Some things are best left…hidden.
The Hidden takes some of the best action tropes and mixes them with an interesting sci-fi premise that yields a unique and fun film.
In what looks like a cross between sci-fi and horror, several normal, law-abiding citizens are caught doing very illegal acts, including robbery, and murder. It turns out that a space alien is using their bodies to hop around the planet and it’s up to a pair of police officers to stop it. Guns, explosions, and fast cars appear to be the key components in this film. What is The Hidden?
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
A man named Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey) violently robs a bank and then leads the police on a high speed chase through the city causing much more destruction. He approaches an LAPD road block and is shot by Detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) causing the driver to wreck. DeVries is taken to a hospital where he is not expected to survive the night from his injuries. Beck returns to the precinct where his boss Lt. John Masterson (Clarence Felder) assigns him to work with FBI Agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) to help find DeVries.
Back at the hospital, an ailing DeVries crawls on top of Jonathan Miller (William Boyett), a patient in the same room, and vomits a giant slug-like creature into the older man’s mouth before collapsing dead. Miller, a citizen who also has no criminal past, robs a music store, steals a red Ferrari, and kills several men. Beck is unhappy to be working with Gallagher, especially when after DeVries dies the FBI agent claims that Miller is now a suspect that they need to follow.
Miller, whose body is failing after a heart attack, finds a cache of automatic weapons at the business of the man he stole the car from, but begins to bleed out and begins to look very pasty. Beck, invites Gallagher to dinner even though he is upset at being given spotty and confusing information by the Agent. Gallagher mentions that his wife and daughter were killed by DeVries/Miller after having a few sips of beer. The men then seem to come to some sort of understanding.
Miller attends a strip club where he switches places with one of the strippers, Brenda (Claudia Christian), who is able to avoid the police. Gallagher realizes what must have happened and he and Beck follow the car Brenda stole and encounter her as she is opening fire with a machine gun on a couple of other cops. The chase concludes in a mannequin factory where Brenda, already wounded, leaps off the roof as Gallagher pulls out a small, silver weapon. By the time he reaches the body Brenda is dead and the thing possessing her has transferred into Lt Masterson’s dog.
Refusing to explain anything further, Gallagher is arrested by Beck, who thinks the FBI Agent is masquerading as his dead partner. Gallagher explains he’s an alien law-enforcement officer after an alien thrillkiller who is able to take over human bodies. Lt Masterson, having been attacked by his dog and now a host, comes for Gallagher in jail, shooting officers and using a rocket to blow a hole in the wall. Beck gives Gallagher his “gun” back and asks why he never used it. Gallagher explains that it won’t work on human flesh, only the actual alien. Masterson is injured enough that he dies, but the parasitic alien makes its way into Officer Willis (Ed O’Ross).
Willis is running security for Senator Holt’s (John McCann) visit. The alien hopes to be able to protect itself by getting into the Senator during the press conference. It does, but Gallagher is able to burst into the room with a flame thrower and torch the Senator as everyone witnesses the small slug-like alien leaving the body and getting zapped by Gallagher’s weapon. Later at the hospital, Gallagher is mostly recovered from his wounds, but Beck, who was shot by Willis, is not so lucky and dies. Gallagher decides to take over Beck’s body so that his family can keep their father and he can experience having a family again.
“You think it’s over now. It’s not.” – Brenda
History in the Making
The Hidden is a strange entry in the Sci-Fi Saturdays series. It’s a seemingly low-budget, mash-up of buddy-cop action films and a sci-fi premise. Two genres that had been combined throughout the decade so far, with mixed results. It featured Kyle MacLachlan in his third film, his second sci-fi film after Dune, and his first lead starring role, teaming up with Michael Nouri, an actor known for his roles as a police officer, as well as the romantic lead in Flashdance. It also served as an introduction for Claudia Christian, who would go on to renown in the sci-fi series Babylon 5. Director Jack Sholder was known for his horror films, having worked on Alone in the Dark and the second Nightmare on Elm Street film, Freddy’s Revenge, which helps explain the overt horror tones from this film.
Its status as a cult favorite is probably due, in some small part, to its gratuitous use of fast cars, hard music, and over-the-top stunts. The opening sequence seems to hit all the action tropes for a car chase plus with a couple dark twists. As DeVries speed through the city chased by police cars, he slides around corners, rams other cars, crashes through construction barriers, shatters a pane of glass carried by two workmen just in front of the pursuit, and the most insane moment, hits a pedestrian in a wheelchair tossing the chair into the air. This opening definitely sets the tone as not being an average action film, with hints of black comedy and comical violence (much like Robocop had). There’s no inkling of anything having to do with science-fiction for at least ten minutes, drawing in the audience to the adrenaline rush of the film.
From there, The Hidden introduces an interesting alien possession story that was not something that had been used much before. There was a sci-fi/horror film from 1986 called Night of the Creeps that features alien slugs that get inside people which may have inspired the premise here. But Sholder also seemed to take inspiration from other classic alien invasion films, like The Blob, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as John Carpenter’s The Thing to set up the idea that aliens could be anyone and anywhere. Audiences may also see similar elements of this story in future sci-fi/action or sci-fi/horror films including Alien Nation (where two cops, one human, one alien, team up to fight an alien criminal), Slither, and The Faculty where slug-like and bug-like aliens infect humans in order to do their dirty work.
As with recent films in this series, like Predator, The Hidden is primarily an action film, with sci-fi thrown in as a secondary element. As discussed above, the car chases follow the various tropes for action chases as seen in film and television. There’s also the hard edged cop with the weird partner (Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs.), a sense of urgency to catch up to the villain due to the large amount of bodies left in his wake, and the use of increasingly larger amounts of firepower in the shootouts. What starts with shotguns and revolvers, graduates to automatic weapons, a LAW rocket, and finally a portable flamethrower. The outrageousness of the action implies the filmmakers knew how crazy and potentially “cheap” the film could seem, so they purposefully went over the top to lean into the weird vibe provided by the script.
The two partners, placed together by dictate from the “top brass,” must learn to work together and trust each other. Gallagher is hiding some secrets about the true nature of his job because he knows that Beck won’t understand or believe him. Beck also has a chip on his shoulder having his case be usurped by a Federal official after he’s done all the hard work. Meanwhile the alien is able to go anywhere and do anything due to Gallagher’s lack of trust in the humans. This invulnerability, at least for the alien, allows for magnificent car chases, shoot outs, explosions, and other meyhem that action films usually get dinged for. In The Hidden, the character can get shot multiple times and still continue to walk around and fight, something that the typical Stallone or Schwarzenegger film received flak for.
The aspect of the alien hiding in plain sight was not a new idea. There were movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing that featured aliens that were able to masquerade as humans. They Live and V: The Miniseries were other films where a race of aliens in Los Angeles had nefarious plans to co-opt the humans as cattle. But the premise of an alien-slug moving from host to host was something that was new. It led to a little bit of a mystery about how these characters were going to track it down, and what its true purpose was. The alien, revealed in the first 15 minutes, gets the audience’s gears turning, hopefully allowing them to realize that Gallagher is an alien as well. But the film draws differences between the two species. Gallagher’s race is more compassionate and exists as a sparkly light, while the DeVries/Miller alien is a sickly looking slug that doesn’t care about killing or any sort of rule.
This dichotomy of the criminal vs the law plays out as a fun action film for audiences, but makes a commentary on the hedonistic lifestyle emerging in society at the time. The lack of impulse control that the alien has allows it to do what it wants, when it wants. It sees a radio, it takes it. Someone upsets it or gets in its way, it kills them. While a portion of this may seem enticing to the audience, most people understand that there are boundaries to society. Imagine if a large portion of the world had similar impulse control issues. Chaos would ensue. The Hidden demonstrates what the payment is for such a lifestyle. As the alien climbs the social hierarchy, working its way up to Senator, it leaves a string of dead bodies behind it, including the family of Agent “Gallagher,” and Detective Beck.
The grief over the lost family in “Gallagher’s” case causes him to lose objectivity with the hunt, as this case has become personal; something Beck mentions that he’s surprised that the Bureau allowed to continue. For some reason, Gallagher feels as if he must go this alone, and uses Beck as an access point to the LAPD resources, but fails to trust him on the real reasons for his hunt. That lack of communication is well founded since Beck does not believe him at first, even with the previously weird things he had seen. It’s only after he sees his friend and boss shot multiple times and continues walking around that he believes there may be something else going on.
In the end the two partners learn to work together and trust each other. In terms of a traditional police procedural, Gallagher even goes to great lengths to protect his partner’s family when Beck is killed in the line of duty. Having lost his own wife and daughter, Gallagher sees the joy that family has in Beck’s life. In the end, he assumes Beck’s body to continue honoring the man that sacrificed himself for this stranger from another world, as well as get back a small amount of what was lost to him. When Gallagher joins the Becks for dinner, he notes that their daughter is “special.” His use of the term with her unflinching stare at him seems to imply that she can see him for what he really is. She gives the same sort of look to “Beck” when he awakens in the hospital room. If she truly can see him, what a confusing and potentially weird relationship this will be. It could also be a setup for a sequel of sorts, which would happen in 1993, but only on video.
The Science in The Fiction
Besides the ability to transition between bodies, the only other aspect of alien technology is Gallagher’s silver gun. Looking like some organic, silver cochlea (or something from Buckaroo Banzai) the weapon is meant to kill the slug alien in its natural state. It doesn’t do anything to human flesh, as Gallagher demonstrates on Beck, which explains why he didn’t just shoot Brenda when he had the chance. He needs to wait for the alien to emerge from the host and can kill it only in-between bodies. It seems like a poor design, but maybe it only is ineffective on human tissue. There was discussion between the outlaw and the officer that they had a similar encounter on Altair, so perhaps the weapon works on some alien DNA, just not human. It’s interesting to note that the small size of the weapon, which packs a big punch, is very similar to the “Cricket” gun that Agent K provides to Will Smith’s character in Men in Black. It’s possible that it drew inspiration from The Hidden for that particular moment.
The Final Frontier
It’s unclear if The Hidden had any influence on David Lynch in casting Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI Agent from Seattle for his Twin Peaks TV series. It is at least a curious coincidence that he played a similar type of character in both of these roles. His Dale Cooper character had similar quirky mannerisms and the actor may have taken some of his performance for Gallagher to support that character.
The film did lead to a direct-to-video sequel in 1993 that featured the adult daughter of Beck, now a police officer, teaming up with her father (played by a new actor) as well as another officer, called MacLachlan presumably after Kyle MachLachlan in this film. It was poorly received and has nothing that made this film enjoyable or likable. It creates a here-to-fore unknown plot element to continue the story, intimating that the alien slug laid eggs to hatch sometime in the future, while it was doing all of its rampaging.
If you’re a fan of fast cars, loud rock music, and heavy action, and you haven’t seen The Hidden, I’m going to recommend it. It’s definitely a film of its time, but has a lot of fun moments and raises more questions than it answers. Those are two things that probably make it a cult classic. Films like Repo Man or Liquid Sky, which present aliens as akin to the counterculture movements of the time, create lots of strange moments but don’t feel the need to explain them all. That is the mark of a film with staying power since (hopefully) audiences will return again and again to try to figure the answers out.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.