Creature Features in Review: The Relic (1997)
I was a freshman in college when The Relic came out, and I remember sitting in the theater with my friends watching the film. I have a special place in my heart for creature features. I just love how creative and awesome some of the creatures turn out to be. I’m a huge fan of creatures created by Stan Winston, so I just had to see this film.
The Relic is still one of my all-time favorite creature features. Apparently my memory was a bit hazy and I didn’t remember that the audience saw as much of the creature as they did. I remember it being shown in bits in pieces in the dark, but it gets shown in all its glory—albeit in the dark, but that just adds to its awesomeness. It deserves its time on the screen.
The Relic is a film that takes on notions of science and belief in technology and contrasts it against superstition and indigenous beliefs. There’s a sense that the white man (in the film, his name is John Whitney) is overstepping bounds to record the lives of indigenous people. One particular tribe decides to take matters into their own hands and unleash a monster onto the civilized world. It’s never explained why they decide to do it, but I think part of the fear is not having all of the answers—and looking at our history, it’s not hard to figure out that they are justified in their actions.
This, of course, shifts the focus away from industrialized society to look at how indigenous tribes have unknown and scary forces that can bring about the downfall of humanity. Even with all of our technological advances, “civilized” society can be taken down by magic and mythological beasts.
With both societies, there’s a sense that something coming from the outside has a profound and destructive effect on the people. This, of course, is something that has been going on since the world has been colonized. Disease, technology (weapons), and religious beliefs have changed how many native tribes live and function. Rarely do the tribes have the same impact on the colonizers, but The Relic (and other films, including the Serpent and the Rainbow and The Exorcist, among others) show that native tribes can be just as dangerous and destructive.
The film also focuses on a lack of understanding, which is highlighted in the juxtaposition between superstition and science. Dr. Whitney brings his high-tech equipment in to document the tribe he is studying, but he gets taken down by a magical ceremony. Dr. Green doesn’t believe in anything but what can be learned from science, and Lt. D’Agosta puts his faith in luck and trinkets and actions that bring that luck about.
Of course, in the end, it is a combination of both science and superstition that saves the characters. It shows that one cannot exist without the other and that they can work in harmony to enrich a person’s life. It begs the question whether or not the same can be said for advanced and tribal communities, but that question isn’t answered quite as easily.
The Relic has a lot of great jump scares and tense moments. The film has a darkness about it, both in lighting and concept, which adds to its creep factor. As I mentioned previously, the creature is incredibly cool and vicious. There are gory parts with numerous decapitations throughout the film. It has all the elements a horror aficionado can appreciate and enjoy. For a film made in 1997, the CGI isn’t horrific, although it’s possible to see how it has improved over the years. Of course, I’m still a huge fan of films made with Claymation (Ray Harryhausen was another fantastic creature creator).
If you’re looking for a great creature feature with blood, gore, and a plausible enough story line, I recommend The Relic. Even if you’re not watching it for the in-depth messages and meanings, it’s still a highly entertaining film.
Pembroke Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci-fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming–the home of 56 nationalities–it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke currently lives in Columbus, Nebraska, with her husband, two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, two fluffy Corgis named Floki and Siggy, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest, most adorable kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up.
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Don’t miss DEATH TO THE UNDEAD (Life After the Undead Book 2)!