The Relic (1997)
and the novel
The Kothoga, originally known as “Mbwun” (translation: “He Who Walks On All Fours”), is a ferocious, bloodthirsty, and aggressive ancient creature.
This monster was named “Mbwun” (translation: “He Who Walks On All Fours”). It is worth noting that this translation matches the Navajo name for a Skinwalker (yee naaldlooshii) or, “With it, He goes on all fours.” Description (at best) is a “scaly primate.” Characterized by an unusual smell and glowing red eyes. The DNA of this creature includes gecko genes. Is described as being “as fast as a greyhound with the intelligence of a human.” Was much stealthier than its movie counterpart. Received more sympathy in the novel; both Margo and Ian Cuthbert described it as “lonely” and “sad”. Used to be archaeologist Julian Whittlesey. Transformation time may have been the same, but the time from arrival in New York to killing humans is measured in years rather than weeks, and begins with small animals. There is some evidence of the monster retained some sentimental feelings of his human life. The packing crate that contained the Mbwun plant the monster needed was stored for a time at the museum and allowed the monster to survive without killing. Only after the crate and dried plants were moved beyond its reach did it turn to killing.
The creature’s skull and hide were durable enough that bullets fired at its head were deflected. It is finally killed by Agent Pendergast who shoots it through its eye socket with a large caliber handgun.
Named “Kothoga” (the name was used for the tribe worshipping/creating Mbwun in the novel). Is more massive and somewhat insect-like, it has large mandibles sprouting form the side of its face, similar to a stag beetle, resembles a reptilian tiger and walks and runs like a big cat. It had a hairy spine and a forked tongue, with long and curvy sharp teeth, it also has a long and flexible reptillian tail. Instead of red, its eyes are green. There was also very little sympathy towards it. Used to be archaeologist John Whitney, and it has subtle human features as it has wide shoulders, and a human like forehead. Began killing humans almost immediately upon arrival in Chicago and actually killed the crew of the ship that brought it to the city. The crate containing the plant was destroyed almost immediately upon arrival in the museum in Chicago as a precaution against possible biohazard.
The Kothoga is an ancient creature little known to the civilized world. Rare in the extreme, the Kothoga is only known by a few remote South American tribes. These tribes believed the Kothoga to be the son of Satan, sent to protect them from their enemies. Although modern science has disproved these myths, the Kothoga is nonetheless a very real and deadly species.
Deep within the remotest parts of Brazil, there exists a form of parasitic fungus which is known to grow only on one species of plant. The fungus is loaded with animal hormones and, through a virus, infects the plant. The virus takes over some of the plants cells and inserts its own viral genetic material, heavily lacing the leaves with animal proteins.
These proteins are responsible for growth, bone structure, exoskeletal physiology and skin maintenance. A huge influx of these proteins to any organism which eats the leaves causes dramatic physical changes as the virus introduces foreign genes into the hosts DNA. There are many examples of this happening in the earth based animal world, for example a salamander can turn into a frog through viral infection. These particular proteins cause a metamorphism in the animal, creating a chimera – a creature which is a combination of animals.
In evolution most species are believed to have evolved gradually through natural selection, however there are periods of sudden and radical change where grotesque, aberrant, short lived species suddenly emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. Most of them die out very quickly, but some don’t. The Kothoga is one such resilient creature.
When threatened by an enemy, the South American tribes would feed the leaves to a member of the tribe, transforming them into a terrible beast. They became the Kothoga. However, the Kothoga needs the hormones present in the leaves in order to survive. The tribe would continue to feed the Kothoga the leaves until it became large and deadly enough. At this point they would stop feeding the Kothoga and go into hiding, leaving it to find a supplement for the hormones it required.
The hormones contained in the leaves are the same as those produced by the human hypothalamus (a portion of the brain), but 100 times more concentrated. Thus the Kothoga, when starved of leaves, turns to hunting for human brains. Once every human that can be found is dead, the Kothoga will die without the hormones it needs. To get at the hypothalamus, the Kothoga will decapitate its prey, punching a hole in the back of the head through which it extracts the brain.
The Kothoga is a large creature which appears to have many forms of animal DNA. It is part reptilian, part mammalian, part homo sapien, and even part insect. Measuring 15 feet from nose to tail, standing some 5 feet tall and weighing over 150 pounds, the Kothoga is a fearsome beast. It has 80 bones in its skeleton; four legs ending is sharp, clawed feet; and a slender tail which it uses to balance. The Kothoga is covered in a thick reptilian scaly hide, and has a central line of fur and hair running along its back. It has small, beady eyes, though its senses are excellent, and a forked tongue (which it may be able to sample to air with like a snake). The Kothoga’s mouth is filled with sharp, slicing teeth and is completed by mandibles like the mouth parts of a spider, though enlarged to enormous proportions. It is these spider-like mouth parts that the Kothoga uses to grip prey by their neck before ripping out the hypothalamus.
The Kothoga is a very fast, strong and powerful creature. It can swim easily and is capable of holding its breath for extended periods. It can climb up vertical walls and across overhangs and can leap great distances. Like reptiles, the Kothoga is ectothermic, meaning that it cannot stand extreme temperatures.
In and around a fictionalized version of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, a few select characters must solve a string of brutal murders that take place inside the museum during the days preceding the opening of “Superstition”, a spectacular blockbuster exhibition.
Evidence begins to point suspiciously to a doomed expedition undertaken by the museum several years earlier to the Brazilian rainforest in search of the lost Kothoga tribe. It becomes apparent that behind the murders is Mbwun (translation: “He Who Walks On All Fours”)—the Kothoga Tribe’s crazed lizard god, whose father happens to be a demon analogous to Satan, according to the Kothoga legend. A relic depicting Mbwun is to be shown for the first time at the upcoming exhibition.
It also appears that several museum leaders had known about previous murders on the museum’s premises and that they had conspired to keep these murders a secret so as not to damage the reputation of the museum.
The story picks up where the epilogue of Relic left off. 2 headless skeletons are found in the Humboldt Kill. When further decapitated bodies follow, there is suspicion of a second Mbwun monster. Major characters from the original book team up with new ones to solve the puzzle. The mystery soon leads underground to the Mole people, and even deeper towards enigmatic beings called the Wrinklers. In the end, it is revealed that the Wrinklers are led by Frock, who has refined a modified version of the Mbwun plant, created by Kawakita to regain the use of his legs. Kawakita also gave the drug to the people who were to become the Wrinklers, later made into his tribe by Frock. After going underground, the group kills them with an explosion, vitamin D infused water and a flood.
Dr. John Whitney, an anthropologist for the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is studying a newly discovered tribe known as the Zenzera 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.
6 weeks later, the ship arrives on the Illinois River, with its crew missing. Chicago PD homicide detective Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta is assigned to investigate the ship. His partner, Sgt. Hollingsworth 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, 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 who is a firm believer in the Calisto Effect, 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 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 man 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 served 2 terms of hard time on charges of rape and assault, 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 October 29, as the night of the opening has begun, 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 the Blaisedale Foundation whose owners George Blaisedale and his wife Harriet of 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.
Actually, there are two museum monsters in the movie; the other is a bug which eats the Kothoga plant and, as a result, becomes a massive and hideous exaggeration of itself.