FEARNET Movie Review - Relic


Whenever I write / mention / tweet that I'm a rather big fan of the 1997 "museum monster" movie The Relic, I'm generally met with one of three responses: A) "Really?", B) "That was based on a good book, y'know," and C) "What's The Relic?" My answers are generally A) "Yes, really," B) "I've not only read and enjoyed the Douglas Preston / Lincoln Child novel, but also its entertaining sequel called Reliquary," and C) "It's a rather underrated and energetic horror flick that didn't make much of a splash in '97 but sure seems to have its fair share of fans now."

Directed by Peter Hyams (of the also crazily-underrated sci-fi crime thriller Outland) and adapted by no less than four screenwriters (that's four in addition to the novel's two authors ... for a concept that's really quite simple), The Relic is about a murder investigation that turns into a night of terror when a crazy-huge monster shows up at Chicago's Natural History Museum ... yes, you guessed it, during a mega-swanky gala event. (For this we needed six writers?) Hyams, his casting directors, and (yes) those four screenwriters do a fine job of keeping us interested throughout the set-up and during the non-violent parts: the dialogue is fairly sharp and witty, lead actors Tom Sizemore (a superstitious detective) and Penelope Ann Miller (a sexy biologist) keep the proceedings from ever becoming too ridiculous, and there are several character actors who manage to keep things fun -- most notably Linda Hunt and James Whitmore as museum curators, Clayton Rohner as a junior detective, and Audra Lindley as a sarcastic coroner.

Borrowing (more than) a few pages from Jaws, The Relic offers a creature who has hijacked its way from South America in a shipping crate, and it's up to Dr. Green (Miller) and Lt. D'Agosta (Sizemore) to put the pieces together before more pieces start falling off of the museum staff members. Yep, we're actually dealing with yet another "You won't close this profitable facility in the face of a massive threat!" plot, but the unexpectedly off-kilter characters make the familiar stuff a lot more palatable. (As in the book, the detective is humorously and obsessively superstitious.) But for all the familiar material, and there's plenty, The Relic does manage to throw a few curve balls here and there. Not huge "twists," per se, but a handful of unexpected deaths and survivals, plus the monster is pretty nifty as well.

Created in 1997, and therefore beholden to (mostly) practical effects, the "Relic Beast" is sort of like a rhino mixed with a pissed-off dog from Hell -- and horror fans who've never seen this flick will be tickled by its foul mood and its insatiable appetite. (And yes, the monster does eat rather sloppily, which means we get a nice portion of effective but not over-the-top gore splatters.) Although perhaps a bit too long at 110 minutes (for what is essentially a '50s-style monster flick) and probably a touch too reliant on the Jaws structure for its own good (especially with so many other assets in its corner), The Relic is a slick, witty, and unexpectedly effective little genre throwback. And one that keeps attracting new fans the more it plays on cable.

Produced by Paramount but unleashed on home video by Lionsgate, The Relic hits blu-ray in rather fine (and inexpensive!) form. The flick looks as good as it did on the big screen thirteen years ago, the audio is fresh and tight, and the extras are few but solid: director / DP Peter Hyams contributes a gracious and informative solo commentary track, as well as a brief but enjoyable interview featurette, and the original trailer is also included. As a fan, I would have loved some sort of retrospective piece with the cast and crew, but for that I guess that will have to wait until Paramount or Lionsgate decide to do a video flick called The Relic 2 (or, hell, Reliquary) and the first flick earns another re-release.

As it stands, this unpretentious and smoothly enjoyable monster movie remains very well-represented in its blu-ray form.