Hungover with Peter Hyams: The Relic

So starts a new venture, where I attempt to fight off the pains of last night’s drinking with a film from director Peter Hyams. Today’s feature is the 1997 monster schlock, the Relic.

You know this movie's going to suck, they released it in January!

You see, when I’m hungover from tossing back a bottle of (for some reason last night) white wine, I want to watch a movie. But I don’t want to be bothered with great cinema, or interesting cinema, or even coherent cinema. The best sure fire cure for the shakes and aches is some Grade D movie making from the most surefire hack on the planet, Peter Hyams. The man has made a career of underwhelming, under performing, unintentionally hilarious dramas and sci fi. This time around he adapts, with the help of no less than four credited screenwriters, a very good horror novel from the two man writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I actually read the Relic about 12 years ago, and even as a kid I thought it was pretty silly. The novel held up as well as any minor Stephen King story would (i.e. the Mist, Dreamcatcher) but I can’t say I remember a goddamn thing from the book at this point apart from the most basic plot elements.

Now, the real reason why this movie is perfect for hangovers is that, first and most importantly, it’s dark. And I don’t mean it’s  “a harrowing journey into the nether regions of man’s soul” dark. I mean it’s so poorly lit, so carelessly shot, so dimly staged that half the movie takes place in almost complete darkness. It’s great. I don’t even have to keep my eyes open for most of this thing, I won’t be missing much at all.

Our story begins in the Amazon presumably, as some smarmy looking photographer is snapping shots of this tribe in a ritual of some sort. Hyams uses all the stereotypes here to get the message across, as we see this white man being given and accepting a soup made with these particular leaves. He sucks it down without a thought and promptly hallucinates. You can always spot the Nat Geo rookies.

Cut to a ship, docked but leaving. That photographer is on the ship looking for something in a crate that’s destined for the Chicago Natural History Museum. He doesn’t find it, but we can assume he travels with the ship to America. Though how the ship is then found in Lake Michigan with the crew dead, when it took off from South America, MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.

Cut to Chicago, where the museum has just received some crates containing the same leaves and a relic. Well, I guess it’s the relic from the movie title, as it’s the only one featured in this movie. And guess what? The relic is of this ancient monster believed to be the spawn of Satan himself. Here Hyams takes the term foreshadowing and turns it into overshadowing, with all the film making 101 tricks he’s probably kept in his “ideas” notebook.

Enter our resident hottie scientist, played by Penelope ‘where is she now?’ Ann Miller, doesn’t go for all the hokey son of the devil kind of nonsense. She argues with her higher ups about the dangers of using superstition as science just to attract crowds to their desperately underfunded museum..which in the very next shot is holding a new exhibition cleverly entitled “Superstition.” The very next shot.

Speaking of which, Chicago’s Natural History Museum is literally overtaken by children running, not walking, to see all the sciencey crap. This includes one of the lamest sidetracks in movie history, as two kids sneak into the museum while playing hooky, only to stay the entire day and get locked in overnight. We get the idea that these two are goners for about 8 seconds before they’re found, alive and well. Completely pointless scene.

But you know who does get it? The black guy. That’s right, Hyams wastes little time getting to the dope smoking black security guard who gets hauled out of the bathroom stall he’s toking up in and gets ripped apart by an unseen beast.

I hope you like decapitations, cause this is the first of about two dozen in this flick. Seems the beast rips open the head and eats the hypothalamus, to get at certain hormones it needs to survive and also evolve. Though how an evolutionary biologist like Miller could call this creature’s continual mutation “evolution” is  infuriatingly stupid. And yes, there is more, much more, banal science sounding babble in this movie than any fictional piece of work is allowed to ramble through. DNA this, fungus that. We don’t get what you’re saying! You know why I’m not a scientist? Because I don’t care about that shit. No one is interested in the little microscopic discoveries. Just get get to the fucking monster ripping off some heads! that a fu manchu?

Tom Sizemore shows up to investigate, has a thing for Miller, threatens to shut the museum down, which of course would cancel the big gala opening of the exhibit, which they can’t afford to not have, blah blah blah. Basically the movie really exists to set us up for the movable feast of tuxedos and gowns in the final act. And thankfully it’s a gloriously cheap and absurd farce of mid-nineties CG and long awaited come uppings. All the stuffed shirts freaking out and running headlong into plate glass displays and tumbling, downright rolling down the museum steps was one of the funniest mass hysteria moments ever put to film. And this clip of the SWAT team members is easily of the most uproariously inane sequences in history.

And now I have to again enforce how sparsely lit this whole movie is. The vaults of priceless artifacts are traversed under one blinking fluorescent bulb. The tunnels(?) underneath the museum are pitch black. Half this movie is literally two flashlights dancing around in a dizzying array of “what’s that?” and “who’s there?” moments that invariably turn out to be red herrings and trick scares. I swear, every Hyams movie has an obligatory cat jumping out at you scene. Not one new idea or technique is used here.

After a while, I realize that the Relic is not an ideal hangover movie. It’s got a lot of gooey body fluid type moments, a lot of flashing lights and yelling. It’s also got one freaky looking monster, like the Predator crossed with a lion. A twist I saw coming a mile away, novel or no novel. An ending confrontation that makes Alien 3 look subdued, and basically just a bunch of stupid characters doing stupid things.

After almost two hours, my headache is still pounding, my eyes are still stinging, my stomach is still turning back flips. The Relic did not work. I guess next time I’ll have to try a different Hyam’s cure. Maybe Outland? Maybe End of Days? Hopefully not Timecop. Probably Stay Tuned.  Oh man, on second thought? Please not Stay Tuned.


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