Directed by Jack Shoulder
October 20, 1987
An FBI agent and a cop must work together to stop a series of seemingly unconnected individuals on crime sprees.
The Hidden is one of the better science-fiction films from the 80s. It is just so over-the-top and generally awesome and manages to be a fresh take on what was then the heavily travelled territory of the buddy cop film.
The buddy cop genre was big during that decade. They were cranking them out by the dozens then. Two mismatched people were thrown together on a case and they had to stop whatever bad guy was involved and that usually happened with the heavy use of guns and humor. Much like Alien Nation, which would come out the following year, this is a science-fiction spin on that very concept.
Michael Nouri (most notably of Flashdance fame) stars in this film as Det. Thomas Beck who during the opening scenes of the movie is shown trying to track down a man called Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey), an individual who about a week or two prior was considered quiet and mild-mannered but abruptly went about murdering and stealing cars. Flashy high-end cars. Usually Ferraris. Fun fact: reportedly they destroyed four of them during production of this film and that is just impressive.
Kyle MacLachlan stars as FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher who is hot on the trail of DeVries. Gallagher claims that DeVries is among several others who are all connected in a criminal conspiracy which he does not elaborate on and honestly until I started writing this, I did not think too much about him saying nothing. You would think a police officer would press on why they are all connected but given the events you just witnessed on screen you could understand why that question would not pop out immediately. Beck is suspicious of Gallagher but more along the lines of “Why is FBI agent horning in on my territory?” and not that he is hiding something.
This is a well-crafted film casually dropping important bits and pieces throughout the story until the finale. Early in the film a flamethrower is casually mentioned but not focused on as being confiscated during a gang arrest. Senator Holt (John McCann), a popular senator with possible presidential aspirations, shows up in a brief news blurb and lingers in the background via references due to an upcoming event in the area. He is important but how is not quite clear. You are not beaten over the head with anything. That is some very good filmmaking there. Nothing is out of left field. When it becomes important you are like “Oh crap!”
In this vein the film drops something rather significant in a rather casual character moment. Beck invites Gallagher over to his house for to meet his family at dinner. It is a moment meant to flesh out the characters, but it also establishes something for the final scene. They talk of the case and we learn that Gallagher’s wife and daughter were killed by the “people” Gallagher is pursuing.
Det. Beck introduces Agent Gallagher to his young daughter and something important occurs here. At least it is important for the ending of the film. It is obvious by the daughter’s reaction that she senses something is different with Gallagher. Think of it like the trope of children being able to see ghosts. She instinctively knows there is something not right which is what we the audience already knew.
Why is this important? I am not going to jump into it right away. First I’m doing to discuss the ending scenes because they are important before this is important. The alien wants to stay on Earth and even has designs on controlling the planet. It has set its sights on Sen. Holt and by the indications of the film that senator has a good shot at winning the presidency should he win. Not only would being president offer him indefinite protection from Gallagher, but it would give him a path to the level of power he craves. As the member of a body hopping species, he just needs to get close enough to literally find a way in.
And that leads to the finale. It is an insane explosion filled guns blazing body hopping action fest up until the ballroom at the press conference where Gallagher uses the flamethrower confiscated from the gang member earlier in the film to burn the senator’s body and force the alien out so he can shoot him with his special gun that only works on the alien flesh and not on human flesh.
During the conflict Beck is seriously wounded. Gallagher sustains a few shots as well and both are taken to the hospital. This brings us back to what happened with the daughter earlier in the film.
Gallagher gives Beck his life. He saves his life-or so you could think. It looks all positive and happy. However the little girl’s reaction to her father is telling. She reacts the same as she did to Gallagher earlier when Beck tries to get her to come over and hold his hand. It is not that Det. Beck was magically made better. It is that Beck died, and Gallagher took over the body. He took the place of Beck to get his old life back. A little weird. That is why the dinner moment is important.
One thing I appreciate is that these are not some human looking creature running around Earth as had been done many times before but rather they are body hopping thing that look like a cat hairball. And that is gross looking. We get our first look at the movie’s villain early on in a scene shortly after the beginning of the film. DeVries is in the hospital and critically injured after the opening events. Knowing that his current body will not survive he hops into the body of a heart patient (William Boyett) in the bed next to him. Boyett is in a significant portion of the film as the thrill killing alien and deservedly earned a great deal of praise for his performance. It is bizarre and highly engaging and very entertaining.
This is all mixed in with the usual tropes of the buddy cop genre. And they come from Gallagher! His partner and family were killed and he is not only on a quest for revenge but a quest for justice. That plot point was more common back then than a DC hater among MCU fans.
It is obvious from the get-go that Kyle McLaughlin’s Beck is also an alien, but they do not beat you over the head with it. It is little things mostly like his mannerisms that clue you in. One clue that he is an alien is that he is an FBI agent driving a Porsche (a flashy car) much like the man he is after who is driving Ferraris. Not only is it an indication that he is an alien, but it indicates that there is something about the species that draws them to sports cars rather than just a less conspicuous vehicle. Gallagher also has trouble with the small human things and that is what really lets the audience know what is going on.
The Hidden is a fun action romp. It is well acted and very well scripted with some themes of what it means to be human. More importantly they take time to build their narrative and do not waste time with pointless fluff. They leap straight into the action and story and do not stop. Director Jack Shoulder turned in a solid film from what should have been an otherwise forgettable story.
This movie when it was released slipped under the radar and I think still largely is unknown despite its unique take on the genre. Aside from our leads and the performance of William Boyett, The Hidden has a solid supporting cast with the likes of Ed O’Ross as Det. Cliff Willis and 80s film fixture Clu Gulager as Lt. Ed Flynn filling in significant roles with a young Danny Trejo making a brief appearance as a prisoner in a cell. There is just the right amount of humor and there is a consistent and strong internal logic which keeps you involved from beginning to end.
The Hidden is a fantastic overlooked gem. It deserves to be more than a cult classic. It has a great story and a great script and perfect use of practical effects. Watch it!