Double Feature Showdown – The Faculty vs. Cooties
I’m going to be honest with you; I am not a fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. (I kind of like the books, but I haven’t read them in about twenty years, so who knows what I think now.) The movies are bloated and sentimental, and generally I am just not into sappy hobbits. But I am into Elijah Wood because he likes horror. I like horror. We might as well be twins. One of my favorite scary movies is The Faculty by Robert Rodriguez, which features Wood as a high school student facing some pretty strange teacher behavior. Recently, Wood starred in Cooties, directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, this time playing a teacher subbing on the worst lunch day ever. Which movie will win the coveted valedictorian spot? Read and find out. Welcome to Double Feature Showdown – The Faculty vs. Cooties
The Faculty: This movie is kind of like The Breakfast Club but better because it has more gore and special effects. Also, Jon Stewart. There is the smart cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), the geek Casey (Elijah Wood), the jock Stan (Shawn Hatosy), the freak Stokely (Clea DuVall), the bad boy Zeke (Josh Hartnett), and the new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris). Once these students start noticing their teachers acting strangely, it take a very short amount of time before things escalate far enough that theorizing about an alien takeover seems like a reasonable proposition. Bonding occurs not over a day of detention, but over attempts to maintain control over their own minds and hopefully save the world in the process. I wouldn’t put this in the horror comedy genre, but it’s pretty funny.
This is my favorite Robert Rodriguez film because it manages to get the kids right; everybody actually seems like a teen instead of 30-year olds trying to unsuccessfully pass for younger. The cast playing the teachers is also great: Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Famke Janssen, Jon Stewart, and Salma Hayek. The CGI effects are a little dated, but I don’t really care about that too much because the story is strong enough to overcome any visual issues. It’s a reworking of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theme, but screenplay writer Kevin Williamson manages to keep it fresh. As usual, his teenage banter is on spot, and while I wouldn’t say this film is a smart as Scream (which he also wrote) I don’t think it is trying to be. It’s a more old-fashioned style horror film, which is okay by me.
Cooties: Clint (Elijah Wood) is back home living with his mother so he can write the great American horror novel about a man and his boat. (I am not going to ruin the title of the book for you, but it’s pretty great.) He’s got underserved delusions of grandeur, but he’s realistic enough to know that he needs to bring some money in, so he starts substitute teaching at the grade school he attended as a kid. Lunch on his first day consists of locally made chicken nuggets contaminated by a mysterious virus that only affects children by turning them into ravenous cannibal zombie-type things. (Like they really are on the inside. Just kidding. No I’m not.) As Clint and the other surviving teachers (played by Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, and Nasim Pedrad) try to get out of the school alive, they realize they may not be able to face down the hungry horde waiting for them on the playground. Also, Jorge Garcia is a psychedelic mushroom-popping crossing guard who is having the worst trip ever.
This is fun with a pretty decent gore level for a movie involving kids. (Gore is very important to me. I don’t need it, but I always enjoy it if done well.) Clint is pretty obnoxious, but he’s less deluded than he appears and has a core of decency that makes him worthy of being the protagonist. He’s not exactly the hero though, and that’s what’s great about this film. Another character saves the day, but Clint is there to lend a hand and talk about his book whenever possible. There is a romance subplot with fellow teacher Lucy (Alison Pill), but it doesn’t really go where you think it will, which is refreshing. It’s not a perfect film – who cares if Jack McBrayer’s character is gay or not – but there is a lot here to like.
The Winner: While I think these two movies make an awesome pair, The Faculty is the better film. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t see Cooties, because you definitely should. It’s a fun little film with a great cast. But The Faculty, while not being original in any way, takes its antecedents and remixes them into something awesome. I’d much rather see this kind of updating of old ideas than the endless remakes and reboots we get now. Rodriguez didn’t remake The Breakfast Club or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he used them as sources to create something interesting that stands on its own. Watch it! Hell, watch both of them. There are worse ways you could spend your time.