Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey), a quiet citizen with no criminal past, robs a Los Angeles Wells Fargo bank, kills all of the security guards inside, and leads the Los Angeles Police Department on a high-speed chase. The chase ends when DeVries encounters a police blockade overseen by detective Thomas Beck (Michael Nouri). DeVries is shot several times, smashes through the blockade and crashes the Ferrari he is driving. DeVries is taken to a hospital, where a doctor informs Beck and his partner, Det. Cliff Willis (Ed O’Ross) that DeVries is not expected to survive the night.
Upon his return to LAPD headquarters, Beck and his supervisor, Lt. John Masterson (Clarence Felder), meet FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan), who informs them that Beck has been assigned to work with Gallagher to track down DeVries. When told of DeVries’s condition, Gallagher rushes off to the hospital.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, DeVries suddenly awakens. Disconnecting his life-support equipment, he approaches the comatose man in the next bed, Jonathan P. Miller (William Boyett). After DeVries forces Miller’s mouth open, a slug-like alien emerges from DeVries’ mouth and transfers itself into Miller’s body. Gallagher arrives to find DeVries dead on the floor and Miller’s bed abandoned. Gallagher tells Beck to put out an alert on Miller, who refuses, because of Miller’s lack of a criminal history.
Miller goes to a record store where he beats the store’s owner to death. He then goes to a car dealership, where he kills three men and steals a red Ferrari. He then visits a strip club, where the alien leaves Miller’s body and takes over the body of a stripper named Brenda (Claudia Christian). Gallagher asks police to track Brenda when he sees her picture next to Miller’s body. Brenda is then propositioned by a cat-caller, she accepts and follows him to his car. They proceed to have vehicular sex in a parking lot which results in his death. She then takes his car. Gallagher and Beck pursue her to a rooftop, where they mortally wound her in a gun battle. As Brenda dies, Gallagher points a strangely-shaped, alien weapon at her; however, she leaps from the roof. As Masterson arrives from his house to take charge of the scene, the alien transfers itself from Brenda’s dying body to Masterson’s dog.
Frustrated by Gallagher’s continuing refusal to explain the strange phenomenon of ordinary citizens turning into crazed killers, Beck arrests him and puts him in a jail cell. Beck soon learns that “Gallagher” is an imposter, impersonating the real agent Gallagher, who is dead. When Beck confronts “Gallagher” with this information, “Gallagher” tells him that he (“Gallagher”) is an extraterrestrial lawman and that they are in fact pursuing an alien thrill killer who has the ability to take over human bodies. Beck dismisses the story as insane and leaves “Gallagher” incarcerated in a jail cell at the police station.
Back at Masterson’s house, the alien leaves the dog’s body and takes over the lieutenant’s body. In the morning Masterson goes to the police station and seizes a number of weapons, sparking a shootout between himself and the station’s police officers as he attempts to track down “Gallagher”. Convinced of “Gallagher”‘s story due to Masterson’s immunity to excessive bullet wounds, Beck releases him from his cell, and the two confront Masterson. During the resulting shootout, Masterson confirms that “Gallagher” is an alien law enforcer named Alhague who has been pursuing the alien ever since it murdered his family and his partner on another planet. Though Beck manages to stop Masterson, Alhague/Gallagher reveals that his weapon can’t kill the alien when it’s inside a Human body as the weapon doesn’t work on Human skin, thus requiring him to be present when it is transferring hosts. They are unable to stop the alien from abandoning Masterson’s body for that of Beck’s partner Willis, who then escapes the station.
Using Willis’ credentials, the alien tries to gain access to Senator Holt, a likely presidential candidate, at the hotel where the senator is staying. Alhague/Gallagher and Beck follow Willis, and a shootout ensues between Beck and Willis, during which Beck is severely wounded. As Willis, the alien corners Senator Holt and enters his body before Alhague/Gallagher can stop him. “Holt” then calls a press conference and announces his candidacy for the presidency. Alhague/Gallagher is forced to attack Holt in the middle of the press conference; though shot several times by the police and the senator’s bodyguards, Alhague/Gallagher is able to get close enough to use a flamethrower on Holt. As the alien emerges from Holt’s charred body shocking everybody, Alhague/Gallagher kills it with his weapon before himself collapsing.
Taken to the hospital where Beck is being treated, Alhague/Gallagher discovers that Beck is close to death. Witnessing the emotional suffering of Beck’s wife and daughter, Alhague/Gallagher transfers his life force from Gallagher to Beck as Beck dies. When she sees her miraculously “recovered” father, Beck’s daughter initially hesitates when he reaches out to her, but then smiles and takes his hand.
For director Jack Sholder, the screenplay for New Line Cinema’s HIDDEN was a case of love at first sight. “It was one of the best scripts I’ve read,” he said of his latest feature. “It had humor, imagination, an unrelenting pace and good characters. Basically. I read the script and thought. Gee, I’d like to see this movie, so I figured it’d be great to see it and have my name on it.” He took an immediate liking to Bob Hunt’s script, about a human inhabiting alien called Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) who teams up with police detective Beck (Michael Nouri) to track down an evil insectoid alien who possesses the bodies of humans, including that of an old man, called Wallis, and a beautiful hooker.
“The script contained a lot of thriller elements. It’s a cop movie with an unusual element and has a great thrust to it. There are two good characters and it’s the kind of script I might have written.’
“You never quite know how things will be received,” he says. “I was making this film and kept hearing about how good it was. The cast and everybody else were really pumped up. But it still could have been released and pronounced a big pile of shit. You just don’t know. “The reason I thought it could be a good picture,” he continues, “was that the script (by Jim Kouf, using the pseudonym Bob Hunt) contained something beyond the horror. For me, it was about what it meant to be a hell raising Earthling with Ferraris and heavy metal while the good alien was with the family and learning about love. That’s the heart of the movie, and that’s how I try to approach things.”
The creature is an evil alien who takes over the bodies of humans, forcing them to rob banks, kill people and wreck Ferraris, among other things. It may require a bit of a mental leap, but Kouf says he originally intended Hidden as a possible explanation for random violence. “Basically, I was thinking along the lines of unexplained murders, all that stuff that goes on in society that just goes unsolved. This was just a wild explanation for that,” he laughs. “If I hadn’t told you, you probably never would’ve gotten that from the script, but that’s just what I was writing about. It worked for me. I couldn’t think of any way to make that come out in the movie without it being hokey.”
THE HIDDEN wasn’t Kouf’s first brush with the genre. As Hunt he also re-wrote the script for THE BOOGENS (1981), a monster film that showed his penchant for inventive action in one scene the monsters eat someone’s pet dog. a real taboo. Kouf used the “Bob Hunt” pseudonym because “being a young writer, I was afraid that if I did that horror film it was all I was ever going to get. “Kouf worked three weeks on the script and took the pen name from one of the characters in UTILITIES, another script he wrote at the time with his partner David Greenwald. Jim Kouf, although he strove to keep a serious undercurrent in writing characterization for THE HIDDEN’s aliens. Said Kouf, “The only stuff on which I kind of choked was when I had two aliens talking to each other in English in the script. What do they say? How much of their past do they get into? I didn’t want to do a whole lot of that because I didn’t want the audience to gag on junk, so I kept it pretty much dealing with their life on Earth.” By “junk” Kouf means he largely avoided, at least in the case of the villain, whether the aliens had wives, children, or families.
“If you really get into creating what these beings are, you run the risk of becoming silly,” said Kouf, “unless you can show it, as in ALIEN. Imagine meeting that alien on Earth, and having it tell you about all the bad things it’s done, and about its mother and father. Hearing the bad guy talk about where he came from runs that risk.” On the other hand Kouf uses family details to touchingly detail the character of the benevolent alien cop, played in a subtly nuanced performance by Kyle MacLachlan.
Kouf has always been interested in science fiction films, though he “watched everything as a kid,” said Kouf. His most recent scripts have been for Class, American Dreamer, and Secret Admirer. His favorite film is Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN. “I just can’t help but write comedic things. In THE HIDDEN the comedy comes out of the characters.” This time though, the humor in the film is darker, as is the film’s overall storyline.
Director Jack Sholder appreciated the touches of humor found in Kouf’s script, which he called “one of the best I’ve ever read. I think I could probably never do anything which was totally straight,” said Sholder, whose feature directing debut, ALONE IN THE DARK (1982), was a horror film that sparkled with flashes of humor. “THE HIDDEN has a lot of laughs but there’s also a serious component.” In Kouf’s script a spiritual relationship of respect and understanding slowly develops between Earth cop Michael Nouri and MacLachlan. Commenting on the interplay between main actors Nouri and MacLachlan. Sholder said, “There are some very good dramatic scenes between their characters. What I really felt was important with this picture was that, oddly enough, it’s a relationship picture, a buddy movie. Their relationship is really the key to the movie. They have a friendly but antagonistic relationship at first, and to watch that happen between the two actors was something to see.”
Resembling to a degree the plot of a sci-fi novel, NEEDLE by Hal Clement. Where the villain is a hideous, malevolent organism with only one desire, the acquisition of absolute power.
Sholder did add some of his own personality and movie knowledge to the script, although he stresses that he did not rewrite it. One deliciously understated FX sequence that he included shows a tendril wriggling out of the bad alien’s arm. You don’t actually see the burst-out sequence, but the slow hypnotic dance of that dull red tendril shows that there’s something inside the human body.
‘I put that into the script. It struck me as the time to wake the audience up a bit. It was also funny to have this thing wearing a human body. All the scenes where he keeps looking in the mirror and seeing that he’s now a dirty old man and he’s in a body which he can’t quite control. It’s macabre and humorous.’
Sholder also added the policeman’s daughter to the story. The good alien’s own daughter has been killed. He has parental feelings toward the daughter, feelings which were developed during the action rather than a lull in the plot. ‘It was hard to make the relationship between Beck and his wife work because you can’t take time in an action movie to develop the relationship.’
Sholder also had to reshoot some of the film’s spectacular opening car crash sequence to bring elements in line with his directorial vision for the project. “Most of the opening, because of my schedule, had to be filmed by the second unit,” said Sholder. “A lot of their footage was excellent, but I reshot a lot of it. What a director does, if he’s any good, is provide an overall point of view. What I felt was missing from their stuff was that point of view. To me, the whole trick of doing a special effect is to not make it look like a special effect – not just to shoot a chase. That’s what I thought was missing, and that’s what I went back and put in.”
But Sholder downplays the action and effects as the key to the film’s success, pinning its virtues on Kouf’s screenplay. “THE HIDDEN has soul,” said Sholder. “It’s about what it’s like to be human. There’s a bad alien and a good alien, and they’re both learning what it means to be human. The bad alien’s learning what it’s like to be a bad human, figuring out all the things that are bad to do in a fun way, and the good alien learns what it means to be a good human, from the cop he gets partnered with. That’s what gives our film its redeeming quality and raises it above the level of the usual action film. As far as I’m concerned, the pure action film is a waste – who cares? If you’re not engaged by the characters it’s not going to work.”
When screenwriter Jim Kouf sat down to begin the screenplay, he needed a name for one of the film’s major characters, a no-nonsense FBI agent on the trail of a malevolent alien. The name had to be strong. “I picked Gallagher, and I picked it because of Clu Gulager,” explains Kouf. “Now, I didn’t know this guy at all. I had never met him. I’d seen a couple of his pictures, and I was just trying to put together a name that I liked… and I thought, Clu Gulager, well, he’s a pretty good actor I’ll use his name.” Kouf laughs. “Then I was watching dailies, and suddenly, Clu Gulager’s in the picture. They hired him!” Gulager doesn’t play Gallagher that role went to MacLachlan, but he does play a major part in the picture. As police captain Ed Flynn, he’s on hand when much of the mayhem occurs. “I think it’s one of the most exciting scripts I’ve read in several years,” enthuses the actor. “It has the aspect of a chase film, and I can’t resist those.
“The acting is first-rate,” adds Gulager. “My contribution is rather minor, but I was able to stand back and observe. There’s some very powerful, frightening acting in this, and that’s what you need. This is not truly a horror film, in my view. It is a science-fiction picture with tinges of the horror genre. It has overtones of Alfred Hitchcock too, as far as the chase is concerned.”
Kyle MacLachlan, who won critical acclaim in Dune and Blue Velvet, is perfect for the role of alien Gallagher. He’s well known for his understated performances and cool appearance but Sholder makes a surprising admission about the casting of The Hidden. ‘Kyle was not my first choice and he was cast rather late. I feel he gives a brave performance to do very little. Most of it is hidden. There’s a lot of feeling in his character but he acts with his eyes. He used an old acting exercise for the part where you put on a mask and act through it. When shooting he acted as if he was in that mask.’
The dance was nerve wracking since I had never stripped in front of anyone much less an entire crew of people and it was my first day of work! – Claudia Christian
THE HIDDEN was shot over 45 days, on a budget of $4 1/2 million, throughout Los Angeles. Despite Sholder’s experience, making eight short films and an award-winning PBS special, THE GARDEN PARTY, before tackling his first feature he claims, “on this film I had to figure out what the hell I was doing every day. I had never shot a cop movie and I wanted to shoot it in a very realistic way.” This included the process of filming chase and gun fire gags on actual city streets, and not in a studio. Also employed for the sake of verisimilitude was a real-life detective who served as technical advisor on police procedure and attitude, a function the advisor had previously performed for LETHAL WEAPON.
In contrast to the fantastic elements in the film, Sholder strove for a gritty, realistic look in the cinematography. “I wanted to try to keep it pretty realistic,” he said, “so the whole thing just didn’t become silly. Often times what separates a good movie from a so-so movie is that there’s a certain kind of snap a movie has, a certain authority when things are done right and in a way that feels true. My watchword to Jacques Haitkin, director of photography. was gritty, but not grainy to give it that feel. Then we would juxtapose something that was a little out of place, like a certain color, particularly when the alien was around which suggested a fantasy element.”
“The alien goes into six characters, plus a dog, and the challenge for me was to try to create one character who moved through six bodies and an animal, even though the bodies are very different.” explained Sholder, who started at New Line as a trailer editor 15 years ago. “At one point it goes from a very sick, elderly man’s body into the body of a beautiful stripper.”
The evil alien is only seen once or twice in the film. At one point it performs a mouth-to-mouth transfer. The effect, by makeup man Kevin Yagher, was achieved through the use of a couple of amazingly life-like puppet heads. “The heads were absolutely extraordinary, totally believable.” said Sholder. “You look at it and you are looking at the actor, down to the tiny little hairs on the nose. It was scary. In fact, the actor took one look at it and said, “Get it away from me!”
Yagher is a tad more subdued than Sholder when talking about the puppet heads, but he does allow that he was pleased with the way it turned out. In order to do the transfer of the creature, he said, ‘Well, what we need are two puppet heads, the donee and the donor.’ He made these two heads that were absolutely extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it. One of the actors was present while we were filming, and the head was absolutely perfect. You could sit and have a conversation with it.
“The DeVries character (Chris Mulkey) has been burned in a car wreck, and his face is all charred up, so that puppet was easier because I could hide more things,” admits Yagher. “But the Miller head had to match actor William Boyett perfectly, so I used a gelatin, which many heads are made of. But it tears very easily, and under hot studio lights, it can start to melt or get soft. In fact, toward the last shot, it began to split and fall apart. We made it just in time.”
Creature Puppet unused in final film
The alien creature that passes from DeVries to Miller via those Yagher-created puppet heads is referred to in Kouf’s script as simply “a black membranous pulsating glob,” a description that gave Yagher and Sholder plenty of room for interpretation. “When I read that, I knew I had to make something more of this,” chuckles Yagher. “I didn’t want it to look like The Blob, squeezing out of the theater door and oozing through the cracks. We worked it all out on set. It was kind of fun, because I really got a chance to give it a little more emphasis besides a stupid black blob coming out of the mouth. I got to direct a lot of the action. I redid some storyboards as suggestions, changes of camera angles and things like that, which they agreed were fine.”
Yagher ended up creating the creature with hot pour vinyl, which he chose because of its translucent quality. He added tentacles with feeler antenna-“sort of like tarantula legs,” he describes them-and topped the whole thing with two lobes of “brain” material, one purple and one red, breaking up the basic-black color scheme. Initially given three days to do the picture’s FX, Yagher and his crew ended up doing them all in 17 frenzied, post-production hours.
Some of the special effects caused a stir amongst the film’s preview audiences. The most explicit shot is of the insectoid alien exiting the wide open mouth of its last victim and leaping between the lips of its next, Wallis, the ugly monster was used to show the alien’s evil nature while the good alien radiates light during its transfer; but didn’t the MPAA have anything to say about that sequence?
‘We had no trouble with the censors. Thirty-four people get killed in the movie but the violence is not that graphic and the film ends on a positive note. It’s also enjoyable and I think that the censors took all of that into mind.’
Interview with director Jack Shoulder
What got you interested in making The Hidden?
JACK SHOLDER: Sarah Risher, one of the thinking heads of New Line, sent me the script. We were already working together well before Freddy’s Revenge and she had always shown interest in my work. I immediately liked the script. Jim Kouf, the scriptwriter, did not want to retouch however and I found myself alone having to make the usual changes. Most of them concerned the little girl and especially the need to strengthen the bonds between Kyle and Michael Nouri, then to expand the treatment of the family of the latter. I also hired a former detective from Los Angeles to help me give credibility to the characters’ procedures and attitudes. The realist part of the movie really had to be “real”, so that the viewer fully accepts the more fantastic part. I also saw it as a police procedural, which is a genre I’d always loved, especially the films of Sidney Lumet. As soon as I read it, I said, “I have to make this film.” Fortunately, New Line agreed.
You had already proven yourself as an editor on THE BURNING and a writer on ALONE IN THE DARK before taking on THE HIDDEN. Did New Line Cinema utilize these skills, or were you more of a director for hire on the project?
SHOLDER: I was involved in shaping it. When I did NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, I was basically a director for hire. I did whatever a director-for-hire does, but with THE HIDDEN, I saw the film a little differently than the script initially was. It was written as kind of a romp. There was another director attached who was pretty much that kind of filmmaker, a straight-on action, shoot-’em-up type. I saw it as more than that.
What was that vision, specifically?
SHOLDER: I thought there was a very compelling story there. It was really about what it meant to be human. You had these two aliens, and with them you could focus on what it means to be a good person and what it means to be a bad one. I wanted to shape it in that direction. The writer, Jim Kouf, had wanted to direct it, but since he wasn’t, he simply wasn’t interested in doing anything more than selling it. So I actually did a rewrite. The that I did mainly involved the characters. I added the whole thing with the Detective Beck’s family and the little girl. In the original, Beck was married and there was a scene with his wife, but I felt they just had a breezy relationship and wanted them to have something stronger, so I added their daughter. That was my major contribution. I mean, it was a really good script. Most of what you see is what Jim Kouf wrote, but I sort of beefed up that end. Then I emphasized the whole thing about the aliens finding themselves in these suits, which are basically human bodies. I honestly don’t recall if it was always in the script or not, but I have a lot of scenes where the aliens look at themselves in the mirror just see what they jumped into. Even the dog—there’s that one shot where you see the dog looking in the mirror, and that usually gets the biggest laugh in the whole movie. But it’s a good laugh, because it’s based on something.
Did your influence extend to the action sequences, too?
SHOLDER: The car chase, I kind of put my own spin on that as well. There was this elaborate bank robbery that started off the story [in the script], but New Line didn’t want to do it. They felt it wasn’t a bank-robbery movie and didn’t want to spend the money on it. They kind of saw it as a horror film, while I saw it as a cop-thriller-science fiction deal. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool, rather than starting with the robbery, to just begin with the guy walking out of the bank, holding the sack of money, and people start shooting at him. Then we go into the car chase. When we saw the film cut together, though, it just didn’t feel like a strong opening, and we decided we somehow needed to do the robbery—but again, they didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I said, “Hey, why don’t we set up the camera like it’s a surveillance unit, and we’ll do the whole thing in one shot.” They said, “OK! That’s good!” We found a bank that had recently gone out of business, and that’s what we did. That was another departure from the script, but it wasn’t anything I wrote in. It was just the way things happened, but I think it works really well for the film.
How did you go about finding the actors?
SHOLDER: Everyone who was cast came in to read for the part, unlike other films where you make a list and then you make offers and wait to see if they’re accepted or if you need to move on to the next on the list. I’d never planned to use Michael Nouri, but he was simply the best person who came in for the role. We couldn’t find anybody right to play Gallagher, so the week before shooting, the casting director brought in everyone she could. Kyle (MacLachlan) was cast the Thursday before the Monday we started and was an inspired choice.
The cast is very strong. What was it like working with Kyle MacLachan and Michael Nouri?
SHOLDER: Well, Kyle was great and Michael was very difficult. It was probably the toughest situation I have ever had with an actor. Part of that was him and, I think, part of that was me. Part of it might have been that he was expecting to have a huge career. After FLASHDANCE, I believe he thought he was going to be a big star. Now, here he was in this little horror film by this little company with this guy whose last movie was the sequel to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I think he felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and that he’d better protect himself. He wanted to make sure that he sort of controlled his performance. It was my third feature, but I had never encountered an actor who didn’t want to do what I asked him to do, or who was sort of diametrically opposed to everything I asked him to do.
But you had already worked with some accomplished people—Martin Landau and Jack Palance on ALONE IN THE DARK, Clu Gulager and Hope Lange on the NIGHTMARE sequel…
SHOLDER: Yeah. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing. Palance was a handful, himself, but he was different. Palance came across as “You know what? I’m a tough guy. I’m an asshole!” He seemed like he could give you a hard time, but then he was a lot nicer than he appeared. Whereas Nouri was like, “I’m a nice guy, a great actor and I’m going to help you!” But he was the exact opposite. So it was kind of easier with Palance. He was always better than he seemed. Nouri was always not as nice as he seemed. I was pretty angry about him for a long time. We eventually bumped into each other and said, “Let’s get together,” and we talked it through. It was just one of those things that happens. It was a very difficult shoot for that reason. But some things went right, and the film turned out really well.
And that is what’s going to stand the test of time, ultimately!
SHOLDER: Yeah. But you often hear how everybody loved each other on a set, and it’s all bullshit. Honestly, because of Nouri, I was always a little bit off balance. It wasn’t like I could just come in and say, “OK, we’re going to do this!” If said, “I want you to come in and walk over to the chair on the left,” he’d say, “No, I want to come in and stand at the table on the right.” I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how I was going to get him to do what I wanted, so there was a lot of effort put into that. That was just part of the dynamic. I’ve worked with other actors who have given me a hard time, but by then I had had a lot more experience, so I knew how to deal with it. If I had just had more experience with the psychology of the whole thing, it probably wouldn’t have been as much of a problem. I just didn’t know how to handle it at that point.
Speaking of actors, can you talk about working with Claudia Christian, who is truly memorable as Brenda, the stripper?
SHOLDER: Oh, she was great. She was kind of a wild and crazy girl. She was up for anything and had a good attitude. She really, really went for it. I think she’s iconic in the role.
Promotional and Advertising Material
Jim Kouf (written by) (as Bob Hunt)
Kyle MacLachlan Lloyd Gallagher
Michael Nouri Tom Beck
Claudia Christian Brenda Lee Van Buren
Clarence Felder Lt. John Masterson
Clu Gulager Lt. Ed Flynn
REFERENCES and SOURCES
Cinefantastique v18n01 (Dec 1987)
Cinefantastique v18n02-03 (March 1988)