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  Relic, The hang onto your hypothalamus
Year: 1997
Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore, Clayton Rohner, Chi Moui Lo, Thomas Ryan, Francis X. McCarthy, Constance Towers, John Kapelos, Don Harvey, Dave Graubart
Genre: Horror, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: Anthropologist John Whitney discovers an ancient secret in South America and ships a crate with his findings back to the Chicago museum. However, local police find the crate empty and no sign of Whitney, while the ship’s hull is strewn with torn and bloody corpses. A security guard is found similarly mutilated at the museum, prompting Lt. Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore) to enlist help from Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller). Aided by sagely Dr. Flock (James Whitmore), Margo learns may have discovered the Kothoga, a supernatural beast created by natives using an ancient growth hormone, who grows by feasting on the hypothalamic gland - torn from human brains. A gala fundraiser is in full swing, when a security malfunction leaves the rich guests trapped in the museum with the ravenous, brain-eating monster.

For most of the last two decades, the horror genre has come to mean slasher films or torture porn, while decent monster movies have become much harder to find. The Relic, while far from perfect, is mostly a good, old fashioned monster movie. Stan Winston’s monster is a scary hybrid of animatronics and computer graphics, which director Peter Hyams keeps to the shadows ensuring some lively shock moments. Violence is sparse and effective, although gore fans can relish the bloody aftermath of torn heads and splattered brains. The museum, with its snarling idols and spooky relics, is a great location. Hyams wrings as much atmosphere as possible, capping a stalking scene with a silly, but irresistible gag involving an asthmatic cleaning woman, and pulling off a great sequence where a rescue squad abseil into the monster’s gaping jaws. However, Hyams own dark and murky cinematography is sometimes so impenetrable its hard to discern what is going on.

There is likeable, 1950s B movie feel to proceedings, from the jungle intro, the snappy dialogue (“Don’t you just hate someone who takes head, but never gives it?” wisecracks the lady pathologist), and the roster of cops, scientists and cynical politicians. Co-producer Gale Anne Hurd, a former James Cameron collaborator, and screenwriter Amy Holden Jones (who directed Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and wrote the considerably more horrific Beethoven movies) bring a more contemporary touch with the gutsy heroine. But the script was reworked by several writers, which accounts for its messier aspects: a scientific rationale for the Kothoga’s origin that can’t decide whether it is “the son of Satan” or an ancient genetic experiment; a hint that Margo and Whitney share a past that is never explained; and the lingering question why the native pranksters chose their victim in the first place.

In its latter stage, The Relic becomes Die Hard with a monster. Which is no bad thing, although the confusing editing sometimes suggests the Kothoga is in two places at once. One minute its behind someone, the next its ahead of them. The film takes a pretty bleak view of human nature in times of crisis, with panicky idiots responsible for almost as many deaths as the monster. Nonetheless, it taps a primal fear of being alone in the dark with something nasty out to get you. There’s a monster, explosions and Penelope Ann Miller running around in a slinky cocktail dress. Speaking of whom, whatever happened to Penelope Ann Miller?
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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Peter Hyams  (1943 - )

American director, writer and cinematographer, mostly of standard genre movies: action, sci-fi, thriller, etc. After a career as a TV newsman (he was a Vietnam War reporter) he moved into films, writing and producing T.R. Baskin. A couple of TV movies later, on the big screen he made Busting, Capricorn One, Hanover Street, Outland, 2010, The Presidio, a remake of Narrow Margin, Stay Tuned, Timecop, Sudden Death, The Relic, End of Days, The Musketeer and A Sound of Thunder.

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