Apparently, director Peter Hyams was once locked inside a Museum at night as a kid and suffered terrible fear in the spooky, dark hallways of the building. With The Relic from 1997, the director tried to process this childhood trauma by capturing The Relic novel's original terror in a full feature length movie.
A 90s monster movie with rather limited success and definitely a hidden gem among 90s horror flicks and especially creature features.
A good pick for the first segment in Invisible Kid's new segment "Movies That Nobody Talks About".
The Relic is a horror movie from 1997 from director Peter Hyams and is based on the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child novel of the same name.
The Relic's story starts out with a researcher investigating and studying a reclusive tribe in South America. Fascinated by his findings there, he sends crates filled with various relics of the tribe to the Museum of Natural History in Chicago. However, as the crates arrive at Chicago, there is no sign of the reseacher and the shipment crew.
Nevertheless, the crates are delivered to the Museum in time for a soon to be opened exhibition. But only shortly after the crates arrived, more and more staff members are found dead and horribly dismembered in the Museum... killed by someone - or something. With the bodies literally torn apart and their heads ripped open, it is now up to Lieutnant Vincent D'Agosta and evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green to find out what's behind all the murders and more importantly who or what is causing them.
|Things are getting pretty gory in the museum.|
Especially nowadays when horror movies seem to always force a big final twist on themselves, it's kind of refreshing to watch movies like the Relic that even while working with a mysterious atmosphere and secrets, are very straight-forward nonetheless and not needlessly complex. With that said, The Relic has a very enjoyable pace and vibe to it.
Comparable to movies like Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic or John McTiernan's Predator, The Relic's tension mostly builds on the mysterious creature that is only seen in short glimpses for most of the movie. Preying on unaware staff members and museum visitors, the creature is a stalking predator in the dark. What's fun about this is that, much like in other monster movies of the same kind, it's fun to subconsciously puzzle together the monster's full look for youself with every piece or glimpse of the creature that is revealed.
What makes things even more exciting, are the bizarre crime scenes left behind after the creature striked: with the head ripped off of the victim's body and specific parts of the brain having been eaten, The Relic furthermore does a nice job of hinting at more that's behind the mysterious killing beast. With that, The Relic avoids being a "dumb monster movie" by delivering a monster that kills for specific reasons in specific ways and doesn't simply go berserk at any given time.
|You're gonna need a bigger gun.|
Even though The Relic is an almost 20 year old movie by now and the monster's look is not really a secret by now since you can simply google it, we won't spoil it here.
One could only imagine how well movies like Jaws, Jurassic Park, Predator and others with only slow and careful monster reveals worked back in the day before the days of the Internet. Without any leaked images of the creatures that could reveal its look beforehand, the impact and excitement of such movies was at its absolute peak. It was a time, in which, all of The Relic's cast didn't even know how the creature itself really looked like. It is said that iconic monster creator Stan Winston held The Relic's final monster design under very tight wraps. And it paid off. Not only does the creature have a unique design, but it of course also features the trademark Stan Winston sense for detail present in every creation out of Winston's studio. While not necessarily a revolutionary great monster design, The Relic's monster is definitely not generic looking and indeed looks quite distinct. What elevates it's large beast-like personality and menace is furthermore the great sound design for the monster sounding like some monstrous lion mutant.
Therefore, if you are planning to watch The Relic for the first time, do yourself a favor and DON'T look up the creature's look via Google if you don't already know it.
However, a sole minor gripe on the monster itself would be some CGI-work in the final act that looks a bit underwhelming in comparison to the awesome and realistic looking animatronic work.
|Back in the day, when visual effects weren't all about CGI.|
But with all those good things the movie has going for it, why is nobody talking about it then?
The most obvious reason is the lack of a star stutted cast or a well known director.
Lead by actors Penelope Ann Miller as Dr. Margo Green and Tom Sizemore as Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, the two actors are mostly known for playing sidecharacters in other movies. And while they both do a respectably good job with their performances, they never pose as a real competition against the true star of the movie - the monster itself. Both Green and D'Agosta are likable characters and deserve being rooted for, yet they nevertheless remain forgettable and could ultimately be replaced by any other actor.
|Our two capable but interchangable heroes.|
Regarding the movie's director Peter Hyams, as of The Relic's theatrical release, he only had fairly limited success. Though Hyams' Timecop from 1994 to this day marks Van Damme's most successful movie to date, that doesn't really say that much. Especially Hyam's previous movie before The Relic, which was Sudden Death (another solid Van Damme action movie), probably did some harm to The Relic's marketing since Sudden Death itself was pretty much a Die Hard knock-off. One could argue that many movie goers expected another copycat monster movie ala Alien with The Relic. This rather false prediction by the public was nevertheless only strengthened by the movie's pretty cheesy and generic trailer that didn't do a very good job in capturing the true tense atmosphere of the movie itself (you can watch the trailer for yourself below).
Weighing in all of The Relic's pros and cons, it's pretty safe to say that The Relic is a very enjoyable monster-horror flick that has enough going for it to stay above the sea of cheap monster trash from the direct-to-DVD bin. With high production values and a well constructed and consistent atmosphere of dread of a looming predator stalking the Museum's hallways, The Relic in many ways plays by rather old rules but presents them in an own way.
People who like straight up monster movies, in which the creature is only slowly revealed and performs more like a stalking predator, will definitely find enjoyment in The Relic. It is no masterpiece by any means and didn't and won't set any new standards for horror movies, but it also doesn't need to.
The Relic should definitely be mentioned more when talking about hidden gems among monster movie flicks. It definitely ranks right up there with other underappreciated 90s horror flicks like Candyman or Mimic.
|Because there is always a sewer level.|
The Relic is a mostly very traditional monster movie that nevertheless boasts a unique predatory monster in the spotlight with a consistently mysterious and tense atmosphere. Despite its strengths and high production values though, it is without any doubt one of the most underrated and overlooked creature features from the 90s. Though it doesn't do enough to change up the monster movie genre as a whole, it's definitely a very solid experience that manages to benefit both from its straight-forward pace and story as well as respectable share of own new ideas it brings to the table.
You will probably like The Relic if you liked: Mimic (1997), Pumpkinhead (1988), Predator (1987), Jaws (1975).
Where to get it:
The Relic is pretty easy and cheap to get both on DVD and on Blu-Ray. You can also try to watch it on TV, where it's usually one of those movies that are aired late at night during the weekends.