Forgotten Films: The Relic (1997)
This is the 100th (!) in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
As I was thinking about doing this column, I wanted the film to be something special. So as I was surveying the shelves at home, I came across The Relic. This is a pretty good little horror film that I really enjoyed the first time I saw it. And that viewing experience was what made it special.
From 1980 to 2000 I worked for the gone but not forgotten department store chain Montgomery Ward as a field auditor. This meant that I traveled all over the country and did unannounced reviews of retails store, repair service centers, distribution centers, accounting units, call centers, and whatever else my boss decided he wanted me to look at. I had a fair bit of flexibility in my schedule. I was given a list of audits to conduct and I scheduled them however I wanted. If it involved a long distance I would schedule another unit nearby and stay out over the weekend. This meant that I got to visit many bookstores and other places over the years.
One such trip was scheduled around a science fiction convention in Wichita, Kansas. Joe Lansdale was the Guest of Honor. He had been scheduled the year before but the con chairman had died and the convention was delayed for a year. I decided that since I needed to go to Wichita I would arrange to be there for the weekend and hang with Joe and Karen. As luck would have it I even serendipitously had picked the hotel where the convention was going to be held.
As Friday night came around, there was nothing really on Joe’s schedule so we went out to eat and to a movie. We saw Slingblade and loved it. After the film, we went back to the convention, hit a few parties, talked and crashed. Saturday was much the same. Joe was not scheduled very heavily and we hung around. Dinner time came and there was nothing going on so we went out to eat. I believe it was Indian food. We decided to go see another film. That was The Relic. It was in the dollar theater and there were not many folks there. We had a great evening, being the fans of horror films that we are.
So every time I see this film I remember that fun weekend we had and smile. I felt somewhat bad taking him away from the convention two nights. But he had nothing on the schedule; no one had invited him anywhere. Other than me, he did not know anyone there. And, we came back, hit the parties and were generally available in the evenings.
The Relic is a fun monster film. It is primarily a dark film with much of the action taking place in extremely underlit areas or tunnels and sewers. The monster is never clearly seen which is for the best.
Dr. John Whitney (Lewis Van Bergen) is an anthropologist working in the Amazon regions of South America. He is investigating different cultures and myths of the tribes. He sends some artifacts back to Chicago to the Museum of Natural History (the Chicago Field Museum doubles for this in the film). As his crates are leaving Brazil he tries to stop them, and then crawls onto the pallet as it is lifted into the ship’s hold. Six weeks later when the ship arrives in Chicago, no one is found alive. What is left of the crew is found in a bilge area, all with their heads removed. Chicago homicide writes the whole thing off as a drug strike and confiscates Whitney’s boxes to review for evidence.
A week later, two crates arrive air freight at the Museum but without any manifest or Dr. Whitney. They are taken to the research area of the museum where they are reviewed by Dr. Albert Frock (James Whitmore). One crate contains a partial tribal idol identified as a Kothoga. Apparently when tribes got to warring a Kothoga was invoked to help one side end it. That evening a security guard is horribly mangled while smoking a joint in the john.
Evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Anne Miller) is working in the museum and sees that the second crate contains some leaves with a red fungus on it. She takes a sample to review.
The police are baffled, especially Lt. Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), a superstitious man, who is lead on the case. He wants to shut down the museum until he finds the killer. However, the Museum is about to host a gala for a new exhibit on Superstition and Dr. Ann Cuthbert (Linda Hunt) knows that this is where the big dollars come in and desperately fights to make sure the gala happens.
The gala happens, the monster appears, people scream run and die. Many are trapped inside the museum when the chaos starts and the system falsely registers the incident as a fire, an earthquake, a robbery and more and shuts everything down including the power. So rich people, including the mayor are trapped in a relatively impregnable building with a huge powerful killing machine in the dark. Sounds like a recipe for fun.
Stan Winston designed the monster and that is always a good thing. The film is best seen in a theater where it can get really dark. A home theater can work if you can get it dark enough. At home with lights on, it is not quite as effective, but it is still good.
The film is generally available for reasonable prices. It is worth checking out if you have missed it. Or, worth seeing again, if you have seen it before. And, in my case, worth remembering a couple of good films and time with Mr. Lansdale, his ownself. Check it out.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.