Vic’s Guilty Pleasure – “The Relic” (1997)

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What’s it About?

A homicide detective and an anthropologist try to destroy a South American lizard-like god, who’s on a people eating rampage in a Chicago museum.

The Relic

Directed by Peter Hyams

I want to start off saying that “The Relic” is probably the darkest film ever shot on film. I mean it gives the very dim scenes in “Alien vs Predator: Requiem” a run for it’s money.  You can barely make out anything on the screen and it doesn’t help that the film takes place in a dark Museum and it’s bowels, sewers and dim Offices. Hyams, who has brought us some very cool movies like Outland, 2010, Running Scared and Timecop, should not really be his own DP but if it helps to cut corners, what the hell, then, right? The Relic was released in 1994 and is based on the super popular book of the same name by the dynamic duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

For some odd reason the half a dozen writers ( never a good sign ) decided to omit many cool things from the adaptation like for example the entire character of FBI Agent Pendergast who has a series of books all his own. They did leave in Vincent D’ agosta, the hardened Detective in the story.  They also changed locales from NYC to Chicago. Who knows why Hyams felt all of these changes were needed but I digress here.

Why is The Relic a guilty pleasure for me? Well, it may be because many moviegoers could not really find a way to like this movie…much. As it stands it is a guilty pleasure for many which I just recently discovered.  It is a hokey and implausible creature feature that is way too dark to make anything out and follows a unremarkable formula that flies fast, loose and by the numbers.

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Tom Sizemore as D’agosta ( Don’t call him D’agastino ) does an admirable job here , in my opinion, as he is brought in to investigate the murders of a Cargo Ship crew in Chicago then one at the Chicago Museum of Natural History. He eventually finds out that there may be a connection.  Once he gets to the Museum he meets up with the flustered Margo Green, played by the ever cute Penelope Ann Miller. She is a strong willed and smart evolutionary biologist ( Trying to figure out: “Where our tails went.” ) that is in competition for a grant with a smarmy co-worker. At the Museum she accidentally walks in on a Security guard’s corpse that has had his brain removed in a bathroom stall while he was smoking some pot. A Tech actually says: “He was having some pot in the potty.” Har Har!

Anyway, I thought it was funny. Dr Green is led back to her Office where she tries to continue her work. D’agosta meets up with an M.E. named Zwiezik played hilariously by the scene stealing Audra Lindley ( Mrs Roper ) and she tells him that the Guard’s brain was light and that it’s missing the hypothalamus gland. D’gosta seems to think that the victims on the Cargo Ship and the Guards have had their glands eaten out by some monstrous person…or thing. Well, he’s right there is some…thing in the Museum that has come from a long ways off.  At the film’s beginning a Dr Whitney from the Museum is seen investigating a lost tribe of the “Kothoga” and after drinking a sort of soup or tea starts to see visions of a creature. Later he boards the doomed Cargo Ship not finding some crates he had thought he put aboard.

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Back at the Museum, Green and D’agosta try to get to the bottom of anther murder of a homeless man in the bowels of the building. With the help of Dr Frock, a wheelchair bound scientist, played by James Whitmore ( Them! ) they get more info regarding some leaves full of a fungus sent to Dr Whitney, enzymes, a lizard God-like creature and even something called the Callisto Effect regarding a “missing link.” Well, the creature stalking the Museum and about to do a number on a “Superstition” exhibit to come, is no missing link. It’s fucking Godzilla. This monster, never fully shown or realized until late in the film, is an all purpose killer.

It’s after your brain!!! I loved that right away.  A creature that feeds on a small but important part of your brain. Just wicked. D’agosta fails to postpone the big event at the museum because of a prick of a Security Chief. He even gets a phone call from the Mayor urging him to let the event go on. D’agosta, Frock and Margo now must figure how the creature could be caught or captured. In true monster movie fashion Hyams lets the carnage ensue as the monster eventually makes it way up from the bowels of museum to feed and snack on the rich and famous alike. Here is where the fun begins! Munch Munch.

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Hyams stages some pretty cool creature action. Panic ensues, people run about, get crushed and get attacked. Total monster mayhem. Many of the film’s detractors disliked the movie because it veered off so much from the source material, being the novel. Others did not like Sizemore in the lead and felt he was too weak and dull as D’agosta. Others blamed the story and the script. I may agree somewhat there. The film has no less than 4 or 5 writers that were attached to it.

So, I can keep going on about what people hated about it ( Let me tell you, honestly, that some people really HATE it ) but I am going against the grain because I liked the hokey monster story, the leads were very capable and strong. Even Linda Hunt here as the Museum’s curator makes an impression. The monster action is great. There are some great thrilling moments in the sewers and even throughout the bowels of the Museum and when Hyams brings in the SWAT team, things get really insane! When we get to see the gigantic creature in bits and spurts, we are not dis-appointed.

It is large, beastly and sports some terrifying teeth. The CGI is kept to a minimum and the practical make up job suits the film nicely. Hyams builds up the mood, fear and claustrophobia even though it’s too damn dark to make anything out.  John Debney’s score is a bit less mysterious than it should be but during the action his score fits right in. Is the film cliched? Yep. Does it feel formulaic in parts? Uh huh. Is the lighting non existent? Yes. Do the arrogant and self serving characters get their comeuppance? Oh yeah. Is the film complete garbage? Hell no. Maybe to those die hard fans of the novel and haters of monster movies. To me, though, it’s a great monster flick with that matinee /drive in movie feel and that’s why it’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Enjoy! Recommended for those who like breezy and bloody creature features.

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Enjoy the creepy Trailer for “The Relic” below!


  1. I have always liked The Relic, and even went to see it in the theater when it came out. In 97 it seemed they weren’t making as many monster movies (of course now you can find a sub-standard one on Sci-Fi every week) and so I thought it was enjoyable just for the novelty of, like you said, Godzilla eating people in a museum. Great write-up.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Much appreciated. I don’t remember if I ever saw it in the theaters but I eventually bought the Laserdisc and now have an old dvd copy somewhere. I like the heck out of it. It’s true, it does have that novelty. Thanks for stopping in and reading!

  2. Always liked The Relic TBH, better than a guilty pleasure but I see your point Victor. oooo it’s on netflix too, thanks for pointing that out, will take in a watch again me thinks!

    • It is fun! I totally recommend it. It’s a cool little monster flick and it never tries being anything other than that. If and when you get around to it, enjoy! Thanks for stopping by. Always appreciated, man.

    • I agree. Whenever I ask people about The Relic, I get a: “Huh? That crappy monster movie with what’s her name?” lol. I try to get people to re-watch it if I can. An uphill battle. 🙂

    • I think you’ll like it! It’s a lot of fun and it has plenty of monster mayhem in the second and third act. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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