One of my favorite movies of all time is The Hidden, from 1987.
This is the movie that got Kyle MacLachlan cast in Twin Peaks. It was made by the same crew that did Nightmare on Elm Street. If, by some fluke, you’ve never experienced it, allow me to make a case for why it’s probably the greatest film ever made.
Kyle MacLachlan is mysterious FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher. Michael Nouri is the L.A.P.D. detective stuck working with him, investigating a weird string of robberies and murders. You see, an extraterrestrial entity is taking over people’s bodies, and making them kill. This alien also enjoys heavy metal, Ferraris, and high-powered assault weapons.
Yes, while the alien is controlling a human body, it kills for fun, boosts expensive sportscars, and head-bangs. It plays real-life GTA until the host body is too shot up and damaged, at which point it has to corral another one. It can only be destroyed when it’s between bodies. When it is, your girlfriend will bolt from the room. It’s fucking terrifying.
The opening sequence is a marvel. First we see security camera footage of a violent bank robbery. Once your eyes have adjusted to the grainy video, the robber smiles and shoots the camera. The shock cut to outside is disturbingly vivid in its sudden clarity. And oh, what a sweeping crane shot as the robber speeds off in a black Ferrari, cuing a percolating herd of extras to flag down police.
The musical score is totally excellent. Michael Convertino knocks himself out on the instrumentals, using warm synth gardens for the home scenes, and harsh percussive stabs for the action. It sounds like a one-up on Brad Fiedel’s work for The Terminator, from 1984. Classic scenes like the old man taping up his arm to hold in the alien, and the final conclusion in the hospital, wouldn’t have half the emotional and visceral impact without Convertino’s score.
The soundtrack of songs is equally terrific; it was even available on I.R.S. Records, founded by Miles Copeland III, brother of Stewart. I myself was an I.R.S. fanatic, thanks to their series of No Speak LPs. These were albums spotlighting instrumental music, which I’ve always preferred to vocal. This was where Stewart Copeland’s The Equalizer and Other Cliffhangers appeared, as well as William Orbit and Wishbone Ash. For The Hidden, I.R.S. provided great glam-metal like Shok Paris, whose “On Your Feet” is played by the robber (on cassette!) as he makes his high-speed escape.
If you can watch that opening scene and not want to see the rest of the movie, you are possibly made of stone. I mean, come on. There’s two guys carrying a sheet of glass, and some poor bastard in a wheelchair getting mowed down. And oh, the shotguns. A barrage of shotguns.
I would honestly prefer you discover The Hidden on your own, so I’m just going to touch on my favorite moments here. Not that the film could be “spoiled”; this is honestly the best sci-fi actioner around*. As great as The Terminator is, I suspect New Line was aiming to top that movie, and as far as I’m concerned, they succeeded.
(*Predator came out the same year. I would say Predator is, in the final analysis, superior.)
THE ALIEN TRANSFER
As I said, when the alien has ridden a human body into the ground, it has to transfer into a new one. If you look closely, you’ll notice that everyone that’s under the alien’s control licks their lips. Even the dog. It’s a chilling detail that I didn’t pick up on until repeat viewings.
Anyway, once the coast is clear, the alien exposes itself in the hospital, transferring from a dying man to one who’s dying less quickly, of a bad heart. You get a glimpse of what the thing actually looks like.
Every female I have watched this with completely freaked out.
It’s entirely practical effects, no CGI, and it’s more effective than anything I’ve seen in the past twenty years. Seriously, check out the production footage of the creature on the DVD; it’s queasily authentic-looking. The effects during the film’s climax, featuring an even more horribly burned person, are award-worthy. Only the raygun beams look a bit dodgy, and that’s alien tech, so who cares?
THE OLD MAN WITH A BAD HEART
Mr. Miller, the old man now hosting the alien, walks out of the hospital where he’d been diagnosed with severe gastritis and scheduled for a triple bypass. Despite these issues, he runs amok, beating a music store clerk to death and boosting a boom box to play metal on. He proceeds to carry this object everywhere he goes in L.A., on full blast, even while inside a family diner. Every second of this is fantastically hilarious.
Miller follows a Ferrari to an import dealership, and thus another classic scene unfolds; the “I Want This Car” scene.
The alien wants the car. He is told, numerous times, politely at first, that the car is sold. By the sleazy manager, by the prospective buyer, by a large black gentleman. He wants the car. Finally, the large black gentleman escorts Miller off the lot, and says “I won’t be as friendly next time.”
Inside the office, the dealer and the buyer are celebrating the transaction with a mound of cocaine, dispensed out of the back of a toy replica Lamborghini. I adore this movie. Deeply and without shame.
Everyone is massacred and robbed by the alien-controlled Miller. Later, while inspecting the crime scene, Michael Nouri’s black partner calls the guy in the white suit “the wop”. Look at that greaseball. He turns out to be connected to an arms dealer, and he’s casually buying a Ferrari Mondial in 1987. That’s a total wop. That’s the next evolution of the “Guido”.
The arms dealer connection leads Miller to a stockroom, loaded with cached assault weapons and ammo. This is one of the film’s many high points. Miller fingers the breast of an imported statue, foreshadowing a later obsession, and stumbles across a stereo turntable. He switches it on, and a B.J. Thomas type begins to softly play guitar and warble:
I believe in sunshine, even through the rain
I believe in happiness, when I’m goin’ through the pain
The alien has the same reaction that I or anyone with ears would.
All the excitement agitates Miller’s condition, and he begins to have that massive coronary the doctors warned him about. If the host body dies here, alone, the alien will be trapped, so it begins to panic, involuntarily bursting a tentacle out of Miller’s forearm. The actor (William Boyett) commits fully to the depiction of the attack, and the effects, as I said, are sterling. Combined with Convertino’s music, this scene never fails to raise every hair on my neck.
Miller tapes up the wound, and makes his way to the Harem Room, where I first discovered Claudia Christian. It’s possible you did too. When The Hidden aired on TV, the commercials would splice in a few seconds of Ms. Christian crawling seductively on the club’s catwalk. This is what I was referencing in the Moby strip. Some notes:
- Based on her appearance in this single film, Claudia Christian is one of the hottest women I have ever seen. It is borderline incomprehensible.
- As stripper Brenda Lee Van Buren, Ms. Christian goes from wearing fuck-me boots and a gauzy half-shirt where the borders of her areolae are just visible to a skin-tight red dress with a peek-a-boo back, and she just. Gets. Hotter.
- The first things the alien does in Christian’s body are fuck a man to death for his car, and make her feel herself up. The latter is exactly what any organism would do while in control of Claudia Christian’s body.
I saw Claudia Christian in person at a DragonCon around 2000. She was there based on her popular role in Babylon 5. She passed me wrapped in a bathrobe, hair pulled back, maybe angry at someone behind me. All of my man-fuses popped in one swoop. I think that was the same convention where I met Andrea Thompson from NYPD Blue, and almost literally began pulling cash from my pocket to make her continue speaking. Holy shit, do you remember that woman’s voice? We had Wendie Malick as well, back in the 90s, and no clue how good we had it.
Okay. Back to earth!
Christian’s performance as the alien host is even better than Boyett’s. The shootout on the roof of the Neptune building has to be seen to be believed. The way Brenda utters “I’m not coming out yet” is bone-chilling, and good God, she eats a ton of lead.
ED O’ROSS AS DETECTIVE WILLIS
The supporting cast is full of gems, like Nouri’s black partner, whom I mentioned (Richard Brooks), Lt. Masterson (Clarence Felder), and Detective Willis, played by Ed O’Ross, one of my favorite character actors. This is his best movie outside of Dick Tracy, where he was Itchy Oliver. O’Ross has such a great mug, he barely needed prosthetics. His nose and eyes are the definition of “piercing”.
You might also recall O’Ross from Lethal Weapon, where he inquired if Gary Busey’s Mister Joshua came from “Psychos R Us”.
Michael Nouri’s Detective Beck, the lead opposite MacLachlan, is kind of the weak link, if you want to be over-critical. He never quite rises to the energy level of the others. This isn’t a bad thing, as he’s meant to be a burned-out skeptic. But he has a tendency to drag the momentum down, so that some of the early scenes in the police station come off rather flat. He’s brusque, peevish, and not especially likable. He has to literally be shot with an alien weapon to get with the program.
Beck’s wife is 1980s housewife-hot, despite the less-than-flattering 1980s wardrobe she gets. They have a daughter, probably the single reason Beck keeps on with his life. There’s an incredible scene at the end, that leaves open to discussion what exactly happened. Is Beck himself? Or has he been taken over, to cheat death for the benefit of his family?
If you look closely, you’ll notice appearances from Danny Trejo and Lin Shaye, the lustful landlady from Kingpin. A high-powered senator who resembles John Kerry is overtaken by the alien, and delivers a line far more terrifying now than it was in 1987:
“I want to be president.”
The Hidden is easily in my top five Favorite Movies of All Time. It tends to live up to its name, in that it’s not as widely known as it deserves to be. Roger Ebert called it “a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Terminator“, which is utterly apt, but I’d argue that it’s superior to those excellent films.
If you haven’t seen it, it is a must.