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The Relic (1997)

January 31st, 2012 by unkle lancifer · 12 Comments

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!

Tags: General Horror

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eric EddyNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I guess I should check that one out again. When I first watched it, it just left a sour taste in my mouth. I haven’t watched it SINCE 1997.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I’m starting to think that seeing it in HD is what made the difference for me. Grabbing the screenshots for this post I had to use the standard DVD and the image is frustratingly muddy by comparison.

    I even cheated and used an image from an old Cineflex magazine as the top picture because I could not get one decent grab of the monster.

    I think when I first saw this one I was wanting something on par with Aliens and was therefore disappointed but if you watch in the spirit of a disaster flick that just happens to have a monster in it, I think it works better.

    They should have added a scene where you find out Linda Hunt and Audra Lindley’s characters were roommates though. That would have made it an instant classic.

  • 3 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I was not a fan of the Relic when I first saw it on video, probably in 1998, but then after it became a staple on pay cable, I ended up falling in love with it. It’s silly as all get out, but it’s also so much fun. I love the part where the guys are coming in from the roof on ropes and one guy starts screaming to be pulled up. When they get him back on the roof, half of him is missing and his friend falls to his knees and starts screaming. I actually have to mimic that every time I see it.

    I know, I’m a lonely person.

    Anyway, I got really attached to the whole film and while it’s not on my top 10 or anything, it’s certainly not one I’d turn away from either.

    Thanks for sharing a little love, Unk!

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 11:13 am


    That IS the best scene!!!!

    And that scream towards the heavens is perfect.

    I saw this originally in a packed Philly movie theater and I’ll never forget what a big laugh that guy yelling “pull me up!” got.

    I really think if they just showed the monster a bit more this would have been better received.

    I think I’m going to go on an all-monster movie diet.

    I can’t take depressing movies anymore and monster movies always bring the fun.

  • 5 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great minds think alike – I just watched this last night when I noticed it on HBO On Demand. I had it confused with “Mimic” for some reason and when I saw Penelope Ann Miller I was all “Wasn’t Mira Sorvino in this?” but then realized my error. Good schlock – better than “Alone in the Dark” at least.

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm


    I recently noticed Mimic is on Netflix streaming. I think it has to be next!

  • 7 Drew BluddNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I remember being moderately pleased by The Relic when it came out.

    But no mention of Clayton Rohner of April Fool’s Day, GvsE, & Just One Of The Guys?

  • 8 David FullamNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Loved it. I was always a sucker for the old “What mysteries are locked away in the spooky museum” stories anyway.

  • 9 Erin LashleyNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    This was a fun movie. I remember seeing it when it came out, because it was not often, in my recollection of things, that worthwhile horror movies made it to the big screen in 1997.

    Audra Lindley had all the best lines in Desert Hearts too, so I’m going to pretend she was just that witty and wrote her own parts.

  • 10 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 2:49 pm


    That’s who that guy was! I couldn’t place him and then I neglected to Imdb him!

    He was even in “I, Madman”!

    The Relic should have at least earned a Golden Globe for best cast in 1997!


    The museum is a great setting!

    Their “superstition” exhibit needed a bit of work though.

    A bunch of open umbrellas and a latter you have to walk under? I’d want my money back!


    I haven’t seen Desert Hearts in years. I forgot she was in that. She’s great- I’ll have to check it out again.

    I just read that she was married to James Whitmore for a time and he’s in The Relic too!

  • 11 Eric EddyNo Gravatar // Jan 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    That’s why I love you guys! You always let me know when something good has been added to Netflix!

  • 12 Luki8701No Gravatar // Feb 1, 2012 at 2:44 am

    I love Relic. Along with Mimic I watch it at least once a year.

    Did anyone notice the Dracula connection? The fact that the “monster” arrives to the city on an boat with crew completely slaughtered, with it’s “casket” filled with stuff it needs to survive?

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