The Horror Honeys: I WAS A TEENAGE ALIEN


A Sci-Fi Honey 90s Double Feature Review by Katie

Disturbing Behavior (1998) & The Faculty (1998)

Every now and then, two movies that are nearly identical in premise will hit cinemas within mere months of each other – an occurrence known as the “twin film” phenomenon. Whether by sheer coincidence or just a product of exploiting current trends in popular culture, we’ve seen this anomaly occur year after year: with volcanoes in ’97 (Dante’s Peak / Volcano), asteroids in ‘98 (Deep Impact / Armageddon), Martian exploration in 2000 (Mission to Mars / Red Planet), and as recently as 2013, crises in the Oval Office (White House Down / Olympus Has Fallen). 

These posters are SO 90s.
In 1998, the twin movie phenomenon struck yet again with Disturbing Behavior in July and The Faculty in December, two sci-fi horror films about misfit teens banding together to fight conformity – extraterrestrial-derived or otherwise – taking over their high schools. Both films are a retooling of classic science fiction films, and both featured the hottest up-and-coming actors of the era. I recently live tweeted each film back to back, and was surprised that so many twitter fans came out of the woodwork to vocalize their love for one film over the other – many of whom were teenagers themselves when these movies first came out. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to explore whether or not these high school horrors still hold up; and if they do, which film has withstood the test of time better than the other.

Disturbing Behavior hit theaters in the summer of 1998, when Dawson’s Creek had just finished its first season and Katie Holmes was hitting her stride as a highly-sought teen actress. In her first leading film role, Holmes is the “bad girl” at her small-town high school, pairing up with her outcast friends (Nick Stahl, Chad E. Donella) to show newcomer James Marsden the ropes. Those ropes include steering clear of the school’s prestigious and preppy “Blue Ribbon” clique: perky and perfectly coiffed A+ students who are in the care of the school’s shady psychologist, Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood). When Stahl inexplicably joins the clique, the rest of the gang decide to investigate the goings-on behind Dr. Caldicott’s mysterious “program” that turns ordinary angsty teens into cookie-cutter model citizens.

Pictured: "normal" 90s teens.
Directed by X-Files alum David Nutter, Disturbing Behavior feels like the extension of a something that could’ve been featured in that series’ “monster-of-the-week” anthology, with obvious allusions to The Stepford Wives in the underlying story. As the troubled dweeb-turned-jock, Nick Stahl is the real standout amongst his fellow actors and delivers some of the film’s best lines, leaving Holmes and Marsden (and their ho-hum romance) to pout their way through mediocre performances. While re-watching the film is still as enjoyable as any other guilty pleasure teen romp (with some killer 90s tunes to ramp up the nostalgia factor), neither the script nor the caliber of actors are able to elevate the material to cult classic status. Despite some clever moments, Disturbing Behavior is mostly an occasionally amusing misfire.

On Christmas Day of that year, audiences were treated to a second helping of teen sci-fi/horror: the Robert Rodriguez-directed creature feature The Faculty. This time, the demand for conformity starts in the minds of the school’s staff before insidiously trickling down to their students, who are becoming progressively wary of the adult figures in their lives. The core of the film’s young cast is comprised of actors that are still relatively well-known today: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, and Usher, as well as Clea DuVall as the token bad girl (every teen movie needs one). The adult cast is also top-notch: genre favorites Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie are joined by Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, and (in an odd but fun turn) The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. 

The Faculty unambiguously lifts story elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but makes no apologies about it; in fact, many other works of science fiction are referenced outwardly by characters throughout the film. The whole endeavor feels like a spirited tribute to alien monster movies of a bygone era, and all involved seem to be enjoying the ride. The Faculty clearly had a bigger budget than its predecessor and a more capable cast, but none of these advantages are squandered – even the cheese-tastic CGI can be granted a pardon for being a product of the era. All of this is captured with the familiar frenetic energy of a Rodriguez film, with superfluous gore, nudity, and satirical humor thrown in for good measure. Who doesn’t love that?

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Both films have their highs and lows, but The Faculty edges out Disturbing Behavior as the superior teen sci-fi/horror classic of 1998. Watch these back-to-back for an entertaining and nostalgic mind-control double feature!

Are you #TeamDisturbing or #TeamFaculty? 
Let Katie know on Twitter!