The Hidden (1987)
With a shocking heist and car chase, the film blasts the viewer into the action. This doesn’t let up for the first ten minutes. At first, one may think that Jack Sholder's The Hidden is just another 80s action flick. But after the cool down
With a shocking heist and car chase, the film blasts the viewer into the action. This doesn’t let up for the first ten minutes. At first, one may think that Jack Sholder’s The Hidden is just another 80s action flick. But after the cool down from the initial scene, one realizes one has also entered the realm of sci-fi horror.
After helming the slashers Alone in the Dark and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, director Jack Sholder shifted genres. Combining buddy cop action, dry humor, and an intergalactic twist, he gave New Line Cinema a modest box office success that most critics at the time received favorably. What makes The Hidden stand out from the other alien body-horror thrillers of the time is the script’s reflection on what humanity is and should be. It contrasts hedonism with the desire for connection with others, particularly through family.
Sholder could not properly handle the theme without the effort of the actors. After the exciting opening on the Los Angeles streets, we see the realistic camaraderie at LAPD headquarters. With the banter back and forth, one can tell that the officers truly care for each other. The atmosphere may seem stereotypical in the context of a wake of other police procedurals. We start with the sarcastic hysterics of the lieutenant as he deals with the FBI involvement. Yet, Sholder employs humor, which he sprinkles throughout the film, that is not over-the-top unlike the action. This keeps the officers dealing with the mysterious body-hopping threat looking competent rather than buffoonish.
The best interactions are between the two main investigators, Det. Thomas Beck (Michael Nouri) and FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan). Nouri portrays a tough officer who wants to do what it takes to stop the ongoing mayhem but hates being out of the loop. Still, despite his somewhat gruff demeanor, the film eventually reveals a tender love for his wife and daughter. MacLachlan is the individual standout performer. He must play Gallagher with a mysterious, alien air who seemingly has dropped out of nowhere into the investigation. Gallagher shows a naïve honesty that is still hiding that he knows more than he’s letting on. This leads to funny snippets of dialogue as police partners.
It also leads to touching scenes such as when Beck invites Gallagher to his home for dinner. We see a sweet awkwardness as he takes sense of his surroundings and tries to engage with the Becks. We also note there must be a tragic backstory for Gallagher as he observes their daughter. It’s no wonder that David Lynch would later select him to portray Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.
Although the spotlight is on Beck and Gallagher, the pursuit itself would fall flat without a memorable antagonist. This could go quickly awry as the antagonist is an alien parasite controlling human hosts. The actors portraying the human hosts thus must be both individualized but also display a similar nonchalant attitude to the host body and others. They also need to exhibit a wonder at some of the more materialistic and tawdry aspects of humanity. All the possessed characters manifest this to degrees of success. However, the standouts are Jonathan Miller (William Boyett) and Brenda Lee Van Buren (Claudia Christian). Miller steals the show as an unhealthy middle-aged man pursuing whatever he sees. It’s like the id run rampant. Brenda stuns as an exotic dancer turned Terminator-like being. She engages the duo in both another thrilling car chase and following shoot-out.
This brings us to what most will likely view as the crowd-drawing aspect of the feature: the action. As mentioned before, the film immediately starts with a shocking heist and chase. Sholder decides to go from grainy bank security cam footage to a short transition to bright, sunny L.A. streets. He follows this with stunning shots of the fleeing Ferrari as it recklessly terrorizes the city streets. Throughout the film, there is further interesting focus on vehicles, including Gallagher’s equally eye-catching Porsche. This, combined with the ambulatory mayhem the alien forces its hosts to commit, leaves the audience little time to relax.
However, the quiet moments do allow for the audience to catch their breath. It’s during these moments that I believe that Sholder wants to contemplate the underlying theme. That theme is revolves around what it means to lead a fulfilling life as a human. The antagonistic alien parasite shows what happens when selfishness takes control. It not only destroys others, but it damages the host beyond repair. Gallagher, however, shows concerns for Beck and his family though they are new acquaintances. The thought is to choose to see what is more important: human connection or the pursuit of heedless desires.
The only gripe that I have is with parts of the score. There are stretches of beauty, particularly during the interaction of Gallagher with Beck’s family. However, the synth work often feels tinny. This is not a solitary problem with this film. From the late 80s to the early 90s, a lot of synth scores sound hollow compared to earlier in the 80s. Perhaps, it’s due to the shift from analog to digital. However, it can be distracting. Fortunately, the “alien” nature of the plot occasionally complements the dissonance. It would just be better if the keys had a richer tone. The soundtrack, on the other hand, plainly rocks. Special props to The Truth and the title track “Hidden.”
New Line Cinema was fortunate to have The Hidden in its roster of films. Being “the house that Freddy built,” there’s little that holds up outside of cult status during the studio’s early years. There’s the Nightmare and Critters series, and even those had some duds. With its thrilling set-pieces, atmospheric L.A. location, and interesting character interaction, this thematic but not pretentious genre-mesh deserves greater visibility.