The Relic (1997)
The Relic (1997)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: January 10th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Peter Hyams Actors: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore, Clayton Rohner, Diane Robin, Thomas Ryan




hey don’t make monster movies like “The Relic” anymore, especially with Hollywood’s recent preoccupation with Asian ghost story remakes. With creepy settings, first-rate gore, a strong female lead character (“Aliens” is owed credit for creating the model for every subsequent tough-as-nails female character fighting off extraterrestrial infestations), and chiefly practical monster effects, “The Relic” follows many of the guidelines for classic horror pictures without skirting into the realm of grossly unbelievable or downright contrived. The Kothoga creature itself is fairly unique, too, although its main success lies in the way in which it’s portrayed. Furthermore, everyone in the film takes the situations seriously, which is always appreciated when it comes to fantasy concepts.

Anthropologist John Whitney’s jungle expedition (during which he was studying South American Indian tribes thought to be extinct), funded by the Natural History Museum in Chicago, Illinois, results in two large crates being shipped to evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller). One of the boxes contains a chimera relic, while the other is empty.  Since these mysterious containers could be related to a purported drug hit a few weeks earlier on the Brazilian ship Santos Morales, police Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), a superstitious man seemingly more interested in the recent loss of custody over his dog, is heading the investigation into the aftermath.

When a night watchman at the museum is murdered, decapitated, and debrained, everyone is thrown into a panic; even Margo momentarily loses concentration on the career-saving grant she’s desperately competing for. The shocking killing makes Dahmer look like a Cub Scout. As Margo begins research on an egglike parasitic fungus found in the crate, D’Agosta discovers a pattern between the corpses found on the ship and the body of the guard – all of the victims are missing the hypothalamus portion of the brain. Could this be the work of something not entirely human?

The sets and locations, consisting of long, endless tunnels, humid basements with dripping walls, crowded display rooms, and cramped storage areas, are perfect for a horror film. These are coupled with eerie lighting, complete with blinking red warning sirens, flickering bathrooms, dim hall bulbs, and plenty of quivering flashlights dancing across blood-splattered corridors (some audiences even complained about the frequent lightlessness, which can be appreciated in a theater but suffers in a living room). The addition of a berserk sprinkler apparatus and an emergency backup system becomes the icing on the cake for atmospheric visuals. An extravagant celebration gala for the opening of a new “Superstition” exhibition also sets the stage for death and mayhem once the chameleonic killer finally makes an appearance.

“The Relic” features the very best ingredients of contemporary monster movie formulas: loud noises, dark places, isolated characters, sudden images of bloody body parts, and red herrings. It’s careful to show only pieces of the monster at a time, plenty of foreshadowing (including the slow cleaning of the Brazilian artifact, unnervingly revealing it’s monstrous reptilian design), and panicked mob mentality through a group of survivors (like in “The Poseidon Adventure”) with varying attitudes and levels of bravery as they struggle to move from one location to the next. The characters continually get split up and are intent on unintentionally sneaking up on unsuspecting companions. There’s also plenty of gore, as the monster’s favorite method of mutilation is swift beheadings. Although Sizemore and Miller are rarely leading stars, their acting never interferes with the intensity of the violence and suspense. And with the legendary Stan Winston behind the monster effects, “The Relic” is a surprisingly sharp creature feature.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10