Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Even the most jaded horror movie addicts may find themselves squirming in parts of Peter Hyams’ murky but well-made creature feature “The Relic” (*** out of ****) starring Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore.  Meanwhile the faint of heart may want to reconsider enduring this experience.  You’ll lose count of the number of severed heads.  You’ll also lose count of the number of times that the filmmakers dare you to accompany heroes and victims down a catacomb of spooky hallways.  Special effects wizard Stan Winston has created a huge, slimy, lizard critter with tusks for “The Relic” that would give “Alien,” “Predator,” and those “Jurassic Park” raptors a run for their money. 

“The Relic” is basically a haunted house chiller.  Most of its grisly action occurs inside a creepy Chicago museum, within scores of shadowy corridors, labs, and staircases.  A dinosaur reptile of amazing agility prowls these premises and feasts on flesh.  Mainly, this hybrid monster tears your head off and munches a chunk of your brains.  The melodramatic script pays homage to scary sagas such as “Jaws,” “Alien,” and “Jurassic Park.”  Penelope Ann Miller plays a dedicated but cute evolutionary biologist who pedals a bicycle to work and worries about who’ll fund her research.  She shares many of Ripley’s heroic characteristics from the “Alien” franchise, except Penelope doesn’t perform a strip tease for the monster.  She keeps her clothes on and relies on her wits to outsmart the creature.  Burly Tom Sizemore abets her as a superstitious Windy City cop.  He wants to close the museum, but the mayor needs it open for a gala fundraiser.

Naturally, the monster crashes the gala and heads roll.  When the monster isn’t terrifying the rich, the museum becomes an obstacle course. The monsters shuts down the power, and the wealthy patrons find themselves trapped in the dark, rained on by fire sprinklers.  “The Relic” aspires to be more than just a horror movie.  The worst thing about “The Relic” is its surplus of plot.  What might have been a small horror movie turns into not only a big-scale scary movie, but also a disaster movie. The film opens with a jungle witchcraft scene that is supposed to frighten but winds up being incomprehensible.  The filmmakers then build the plot and introduce their array of characters before the finally unleash the beast.
Part of the time the scenarists clobber us with a load of scientific, computer gibberish that makes the movie sound realistic.  Interestingly, everything that the monster devours becomes part of its DNA and guides it behavior.  

 Peter Hyams lights the museum as if it were the space ship in “Alien.”  Hyams, who helmed “Outland” and “Running Scared,” aims to scare the daylights out of you.  He resorts to every tried-and-true truck to elicit paranoia and hype suspense.  If you aren’t family with how horror movies manipulate their audiences, you may find some scenes in “The Relic” a little intense.  Predictability, of course, paralyzes the plot because Hyams spends too much time trying to be like other horror movies so that it breaks little new ground.  But the effects may be gruesome enough that you forget the formula that the story follows.  Hyams gets great help from composer John Debney whose tense, dramatic orchestral score heightens the tension.

“The Relic” qualifies as a good horror movie boosted by glossy production values.  This chiller is worth seeing at least once while you’re searching for a genuine classic.