The Relic (1997) — Monster in a museum

“I heard your ex got custody of the dog.”

Justin’s rating: Does this come with an annual membership?

Justin’s review: Despite coming from a best-selling novel, The Relic was a bit of a bomb when it was shoved in and out of theaters in January 1997. It’s since developed a bit of an “underrated” reputation, placing it in the company of other late ’90s creature features like Mimic, Species, and Deep Rising.

It’s definitely not a perfect movie, but it deserved better than it got considering the creative forces behind it. Notably, The Relic was directed by Peter Hyams (Timecop) and features — wait for it — a freaky creation by the ever-excellent Stan Winston.

What we have here is an imported monster from Brazil who ends up stalking through the darker corridors of the Chicago Museum of History. The setting itself is a major draw for the movie, because museums are always cool as backdrops. They’re already kind of creepy, but in a cool way that makes you want to poke around and see what’s in every room and corridor. Me? I like the theming that sparks imagination of living in other eras and places. It’s kind of the perfect place for a reptilian-insect hybrid to hang out, especially after the main lights go down.

After a particularly gruesome death, a homicide detective (Tom Sizemore) is called in to investigate. He sort of teams up with Dr. Margo (Penelope Ann Miller), an evolutionary biologist whose attention is divided between figuring out the secret of the monster and securing grant money for her department.

In any case, the museum’s administration very much wants to keep things open for a lucrative gala, but that’s kind of delivering a platter of yummies right to this ancient evil. They even lock everyone in, because why not? It’s the kind of movie where everyone is so overly obstinate about the obvious threat that the audience stops being afraid of the monster and starts actively cheering it on. It’s also the kind of movie that loves, loves its jump scares, shrieking soundtrack, and close-ups on gory effects.

The Relic certainly isn’t subtle or original; its DNA is a shameless combination of Jaws (with a city and mayor wanting to keep an attraction open despite deaths) and Alien (as you can probably figure out). Any given moment will be ripping off one of these, but that doesn’t really detract from the B-movie fun. You see the oncoming disaster of throwing a glitzy party in Monster Museum Central, and you’re like, “Aww yeah, good times. Good times.”

My two main complaints — other than the too-dark darkness — with this film lie in the lead characters. Sizemore is putting in a bare minimum performance here, and it really shows. He has his one defining characteristic (he’s weirdly superstitious) and says the right things, but it’s clear his heart isn’t in it. And Stan Winston or no, I’m not really buying the creature as a design or a threat. It’s fine. It’s adequate. But it’s no xenomorph or predator, that’s for sure.

Still, The Relic has its fans, and I may be among them. It’s a loud, brash, shameless movie that delivers satisfying horror/scifi fare.

Didja notice?

  • “Creature effects done by Stan Winston” is ALWAYS a good sign
  • The running joke with the dog is pretty good
  • Cat jump scare!
  • Skeleton jump scare!
  • When you force your way into a murder crime scene, you gotta accept the mental trauma coming your way
  • You better get the superstition angle, because this movie is going to club you to death with it
  • Jefferey Dahmer references! Definitely a ’90s movie.
  • Flesh-eating beetles make museums really fun
  • Bathroom stalls are for cowering
  • Arguing about trying espresso? Must be a ’90s flick!
  • Giant bug attack!
  • Say what you will about Chicago, but this city knows how to stampede

3 comments

  1. I absolutely love The Relic. Although, I read the book and the Kothoga creature is a little different. I guess he’s supposed to be more like a gecko than a giant predator looking beast.

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