Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Unsung!: The Hidden

Today we look at yet another film I first saw in my wasted youth and then did not see again for twenty years or MORE… so, does it hold up?  Is it trash… or treasure?

Why, of course The Hidden is treasure! (If it were trash, I would have written about it a year ago under the rubric of “Shitting on the Classics.”) If you have never seen The Hidden, rush right out now and see it. Right now! Damn it, that’s an order!

I’ll wait.

(Idle shuffling of feet and whistling)

I’m waiting…

(Checking e-mail on my cell phone. Several games of Solitaire.)

Okay, we are back! I was right, was I not? This movie is pretty terrific, especially when you consider its obviously low budget. The Hidden is further proof (if we even needed any more proof) that in the world of movie-making, imagination can trump money. This film has a clever premise, good dialogue, and imagination to spare. Yes! Let’s all remember how Monty Python got around the problem of not paying for horses on Holy Grail.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: Police Detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) investigates a senseless series of murders, apparently committed by a suspect with no prior criminal record. To catch the suspect, the police set up a roadblock, which ends violently. The suspect does not survive the night, and that ends the case. Or DOES IT? The very next day, a similar string of baffling crimes occur. FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlin) joins Beck to help crack the case. The secret to the bizarre series of interconnected crimes is unique to the annals of criminal science, to say the least.
One thing to admire about The Hidden is its pace. I remember reading an interview a few years back with the Coen brothers wherein they defined great films as films that are “peppy and snappy” – films that do not waste your time. The Hidden proceeds at a zippy pace and never lets up. This is one of those films where, once it ends, you wish there were more of it.

One scene from The Hidden that has stayed with me over the decades involves one of the mysterious killers, a cardiac patient who suddenly rises from his hospital bed and begins to commit mayhem. The patient is played by William Boyet, an actor who had a forty-year career in Hollywood, usually playing the “second lieutenant” or “other cop.” In The Hidden, Boyet shows his talent for comedy, playing a big, beefy businessman robbing record stores, stealing Corvettes, and listening to punk music on a stolen boombox.
Another rule The Hidden lives by is “put some of the good stuff first.” Many low budget films save their meager fireworks for the finale. Pshaw, I say! Who says audiences will even stick around until the end? I admire the brio of filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and David Cronenberg who dare to put some “good stuff” at the beginning, to catch viewers off guard. The shower murder in Psycho and the “head experiment” scene in Scanners bear this out. I attended Scanners on opening night, and I can verify that audiences were not prepared for what Cronenberg was dishing up. One audience member vomited, and five more ran out of the theater, never to return. This is the recipe for fun!

The scene I am referencing in The Hidden gives us a good, clear view of the titular creature only about twenty minutes in. This short special effects sequence is one of the film’s most impressive. Thank you, The Hidden, for not “saving it for later.” Spoiler alert! The creature looks like this:
Another of the film’s strengths is Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Agent Lloyd Gallagher. I am such a fan of what MacLachlan brings to every role: a strange mix of boy-next-door naïvete, knowing sadness, and just a touch of world weariness. From his role in The Hidden, to his career-making performance in Blue Velvet, to his work on Twin Peaks, to his recent appearances as the Mayor on Portlandia, MacLachlan is always impressive. His work shows an obvious love of performance – a palpable sense of fun that is hard to describe or quantify. He is appropriately mysterious and funny here, but he has one scene where his sincerity will break your heart. The film is worth checking out for his performance alone.
The Hidden also delights in what I like to call the “Gee Whiz Factor;” this film satisfies the twelve-year old in everyone. It features lots of shooting, some car chases, explosions – one guy is even set on FIRE – some mild T&A, and a gross, squishy monster. This is the other recipe for fun!

TANGENT: On the DVD commentary track, director Jack Sholder goes into great detail about how difficult Michael Nouri was on the set. He repeatedly answers the rhetorical question, “Why didn’t Michael Nouri ever become a bigger star?” (Remember, Nouri had co-starred in Flashdance four years earlier.) When I shared this tidbit of information with Patrick, he wondered who on earth had EVER ASKED that question. So I hereby suggest another new glossary entry: “The Nouri Story.” (Definition: When a director on a DVD audio commentary answers a question NO ONE EVER ON EARTH HAS EVER ASKED EVER).

Sholder also adds, "Most people who know my work would say that The Hidden was my best film. And I would tend to agree with them […] When I watch The Hidden, I feel like I've pretty much gotten it right.” Coming from the director of Runaway Car, Arachnid, and Beeper, that is really saying something!

The Hidden’s IMdB user rating? 6.9! Damn, so close to that elusive SEVEN!

The Hidden is available for purchase on DVD, and to purchase or rent (in HD!) on Amazon Instant Video and the ITunes Store. Or you could just walk into a record store and steal it… if only there were still record stores!


  1. I loved this film when I was a kid. Kyle has always been one of my favorite actors, even though after Twin Peaks he chose role and role where he is either an idiot with women or is beaten down by them.

    In 2001, at a Fangoria show, I met Jack Sholder and he was super nice. He asked if he could see some of my short films I had made so I sent him a VHS (remember those?) of a few of them.

    About a month later, he wrote me the worst email you could ever imagine just tearing me apart. He could have just written (or not at all), "Thank you for sending these. I wish you the best."

    But no. He delighted in just ripping me apart for no other reason but his own enjoyment. This, coming right after my Grandfather dying was truly upsetting.

    I've never been able to watch a Jack Sholder movie again.

    But "The Hidden" is a good one, that's for sure. So good New Line stole its own premise for "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday."

    1. But it's always the fans who are considered weird, rude and sleasy...

      If it weren't for the libel laws involved I'd love to make a documentary of the stories about the stars at these things that I've heard (and a couple that happened to me).

      And The Hidden is a really good film. Always wondered if Fallen with Denzel Washington was inspired by it.