Okay, so it’s zero o’clock in the nothingness and I want to watch a movie but my brain is begging for a low impact workout and not to be needlessly jerked around. I can’t afford another highly praised slab of nonsense that leaves me feeling like I’m the last bitter survivor of a dead world. Hey now, what’s that crusty object I see hidden and tucked away beneath a pile of army blankets in the HBO On Demand drawer? Why it’s 1997’s THE RELIC and in HD no less! Hmmm, I have not seen this one in ages and my previous experiences with it teetered on semi ho-hum and yet…it’s perfect for right now.
See, this is why I’m never too hard on semi-successful monster flicks with dubious plots; I know one day, sooner or later, I’ll need it more than it will need me. I want to see some heads roll, some doors banged in. I want a creature feature mashed up with a disaster flick. I want the monster to time his attack during a posh museum gala that the mayor has an invitation to! The Mayor of Chicago no less! Somebody somewhere at some time had the bright idea of casting a 60 million dollar production with PENELOPE ANN MILLER, TOM SIZEMORE and LINDA HUNT and that person owns a piece of my heart forever. No time for popcorn. Where’s that half eaten bag of goldfish crackers?
I know I’d struck gold when I saw that four people wrote the screenplay. THE RELIC is about a box of contaminated leaves that gets sent to a museum and the monster that wants to eat those leaves but will eat people’s brains instead if he can’t. I’m sure the book it’s based on is more complicated than that but that’s of no concern to me now. SIZEMORE is a cop with hokey cop dialogue, MILLER is a evolutionary biologist who takes her heels off when necessary and LINDA HUNT is the no nonsense head of the museum who gets laughs by cursing and firing people when shit goes down. There’s even a nemesis character of MILLER’S who acts all snidely throughout until he’s chomped on and, as if God really does love me, AUDRA LINDLEY shows up as a coroner in need of a drummer to punctuate her observations with rimshots. I pray that some day I stumble across a decapitated corpse so that I can steal her joke, “Don’t you hate people who take head and don’t give it?” If only there was a way to know which of writers involved was responsible for that! That’s just too rich!
THE RELIC comes courtesy of director PETER HYAMS who somehow directed both OUTLAND and STAY TUNED. It’s got a unique look to it as there are a zillion light flares hitting the camera and it could actually be the darkest movie ever made this side of HUMONGOUS. I found that resisting the darkness got me nowhere, so I decided to embrace it and then ended up pleased. People’s faces just dissolve into the scenery and sometimes you get the sense that you are either going blind or your T.V. is on the fritz. Still, not being able to quite make everything out adds a kind of nightmare quality too. VHS and standard DVD probably did this joint little favors but this shit’s slick in HD. I recall thinking that the creature effects were too vague when I first saw this in the theater but they seem much more solid now. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the more showy CGI work holds up less well than STAN WINSTON’s practical interpretations. There’s a show-stoppy galloping beast on fire bit that looks borderline terrible now but it’s hard for me to care when the movie is so much fun.
THE RELIC is a wonderfully flawed disaster movie throwback, a drive-in monster on the loose flick hiding in the trunk of a big budget epic. The disaster elements, which include panicked folks trampling over each other to escape the mayhem and a group trudge through a dank subterranean tunnel that recalls THE POSIEDON ADVENTURE are hysterically engaging even as the film pushes a near two-hour running time. Whatever borderline ludicrousness curbed this films reputation back in the day only serves to make it that much more entertaining now. This is exactly how cheese should age my friends and I’m kinda surprised that a film released in the wiseacre late nineties is this level of puppy dog eighties adorable. I’m very happy I woke up and found it waiting for me. You don’t have to turn off your entire brain to enjoy it, just the part of your brain that ruins everything!