The Relic (1997) [31 Days of Gore]

The Relic in a nutshell? There’s a monster loose in a museum. Policeman and Science Lady must stop it. And the movie is dark… super dark. That’s not a complaint. I love the way this movie looks. Give me shadows and lens flares and I’m in heaven.

We also get a handful of character actors I’ve always liked: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, and Linda Hunt. If you ever read my Outland post, you’ll know I’m a fan of director Peter Hyams, too. The Relic is one of his best, an honest monster movie which dances the line between familiarity and predictability. Not only is this the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen it, two of those times I saw it in theaters.


Yet I won’t gloss over the fact The Relic is absolutely absurd. It heavily simplifies much of the source material’s plot and timeline, which is to say nothing about the noticeable reduction in graphic violence. The monster in the novel kills children (if I remember correctly), but the movie monster doesn’t dare. This is to be expected from a Hollywood film, but the question is: Why bother including those children in the movie at all? Their deaths in the novel actually advanced the plot. In the movie the kids just make some mediocre wisecracks before they’re exploited for a cheap scare.

The monster is larger than a buffalo, yet an army of policemen can’t seem to locate it in the museum or the labyrinth of tunnels which conveniently reside beneath it. Sizemore’s character is adamant that the museum remains closed until his policemen have solved the murder mysteries, but there’s a weaselly character who performs the same function as the mayor from Jaws. Similarly irksome are the water-filled tunnels beneath the museum. We’ve seen this stuff in many horror movies; I liked it best when it was done in Aliens.

So if you’re looking for a perfect horror movie, keep looking. What makes this one good are the strong performances, lead characters, Stan Winston’s creature effects, and the high quality gore. Otherwise it’s a standard people-trapped-inside-with-a-monster film, but we get so few of ’em it automatically rises to the top. Even the monster itself is above average, at least when the film’s not indulging in 1990s CGI.

One more thing I want to point out is how some of the humor is better than the low-effort shit they cram into most movies. I don’t think it’s very funny when the male lead complains that his wife got custody of his dog, which is a running joke for some reason, but the coroner scene is a hoot. It reminds me of the banter between Sean Connery and Frances Sternhagen in the aforementioned Outland. So yeah, there’s some generic Hollywood comedy in there, but there’s some decent wordplay as well.

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