Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore
New UK DVD release is out now from Fabulous Films, the Blu-Ray is released June 15th.
While in South America archaeologist John Whitney partakes in a ceremony with a group of indigenous tribes people. After witnessing some obscure visions he plans to return to the Chicago Museum of Natural History with his findings but this is where things go wrong, the ship transporting his crates is deserted, he is nowhere to be seen and there is blood everywhere and hot on the case is superstitious detective Tom Sizemore.
He teams up with Dr Margo Green, Penelope Ann Miller, from the Museum who has taken an interest in the newly arrived crates. Meanwhile a couple of obnoxious kids decide to sneak off the museum tour and end up trapped in the building overnight where low and behold, they stumble across a great big beastie that likes offing people and with an impending exhibit grand opening there looks to be enough food for the beast to take up residence.
I remember discovering THE RELIC at my local video store, it was next to another 1997 creature feature called MIMIC. I rented them both. Although MIMIC was Guillermo del Toro’s first major US film, it was let down by bad casting and inept studio interference, despite the great execution of creature and concept,the box office chose to favour, as did I, THE RELIC. Helmed by 2010 and END OF DAYS director Peter Hyams who had previously executively produced Wolfman and his nards in THE MONSTER SQUAD. As well as directing, Hyams also takes charge of the cinematography truly bringing us his vision of this creature based entry to the haunted house sub genre of horror.
The film itself is very dark, the majority of events unfolding via torchlight adding great tension and mystery. But like many of his previous films, they run out of steam a little in the middle. There are moments that let it down, for instance the main characters simply accept what is happening a little too easily, as if a brain eating mutant creatures roaming museums are the norm! Sizemore is the biggest culprit of this as he is drawn in by Miller’s scientific explanation of the creatures origins, I feel there should have been a “what the hell was that?” moment rather than him telling another heart warming story of his past.
Suspense is at the forefront as is Miller trying to decipher the mysteries of the creature along with Sizemore’s stubborn approach to not believe everything in front of him giving the audience both a scientific and a realistic approach to the films events. Miller gives a solid performance proving she can carry a film and allows her to show off diversity, at times she’s the hard as nails scientist hell-bent on obtaining a research grant, the next minute she’s a damsel in distress and then she tops off the film as a Ripleyesque bad ass taking on the monster.
Sizemore’s performance as Jack Scagnetti in Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS was phenomenal, but I feel he normally gives a very bland,forgettable performance just like he does here, nothing particularly outstanding, he just effortlessly breezes through the film. The climax of the film does a great job at fixing earlier errors and the final showdown is impressive on all levels.
Reportedly the films production was delayed due to the design of the beast falling behind schedule, this lead to the fact we never really see it until the final moments, but this works in the films favour, much like Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, less is more. The creature itself is a sinister looking offspring from the Stan Winston studio. Stan is responsible for some of the most iconic horror creatures of cinema,Terminator, the Predator, Pumpkinhead and this beast is a great addition to his legacy. The theatrical release of this film was also held up due to the adding of the visual fx, but it was well worth the wait, the few CGI moments are used expertly for the time as a companion to the brilliant practical effects and not shoved in your face like the poorly executed AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS also released in ’97.
THE RELIC is a must watch for fans of creature features and suspense driven haunted house films.If the script had been tidied up and perhaps the run time reduced by twenty minutes this film would tick all the right boxes and so I score it 6.5 out of 10