The Film: The Hidden
The Principles: Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri, Claudia Christian, Clu Gulager, Ed O’Ross, Richard Brooks and Chris Mulkey. Written by Jim Kouf (as Bob Hunt). Directed by Jack Sholder.
The Premise: L.A. homicide detective Tom Beck has his hands full when seemingly normal, law abiding citizens start going on violent crime sprees across the city. Things get stranger when he’s assigned to work with a mysterious FBI agent named Lloyd Gallagher to stop the bloody rampages. Turns out an evil alien creature has come to Earth that invades the bodies of innocent people and transforms them into remorseless killers who are fond of fast Ferraris, loud heavy metal music, junk food and murder.
Is it any good?: THIS MOVIE IS FUCKING AWESOME! I saw it in the theatres three times upon its initial release and snagged a VHS of it back in the day, which I wore out the tape heads on due to repeated viewing. It’s a very well directed, written and acted film with a really cool and original premise that mixes the buddy-cop formula with some gonzo sci-fi action resulting in an extremely exciting genre hybrid. It’s like 48 Hrs., John Carpenter’s The Thing and The Terminator had a one-night stand and this was the result.
The film opens with a high-velocity police chase as a man named Jack DeVries (the great Chris Mulkey) robs a bank, shoots a lot of guards and takes off in a black Ferrari. The stunt driving is unbelievable in this extended sequence and really starts the movie off with a huge bang – lots of crashed cop cars, an old man is run down in a wheelchair and two guys carrying a large plate of glass get fucked up very badly. After DeVries is shot multiple times and runs into a police barricade, he’s taken to the hospital and detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) can finally move on to a new case… or can he?
No, it turns out that the man who killed and robbed over thirty seven people in two weeks time is actually possessed by a homicidal extraterrestrial that travels from one human host to another. Once at the hospital the alien slithers its way into the body of a middle-aged heart attack victim in the next bed, who gets up and immediately starts looking for Ferraris, hard rock, loot and whatever else it wants, killing whoever gets in the way.
Enter a Porsche driving FBI agent named Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) who informs Beck that he’s been assigned to help him with this case. According to Gallagher, the deceased DeVries was part of a group of killers that were responsible for the death of his partner, wife and daughter. But soon, the weary homicide cop realizes that there’s something pretty bizarre happening here, even for L.A. The people robbing and murdering are all unrelated to each other and have absolutely no previous records of doing anything wrong. Also, why does it take dozens of gunshots to get these folks to slow their roll down a little? Finally, Gallagher comes clean and explains to his new partner what they’re dealing with and why he’s the only one who can stop it. It’s because the FBI agent is actually an alien himself who’s taken over a human body so that he can capture an outlaw he’s been searching the galaxy for. Meanwhile, the bad alien jumps into the body of a hot stripper (Claudia Christian), fucks a guy to death and steals his Cadillac. It’s gonna be a long night.
The film was written by Jim Kouf (Class, Up the Creek, Stakeout, Rush Hour, Snow Dogs, National Treasure) under the pseudonym Bob Hunt, which he also wrote the sequel The Hidden II and the slimy monster movie The Boogens under. It’s one lean, muscular script that puts you right into the action from the beginning. The plot continues to escalate, arriving at an explosive police department shoot out that travels to a press conference for a Senator announcing his intention to become the President. One problem: the psychotic alien possesses the popular Senator!
The underrated Michael Nouri is solid as the L.A. cop trying to make sense of the insanity, while a pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan is perfectly cast as the FBI agent from another world. This must have been a nice way to prepare himself for special agent Dale Cooper. Both play the relationship beautifully, as they very slowly bond over the course of the film, culminating in an ending that resonates deeply due to the care placed in the performances. MacLachlan underplays his scenes perfectly, combining an intense sense of purpose with a charming innocence. Ed O’Ross, the veteran character actor and contributor to a few films by Walter Hill and one by Stanley Kubrick, does a typically great job with his screen-time as one of Nouri’s cop buddies. Rounding out the rest of the cast is the legendary Clu Gulager (The Last Picture Show, Return of the Living Dead, Feast 1,2 & 3) as Lt. Ed Flynn and Richard Brooks (Law & Order) as fellow homicide cop Sanchez. The supporting players really add a lot of nice character developing moments throughout the film, propelling them above being merely one-dimensional utility roles. Oh yeah, Claudia Christian (Babylon 5) is both sexy and lethal as the exotic dancer who’s taken over by the alien. She has an awesome car chase and rooftop shootout, all while wearing a very revealing, skin-tight red dress.
This is director Jack Sholder’s masterpiece. He’s responsible for the senior citizens serial killer flick Alone in the Dark, the ridiculously homoerotic franchise follow-up A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge and the Kiefer Sutherland/Lou Diamond Phillips/Jami Gertz crime-action opus Renegades. Here he keeps things moving at a brisk pace, while setting a tone that never once feels campy. There’s a nice satirical stab at the excessive yuppie ideology of the Reagan era in the concept of a thrill killing alien whose tastes include hair metal, exotic cars, money and power. Also, Jacques Haitkin’s cinematography is as drop dead gorgeous as the work he did on the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is an 80’s movie that has aged very well and is still just as enjoyable to watch now as ever.
Is it worth a look?: If you’ve never seen it before, you really must. Unique, fun, exciting genre films like this one don’t come along much anymore. If you have seen it already then this neglected classic deserves a revisit pronto.
Random anecdotes: A young Danny Trejo makes an appearance towards the end of the film as a prisoner in the police jail who winds up getting shot when he mouths off to the rampaging alien. That dude has been around forever!
The alien’s favorite metal band is Concrete Blonde because they’re all over the soundtrack.
Cinematic soul mates: The Hidden II, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 48 Hrs., John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Terminator, Dead Heat, I Come in Peace and Fallen.