out] says pertinent things about suburbia, holiday entertainment and toxic masculinity” [the latter phrase, meaningless bilge courtesy of the most laughable undergrad major there is, Gender Studies].” But the film says what, exactly? You can’t just let a phrase like that sit there, like a turd. Imagine a book report phrased thusly: “To Kill a Mockingbird says pertinent things about race.” “Moby-Dick says pertinent things about fate.” AND?

The performances are great all around, and things sag toward the climax with a particularly phony Foley artist workout involving a baseball bat.

Despite its delicious premise, Better Watch Out is a film that threatens to come alive every minute, but cannot…a kind of rolling boil of a horror. The places it should go, it doesn’t.

*** (out of 5)