The Relic

The Relic Information

The Relic is a 1997 science fiction/horror film directed by Peter Hyams and based on the best-selling novel Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The film stars Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore and Linda Hunt. The original music score was composed by John Debney. The film is rated R for monster violence, gore, and language.


John Whitney (Lewis Van Bergen), an anthropologist for the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is studying a newly-discovered tribe in South America, and drinks a soup made for him by the tribesmen. A short time later, he is seen accosting the captain of a merchant ship, asking that the shipment he has sent back to Chicago be unloaded from the ship. When the captain informs him that it's too late because the ship is about to leave, Whitney sneaks aboard. As the ship leaves the dock, Whitney searches through the cargo hold for his crates, crying out in despair when he does not find what he's looking for.

Six weeks later, the ship arrives on the Illinois River, with its crew missing. Chicago PD homicide detective Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta (Sizemore) is assigned to investigate the ship. His partner, Sgt. Hollingsworth (Clayton Rohner) is sure that the crew's disappearance is drug-related, but Lt. D'Agosta opens the bilge hatch and finds dozens of bodies and severed heads inside.

Dr. Margo Green (Miller), an evolutionary biologist, arrives at work at the Museum, which is planning a gala opening of its latest "Superstition" exhibition. She and her mentor, Dr. Frock (James Whitmore) examine Whitney's crates, which are curiously empty, except for a bed of leaves used as packing materials and a stone statue of the "Kothoga," a mythical forest monster. Noticing a strange fungus growing on some of the leaves, Margo decides to save some for analysis.

That night, security guard Fred Ford is gruesomely murdered in the same manner as the ship's crew. Lt. D'Agosta investigates the murder and puzzles over a possible connection. Since he believes the killer may still be inside the Museum, he orders it closed until the police have finished searching, despite the protests of museum director, Dr. Cuthbert (Hunt) about the upcoming opening.

Margo analyzes the fungus and finds that it is loaded with concentrated hormones found in several animal species. Opening the container of leaves, she finds a beetle that crawled inside and has grown to a freakishly large size.

The autopsy of Fred Ford reveals the bizarre fact that the killer tore open his skull and extracted the hypothalamus from his brain. An examination of the bodies from the ship reveals the same condition. Lt. D'Agosta is not sure what to make of this, but then the police teams find a homeless hiding in the Museum's basement, who is shot to death when he startles the officers. When the hobo is found to be a convicted felon, with a history of mental illness, and has Ford's wallet in his pocket, everyone except Lt. D'Agosta considers the case closed, but the lieutenant has to give in when the Mayor of Chicago orders him to let the gala opening go on.

On the night of the opening, Lt. D'Agosta insists on sealing all areas of the museum except the main exhibition hall, while doing one last search of the basement tunnels. Dr. Frock and Margo are the last ones in the laboratory wing, and are unfortunately trapped inside when the wing is sealed (one of Margo's venal colleagues, Greg Lee, competing for the same grant from a foundation whose owners are attending the gala, has told the security chief that the laboratory wing is deserted).

In the basement, Lt. D'Agosta and his officers are attacked by something in the dark. The lieutenant tells Hollingsworth to run back to the main hall and evacuate the museum, but it is too late: the headless body of a murdered police officer tumbles from an air conditioning vent into the heart of the crowd, causing a panic. In their hysterical rush out of the museum, all the museum's alarms are tripped and their security system goes haywire, closing the fire doors and trapping a small group of people inside, just as the power fails.

Alone, Lt. D'Agosta finds his way to the lab wing, and discovers Margo and Dr. Frock. All three of them are then attacked by the real killer: an actual Kothoga, an enormous chimeric beast. They barely manage to close a steel door between it and them, while the monster wounds itself trying to batter through.

Margo theorizes that the Kothoga must have been some much smaller animal that mutated after eating the fungal leaves that she found in John Whitney's packing crates. Dr. Frock excitedly expands on her hypothesis: without the leaves to eat, the Kothoga's closest substitute for the hormones contained in them is to extract and eat human hypothalami. The tribe that Whitney was studying must have discovered the properties of these leaves, and used them to turn an animal into a weapon of war, that would eventually die when it had no more humans to kill.

Lt. D'Agosta finds a radio and orders Hollingsworth to lead the trapped museum guests to an old coal tunnel that will allow them to escape. A few guests refuse to go, preferring to wait for the fire doors to be opened from the outside. But the Kothoga returns to the main hall and murders these guests, as well as several S.W.A.T. officers entering through the skylights.

Margo analyzes the Kothoga's blood and guesses that, since it is at least part-reptilian, it is probably cold-blooded and they can kill it with liquid nitrogen. She and Lt. D'Agosta collect the remaining leaves from Margo's lab, but discover that Dr. Frock has already been killed by the creature.

Making their way to the sewer underneath the museum, Lt. D'Agosta baits a trap with the leaves, luring the Kothoga away from the party escaping via the coal tunnel, who successfully escape the museum. But liquid nitrogen has no effect on the Kothoga, and Margo and D'Agosta flee back to the lab wing. Over her protests, Lt. D'Agosta tells her to lock herself inside, while he stays behind to stop the creature. As she pleads with him, her computer signals that it has completed the analysis of the Kothoga's DNA: the Kothoga was not sent back by John Whitney; it is John Whitney, mutated after innocently drinking a soup made from the leaves, fed to him by the hostile tribesmen.

Just as she realizes this, the Kothoga smashes into the lab through the ceiling, while the lieutenant is trapped on the other side of the door. Margo runs through the lab, chased by the creature, and after it confronts her, pausing in its attack and seeming to recognize her from its former life as Whitney, Margo manages to start an explosive fire that destroys the monster, while she survives by climbing inside a maceration tank and pulling the cover shut over herself.

As dawn comes, Lt. D'Agosta and a team of police break into the lab, see the charred remains of the Kothoga, and rescue Margo from the tank.


  • Penelope Ann Miller "? Dr. Margo Green
  • Tom Sizemore "? Lt. Vincent D'Agosta
  • Linda Hunt "? Dr. Ann Cuthbert
  • James Whitmore "? Dr. Albert Frock
  • Clayton Rohner "? Det. Hollingsworth
  • Chi Muoi Lo "? Dr. Greg Lee
  • Thomas Ryan "? Tom Parkinson
  • Francis X. McCarthy "? Mr. Blaisedale
  • Constance Towers "? Mrs. Blaisedale
  • John Kapelos "? McNully
  • Don Harvey "? Spota
  • Audra Lindley "? Dr. Zwiezic
  • Lewis Van Bergen - Dr. John Whitney


The Relic was based on the best-selling horror novel by Douglas Preston, an ex-journalist and former public relations director for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and Lincoln Child (though it omits their major character, FBI agent Pendergast). Because the novel portrayed the museum's administration in an unflattering light, they turned the film's producers down. Paramount Pictures offered the museum a seven-figure sum of money to film there, but the administration was worried that the monster movie would scare kids away from the museum. The producers were faced with a problem as only museums in Chicago and Washington, D.C. resembled the one in New York. Fortunately, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago loved the premise of the movie and allowed them to shoot there.

Penelope Ann Miller had not done a horror film prior to The Relic but was drawn to director Peter Hyams' desire to have a strong, smart female lead. Tom Sizemore was attracted to the film because he got to play the male lead: "I had the responsibility of pushing the narrative forward."

Makeup artist Stan Winston and his team made three creatures with two people moving the heads and people on the side working the electronics to move the arms, claws, mouth, and so on. Hyams reviewed Winston's early drawings and his only suggestion was to make the monster more hideous looking. The director also suggested certain invertebrates for inspiration and Winston came up with an arachnoid outline for the monster's face. In the scenes where the creature is running or jumping, a computer-generated version was used.

In addition to shooting on location in Chicago, a set was built in Los Angeles of a tunnel flooded with water. Sizemore spent most of the shoot either damp, cold or soaking wet and, as a result, caught the flu twice. The production was shut down briefly when Hyams became too sick to work.


The film opened #1 at the box office, grossing $9,064,143 its opening week and a total of $33,956,608 domestically, against an estimated cost $60 million. It received mixed to negative reviews from critics, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 32% and a Metacritic score of 55, indicating mixed or average reviews. James Berardinelli of Reel Views said that "when all is said and done, this horror/science fiction amalgamation seems like nothing more ambitious than a bad reworking of elements from Aliens, Species, Jaws, and Predator."

Positive reviews came from highly influential critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, with Siskel describing the movie as "surprisingly entertaining," and Ebert saying that the movie was clever in how it "combines the conventions of the horror and disaster genres" and "is actually a lot of fun, if you like special effects and gore."

Leonard Maltin provided a more intermediate perspective, bestowing 2 out of 4 stars and stated, "Yes, it's 'Alien in a museum,' but not bad. The monster, done both 'live' and by computer graphics is especially impressive."

The film was nominated for multiple science-fiction and fantasy awards, including best horror film and best actress (for Penelope Ann Miller) at the 1997 Saturn Awards.


It premiered on January 17, 1997 and was released on Blu-ray on April 6, 2010.

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