Everyone loves a good B-monster movie. Back when the drive-in ruled summers, monster movie fans enjoyed Them, The Tingler, and The Fly. During the 1980s, monster movie re-surfaced as nostalgia for the 50’s was at a high. From Night of the Creeps to The Stuff and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, filmmakers crafted loving homages to a bygone era. At the start of the 1990s, Tremors and Arachnophobia similarly embraced the fun of their B-movie roots. And then at some point, monster movies started to take themselves a little too seriously in the 90s. Species, Mimic, Virus, The Island of Dr Moreau – they were all pretty straight-faced monster movies with varying degrees of quality and success. Amongst these releases, Peter Hyam’s The Relic came and went from theatres with little fanfare. Based on a best-selling, The Relic faded into obscurity quickly. But after nearly 25 years, is it time to give The Relic a critical re-evaluation?
Six weeks ago, anthropologist Dr John Whitney disappeared while studying South American tribes. But a cargo shipment of his work arrives at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, its crew missing. Chicago Police find the crew – all their heads severed – floating in the ship’s bilge. As Detective Vincent D’Agosta investigates the mysterious deaths, evolutionary biologist Dr Margo Green, a museum employee, examines Whitney’s crates. Soon D’Agosta and Green see links between a strange fungus found in the crates and autopsies that show all the ship’s victims had their hypothalamus removed. As the museum prepares to host a huge charity gala, D’Agosta and Green race to kill a rapidly evolving monster feeing on human hormones.
The Relic is Pretty Straightforward Genre Fare With Few Surprises
Things don’t get much more generic or straightforward than The Relic. Don’t expect a subversive take on B-movies or a loving homage to the fun monster flicks of the past. Four different screenwriters laboured to adapt Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s novel, Relic. What The Relic gives horror fans is an almost tiresomely serious monster movie. This isn’t to say there isn’t some humour breaking up the pseudo-science jargon. But it’s the kind of one-liners that Hollywood routinely injects into horror movies to break things up. Director Peter Hyams (Timecop, End of Days) doesn’t play with atmosphere, mood, or genre expectations. As a result, The Relic feels entirely predictable from start to finish.
What The Relic gives horror fans is almost tiresomely serious monster movie.
Though Hyams is a skilled director with a good eye for action sequences, he’s less adept at horror conventions. There’s little in the way of atmosphere, scares, or tension here. Most scenes intended to make you jump are clearly telegraphed leaving little to no surprise. This workmanlike approach alongside a formulaic story results in a movie where everything unfolds predictably. Too much of the monster moments are also poorly lit. That is, audiences will frequently struggle to make out what is going on when stuff does happen. Once Hyams traps his characters in a sealed museum with the monster things pick up – there is potential for a better movie. And the movie’s final third marks an improvement even if it may feel too little, too late.
Not Even Stan Winston’s Effects Can Save The Relic
For the most part, The Relic uses practical special effects to create its ‘evolution gone wrong’ monster. Special effects wizard Stan Winston (Aliens, Predator) once again does an incredible job of convincing the audience his monster is real. Like classic monster movies, Hyams pull a page from Jaws and keeps The Relic’s monster offscreen as much as possible. Yet Hyams doesn’t find ways to effectively tease the monster early in the movie, resulting in somewhat of a plodding pace. And the monster doesn’t make enough clear appearances of the dark lighting. Still when The Relic offers a close-up, Winston’s work holds up well.
Both Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller do just fine with roles that could just as easily been switched out with any character actors.
With a lot of time to fill in its first half, The Relic leans heavily on its cast. Both Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller do just fine with roles that could just as easily been switched out with any character actors. Take Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger from Species and swap them out – it’s a similarly unimaginative dynamic. Streetwise homicide detective and fiercely independent scientist battle bafflingly clueless bureaucrats. If the beach needed to stay open in Jaws, Sizemore and Miller must fight museum directors and an overbearing mayor to shut down a charity gala. Neither Sizemore nor Miller is bad in the movie. In fact, they’re both extremely likable. They just have little with which to work.
The Relic is a Bland, If Not Watchable, Monster Movie Entry
Ultimately, The Relic isn’t a bad monster movie. In terms of production values and professionalism, Hyams does a perfectly competent job putting Preston and Child’s novel onto the screen. Good lead performances and Winston’s always-outstanding effects certainly aren’t the problem. Point a finger at a flat script that somehow necessitated four different writers’ contributions. Regardless there’s a reason The Relic hasn’t re-surfaced on streaming platforms or received a fancy blu-ray re-mastering. It’s a watchable monster movie that’s too formulaic to stand out after over 20 years.