Movies Nobody Talks About - Virus (1999)

Virus is one of those odd movies that got a big budget and A-class stars, a B-movie script based on a comic book and some actually quite solid effects for the time, yet quickly got lost in obscurity.
Nowadays hailed as a bad movie by even its leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis herself, is the forgotten robo-horror-movie Virus really that bad?

Time to talk about it as one of the "Movies Nobody Talks About"...


What is Virus from 1999 all about?
Virus is a 1999 science-fiction horror movie directed by John Bruno and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland in the leading roles.
The movie's plot revolves around a ship crew that, after a severe storm, reaches an abandoned ship in the middle of the sea where they find shelter. It doesn't take long until the crew finds out that the ship wasn't abandoned but that the ship's entire crew has been brutally killed by something. Weird things start happening and one crew member after the other encounters weird robotic creatures that quickly turn out to be hostile. Turns out that an alien being consisting out of electric energy from space took over the ship, formed and built itself out of machinery and partially even flesh from killed crew members and tries to take over the planet. In this process, this "virus" is even able to transform humans into cyborg-esque atrocities to aid it in its mission. It's now up to Kelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), Steve (William Baldwin) and the rest of the crew to prevent the virus from making it to the mainland and destroy it once and for all.

I really wouldn't touch that if I was you.

Virus feels very much like John Carpenter's The Thing with robots. And in that sense, this is both a good and bad thing.
On the one hand, Virus offers a very similar creepy vibe through its very isolated setting on the middle of the ocean without any chance to contact for help. Along with a crew that now is a bit more genderly mixed, they also have to slowly figure out what happend before their arrival on the ship and what threat they are ultimately up against. And while this setup alone should make for a creepy and claustrophobic feeling horror movie, Virus is sadly nowhere near as clever with its monster as John Carpenter's The Thing. Instead Virus' robot-flesh-combo monster (or monsters) are far not as scary or diverse as the ones in The Thing and far not as interesting.
Whereas The Thing offered an alien species that managed to disguise itself near perfectly as a human and only showed its ugly monster form when threatend or caught trapped in a corner, the robots in Virus all just appear and attack in straightforward monster fashion that's typical for any monster B-movie.
And while there is some fun to be had with Virus' very straightforward story of a crew that simply plans to destroy the ship as well as escape alive, Virus sure comes off as quite lackluster in comparison to other big blockbuster titles that got released around the same time.

Is it man or machine? Why not both?

But why does nobody talk about Virus?
Considering that Virus got released in January of 1999, a month that is notoriously regarded as a "dead on arrival" month for movies in general, Virus was one of the more prominent releases in that during January of 1999 but sadly just failed to meet any profitable expectations. Even though the movie's release also featured a line of toys and even a crappy videogame, Virus was a critical and commercial flop. With a budget of roughly 75 million dollars and grossing only 30.7 million dollars, it's no wonder that Jamie Lee Curtis famously described Virus as the worst movie she ever did that she likes to bring up when talking with other actors about the bad movies they made.
Further underlining why nobody talks about this movie, is the aforementioned fact that Virus sadly has as good as no original ideas, making it best described as The Thing meets Star Trek's Borg and little else.
But looking at it now as a B-movie outside of the competition and comparisons with other released blockbusters around that time, Virus actually isn't all that bad. And certainly is an entertaining and not too long watch in more or less the same style as 1997's Anaconda. 

"Tell me, Jamie Lee. What's the worst movie you've been in?"

What makes Virus additionally interesting is especially that despite an oftentimes a bit cheap feel to the production quality, Virus was no movie that got spontaneously made or rather adapted from the comic it is based on.
Instead, writer and creator of the script and original comic, Chuck Pfarrer, originally planned to make the film already back in the early 90s and only managed to finally get the movie made in 1998 when the effects standards and possibilities were up to par to depict the grotesque robo-flesh-monsters in good enough fashion.
Speaking of the effects, what Virus obviously lacks in well written dialogue or creative enough ideas, is mostly made up for in its great use of practical effects. While nowhere even close to the milestone quality of The Fly or Carpenter's The Thing, especially in the year 1999 where CGI-effects were on the big uprise (especially with Matrix that got released the same year) Virus refreshingly enough pulled off most of its gore and creature effects with the help of practical methods. Whereas even Donald Sutherland had to suffer through about 6 hours of makeup sessions for his scenes as an overtaken cyborg, the CGI in Virus is carefully enough placed and utilized that it doesn't distract or look too dated even today. Obviously the tighter budget was a clear factor in this, yet still, it's nice to see that Virus managed to stand strong as one of the probably last notable science-fiction movies in the late 90s that didn't immediately jump on the CGI train.

The focus on practical effects in a sci-fi flick was quite uncommon for 1999.

Actingwise, Virus won't really convince anybody very much and it's especially the performance qualities in the movie along with the very lackluster dialogue that give it the strongest B-movie feel.
And while the movie starts out relatively strong, it's especially its middle section which feels incredibly dragging and weak regarding the acting. It's only towards the final act where the pace and acting quality of especially Jamie Lee Curtis really starts to pick up steam again where Curtis surprisingly enough really convincingly nails her character fighting for her life.
Despite seemingly knowing what movie she has gotten herself into, Jamie Lee still manages to deliver a solid enough job in Virus, while William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland all seem a bit disinterested in their performances and not taking them seriously enough. If they would only act a shred like Jamie Lee during the final showdown, the entire atmosphere in the movie would be much more consistent and less hit and miss.

Especially in the final act the pace really picks up again.

Bottom Line:

As already said, Virus is pretty much John Carpenter's The Thing with gory robot-flesh-cyborgs. And while the isolated feel of the story's location and the monster designs are actually effective enough, Virus sadly does not have anything that can be truely called creative or original. With a consistent B-movie feel to it that becomes most obvious in the production design, dialogue and lackluster performances by most actors involved, it's no wonder that this B-movie got quickly forgotten about.
However, Virus is not a catastrophic movie despite being a major flop at the box office. Looking at it now, without drawing any comparisons to other big sci-fi titles that got released the same year in 1999, Virus can be a nice little horror movie experience to kill some time with that definitely shouldn't be taken too seriously (let alone the premise should be evidence enough for that).

Where to see it:
Virus rarely runs on TV but can easily be found on DVD for a buck or two.


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