Directed by Peter Hyams

Starring Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore

I’m a sucker for a good creature feature.

Horror as a genre is nowhere near as homogenous as non-fans would generally believe, and over time various trends in fright fare have risen and fallen. Right now, the low budget indie is king; there are dozens of cheapo gorefests hitting VOD and disc and, while the occasional maverick gem crops up, the rank and file are pretty odious. I would never directly equate budget and quality, but it’s fairly obvious that major studios are gunshy of horror right now, loathe to dedicate dollars to projects that are going to get a rating somewhere further up the scale than PG-13.

That wasn’t always the case, though. There was a time when we’d get regular attempts at decently budgeted and marketed horror movies, and that time was the late ’90s. Scream was a big hit in ’96, and that led to a rush of not only cookie-cutter teen horror flicks (some of which I quite enjoy, like Disturbing Behaviour), but genre fare of other stripes as well, like this bad boy, which hit the same year as Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic.

John Whitney (Lewis Van Bergen) an adventurous anthropologist, disappears in the jungles of South America, the only trace of him remaining the last shipment of artifacts he sent back to the Chicago Museum Of Natural History. Meanwhile, homicide cop Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore) has his own problems – the loss of his dog in what sounds like a truly horrible divorce, and a boatload of headless corpses that has washed up, Demeter-style, on his watch. Not long after, a security guard at the Museum is murdered in a similarly gruesome fashion to the boat crew. Could there be a connection? You betcha. Might it have something to do with the statue of Kothoga, a horrible monster that’d give Lovecraft the vapours, that Whitney sent back to his colleagues? You betcha. Might it all culminate in a bloodbath at a Museum gala, wherein the hideous forest beast munches its way through a wide variety of scientists, dignitaries and overly courageous cops? You better bloody betcha.

I can’t imagine The Relic making anyone’s All Time Best list for just about anything, but it’s the epitome of a solid three star movie, and there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in seeing how competently and efficiently it lays out the various story elements to build to the inevitable one-on-one confrontation between the Kothoga (a pretty great Stan Winston beastie realised in both practical effects and CG that, by some miracle, hasn’t aged as badly as most work of similar vintage) and evolutionary biologist Margot Green (Penelope Ann Miller pulling “final girl” duties). There are few surprises here; the fun is seeing how neatly and elegantly the film fulfills its remit.

It helps that the cast is so good, The Relic boasts a roster of talented character actors, including Oscar-winner Linda Hunt, The Breakfast Club alumnus John Kapelos, and veteran monster fighter James Whitmore (he was in Them!). Plus, the movie hails from a time when Tom Sizemore was inching his way towards A-List status, The Relic marks Sizemore’s first major leading role. Sadly, it was also pretty much his last, and the current state of his scandal-marred career is just depressing.

The Relic is a perfect fire-and-forget movie. Journeyman director Peter Hyams built his career on a steadfast ability to make films which are just entertaining enough to be acceptable without ever quite crossing over into being truly memorable. That’s admirable in its own modest way, and so is The Relic: you’ll like it if you like this sort of thing.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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