(1987) Directed by Jack Sholder; Written by Jim Kouf (as Bob Hunt); Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri, Claudia Christian, Clu Gulager, Ed Ross and William Boyett; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“In a span of 12 hours, I’ve got five bodies, not counting Miller, who dies because he runs out of blood. A stripper screws some guy to death, steals his car, and takes off. All of this in 12 hours. I wanna ask you, am I crazy, or does this seem just a little bizarre?” – Tom Beck (Michael Nouri)
One of the ubiquitous staples of the 1980s was the cop buddy film, featuring two partners who couldn’t be more ill-suited for each other (the more mismatched, the better). In director Jack Sholder’s sci-fi actioner The Hidden, someone decided, why not make one of the cops an extraterrestrial (a mini-trope that would continue with the following year’s Alien Nation)? Sholder’s modestly budgeted film was shot in various locations around Los Angeles – an ideal place for an antagonist that craves excess.
In the opening scene, we witness a robbery in progress, viewed from the low-res, black-and-white perspective of a bank’s security camera. After departing the bank and fatally shooting a guard, the assailant (Chris Mulkey) promptly hops in a Ferrari 308.* The resulting chase winds through city streets, a park (shot in MacArthur Park), ending in a police blockade and shootout. The captured suspect, now hanging onto life in an intensive care ward, has another trick up his sleeve. We discover that he’s merely a vessel for a creature living inside. Before he expires, the alien being finds another unwilling host, and what should have been the end of the story is only the beginning for Los Angeles police detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri). The growing string of murders, thefts and assaults prompt FBI intervention, much to Beck’s disdain. The visiting agent (who seems to know more about what they’re dealing with than he’s telling) and irascible cop form an uneasy alliance, in pursuit of the elusive criminal.
* Fun Fact #1: According to Sholder (in his Warner Archive Blu-ray commentary), the producers tried to talk him into using a cheaper car such as a Corvette, but the director insisted on smashing up a Ferrari. Four cars were utilized for the production: an incomplete “shell” the filmmakers could blow up, one in fair shape, and two in good condition.
The film’s premise (a hedonistic creature that jumps from body to body, using and abusing its host bodies until they’re of no further use), necessitates passing the baton from one actor to another. Sholder skillfully manages to keep the performances relatively consistent as the creature jumps from character to character (including a dog). While each actor brings his or her own inflection to the table (a believable byproduct of the host organisms’ residual personality/identity), all of the performances share some common traits: impulsivity, absence of affect, and a devilish flick of the tongue. When the creature jumps to the body of an overweight, middle-aged man (William Boyett), he’s the embodiment of midlife crisis, amplified to extremes. In one comic scene, he sits in a family diner, blasting his boombox, oblivious to the irritated stares of the other patrons. His attention is soon diverted by a flashy red convertible, which he soon obtains through nefarious means. In a later scene, when the alien finds a new host, in the body of a stripper (played by Claudia Christian, several years before she would star in Babylon 5), it uses its newly acquired feminine charms as a weapon.
Outside of the flashy red cars, the color green predominates the urban landscape. Production designers C.J. and Mick Strawn avoided blue, whenever possible, painting the walls a sickly shade of green throughout, to create a slightly unsettling effect (according to Sholder). The filmmakers used the old Lincoln Heights jail building,* incorporating the police office sets into the existing structure. Compared to many other genre films, the effects work is sparse but memorable. The briefly seen creature effects by Kevin Yagher Productions (including future KNB Effects co-founder, Howard Berger) hold up especially well. The effects are suitably nauseating, as the parasitic alien makes its appearance.
* Fun Fact #2: Eagle-eyed viewers will undoubtedly spot Danny Trejo, in a miniscule early role, as one of the jail’s occupants.
The Hidden follows the conventions of many buddy copy movies, without falling victim to most of the usual clichés. The primary distinction (and it’s a big one), is that Jack Sholder’s film never takes itself too seriously, with moments of humor peppered throughout. It also has heart, best illustrated when Lloyd visits Beck’s family, lamenting the wife and daughter that he lost to the alien criminal. With its body-jumping plot, amidst the L.A. backdrop, the film provides a sly commentary about image, mass-consumerism, and disposable culture. True to its name, The Hidden has slipped through the cracks in recent years, but it deserves to be re-discovered and enjoyed by a new generation of genre fans.