Remembering The Hidden, Kyle MacLachlan's Great, Lost '80s Schlocktail
Exhausted the classic canon? Fed up with the current cinema of remakes, reboots and reimaginings? Welcome to The Cold Case, a new Movieline feature dedicated to rediscovering underrated and undervalued films -- and those who made them.
In 1987 New Line Cinema unleashed The Hidden, a $5 million flick about two L.A. law enforcers pursuing a body-swapping alien addicted to fast cars, loose women, loud hair-rock and killing puny humans. Directed by Jack Sholder, who'd made the lucrative A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, and scripted by Jim Kouf, who'd scored with Stakeout, it's a fast, violent, funny (and sadly forgotten) riff on '80s hits like The Thing, The Terminator and 48 Hrs.
Our antagonist is a slimy spider-slug who finds cardiac patients and bouffanted strippers the warmest place to hide, and who delights in shooting the shit out of police stations. Earth's only hope is Michael Nouri's take-no-crap homicide detective and Kyle MacLachlan's oddball FBI agent, a character he'd later refine in Twin Peaks. Their tongue-in-cheek rapport and the film's raucous energy make The Hidden an intoxicating schlocktail, but the movie was a box-office non-starter in the year of Predator, Lethal Weapon... and the Wall Street crash, which happened the week it released.
For director Jack Sholder, The Hidden ended up as the highest point of a then-promising career. Starting as an editor in New York, he'd graduated to directing the 1982 horror entry Alone In The Dark, which got him Freddy's Revenge and prompted his move to Hollywood. "I was very fussy about what I wanted to do next," he told me from his office at Western Carolina University, where he now directs the motion picture and television production program. Then The Hidden came along. "It had a wicked sense of humor, the cop thing going, and it had some heart to it," Sholder said. "And there were sequences I just wanted to see."
Chief among them was a blistering opening car chase that gleefully dispatches one disabled person and those two idiots forever schlepping a huge sheet of glass across a busy roadway. "Bob Shaye, the head of New Line, said, 'Why are you wasting your time with a car chase? It's just another car chase,'" the director recalled. "And I said, 'Well, you know what, I'm gonna make the best fucking car chase you've ever seen.'" Sholder learned well from The French Connection, Bullitt and other seminal road rages, keeping the camera in the car or close to the bitumen and, more importantly, keeping it funny. Also arresting is the fugitive's bad-motherfucker attitude. "I was thinking, 'How would someone drive if he knew he couldn't be killed?'" Sholder said.
While The Hidden struggled theatrically, the industry loved it. "I became a hot commodity for a while," Sholder remembered. But he still played hard-to-get, culminating in his declining the sequel to Gremlins, then Warner Bros. highest-grossing film. "I would've been in the big-time studio business," he said. "I kick myself for not doing it but... I had so little passion for it that I might've made a completely rotten movie."
Offers dwindled and eventually Sholder took Renegades, the forgettable 1989 reteaming of Young Guns Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, before he slid into the likes of Wishmaster 2. Five years ago, with offers even for killer-spider flicks like Arachnid drying up, he sought out a teaching job and got to create the program at WCU.
Sholder said he's glad his film career now affords him the opportunity to pass on his experiences, proudly telling me about mentoring a student through the production of a vampire short soon to hit the festivals. But while cognizant that half a decade out of Hollywood is "out of sight, out of mind," he'd love to get back behind the camera. "There's still a lot of people who are fans of my films and who think it'd be cool to have me make another film," he says. Rewatching The Hidden, it's hard to disagree.