the hidden II

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we take a look at a sad little cash-grab hoping to capitalize on the cult popularity of 1987’s third-best sci-fi/action movie.)

One of my favorite things about consuming entertainment media – whether it be film, literature, or television – is having the opportunity to share terrific but lesser known favorites with people who haven’t seen or sometimes even heard of them. I do so whenever possible at my various online homes like Film School Rejects and Twitter, via my bi-weekly column here at /Film, and even when talking in person with friends. (“In person” refers to conversing face to face with real people in the real world.) One such example of a lesser known favorite I’ve shared over the years has been Jack Sholder’s 1987 gem The Hidden.

It was far from a hit despite earning double its $5 million budget in theaters, and while it’s become a cult favorite over the years for fans of great things, far too many people still haven’t seen it. Seek it out immediately if that’s you, as Sholder delivers a wickedly fun tale of feuding aliens, bloody encounters, and the power of friendship. It’s also one hell of an ’80s time capsule complete with flashy cars, loud music, and a young Kyle MacLachlan.

The film was ripe for a sequel and had it been an actual hit, it probably would have gotten one for the big screen. Instead, six years later, New Line Cinema quietly released a follow-up direct to video. As sacred as I find my duty for pointing people towards fantastic but underseen movies, I’m equally compelled to divert you away from absolute duds on the off chance you come across one while browsing for something to watch. It’s why I devote time to DTV Descent, and it’s why I’m here to warn you about 1993’s The Hidden II.

The Beginning

A normal, nice, and otherwise quiet Los Angeles resident suddenly robs a bank, kills several people, steals an expensive car, and crashes it after being shot multiple times by the police. Det. Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) has never seen anything like it, but it only gets stranger when an FBI agent named Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives insisting that the problem’s far from over despite the perp’s imminent death from accident injuries. While they argue, the suspect rises from his hospital bed and a large slug-like creature exits his mouth and enters the same way into the man lying in the next bed…who then leaves the hospital and goes on a violent crime spree of his own.

The slimy orifice transfer happens again, this time wriggling its way inside a stripper, and soon Beck’s frustration at not understanding why normal, upstanding citizens are suddenly becoming killers leads to a confrontation with Gallagher. The FBI agent reveals that not only is he not an FBI agent, but he’s also not human. Boom! He’s actually an alien named Alhague in pursuit of a dangerous and deadly intergalactic criminal who murdered Alhague’s family back on their home planet. Forced to accept this crazy explanation, and with the bastard slug aiming to get inside a US Senator, Beck and Gallagher team up to stop the alien before it’s too late.

The Hidden is a blast, and when it comes to buddy cop tales featuring a human and an alien teaming up to fight crime, it blows both Alien Nation and My Favorite Martian out of the water. The bad alien is addicted to expensive cars, blaring music, and murder, and it’s very much at home in 1980s America. The film follows suit, and even on a limited budget director Jack Sholder gives it all energy, excitement, and a big feel as gunfights and revving engines roar throughout LA. As violent and crazy as things get, the film finds an extra layer in calmer moments highlighting what it means to be human and the importance of family and friends. Cheesy? Maybe, but it’s cheese as a side to the main course of awesome. (What, I’m the only one who’s had cheese as a side before?)

The DTV Plot

A computer readout on a non-Earth computer displays a plot breakdown of the first film in English. (This is helpful but also maybe a little stupid?) It’s a “status report” from Lloyd Gallagher, the good alien in human form, identifying Earth’s location in the star system, detailing how a “criminal alien continues rampage of robberies and murders,” and commenting that its pattern of indulging in “drugs, sex, and violence” is consistent with its behaviors on other planets. “Potential for spawning very high,” says Gallagher’s text, and he ends the transmission with a desperate plea for back-up.

15 years later – and after 10 minutes of footage from the previous film’s ending showing Gallagher destroy the creature and move his essence into Det. Tom Beck – we’re reunited with Beck in a dank, rundown apartment. (“My god, what have I become?” he asks himself while looking in the mirror at a face that is clearly not Michael Nouri’s.) He catches a TV news report about a carjacking and murder and immediately assumes (correctly) that it’s the work of a bad alien, but when he finds the creature’s egg sack in the very next scene, he’s attacked by the carjacking host and killed.

We’re then introduced to his now grown daughter, Juliet, who arrives at the morgue just as the coroner rolls out the body saying “Here’s your father, police detective Thomas Beck.” She doesn’t recognize the corpse, which is fair as he’s still not Michael Nouri, but dental records don’t lie lady! One hot shower later and she’s attacked in her apartment by a gun-wielding man who turns out to be the back-up Gallagher asked for 15 years ago I guess? He wants her help in stopping the newly birthed bad alien before it takes over the planet, and to prove his extraterrestrial nature he whips out his glowing essence. Newly convinced, she joins him in the fight for humanity.

This hero’s name? MacLachlan.

Talent Shift

Jack Sholder’s biggest film is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), but The Hidden is his best (followed closely by 1982’s Alone In the Dark). His comfort with genre material is evident, and he melds the sci-fi and action to great effect. Writer Jim Kouf may not be a household name, but it’s almost guaranteed you’ve seen and probably enjoyed his films including Class, Up the Creek, American Dreamer, Secret Admirer, Stakeout, Rush Hour, National Treasure, and more. The guy’s got range, and his script does a fantastic job blending the action with moments of humor and real warmth. The film ends on a sweetly emotional note, and that’s a rarity for genre movies. The two leads, Michael Nouri and Kyle MacLachlan, do great work, and while this was only MacLachlan’s third feature (after Blue Velvet and Dune) his oddly appealing screen presence is already on full display. The supporting players are equally stacked with familiar and talented faces including Chris Mulkey, Clu Gulager, Lin Shaye, Ed O’Ross, Danny Trejo, and Jake the Dog.

The Hidden II… features no one you know, on or off screen.

Okay, fine, MacLachlan is played by Raphael Sbarge who resembles a somewhat less confident Tate Donovan and has appeared in films like Risky Business and Independence Day, but if you even remotely recognize anyone else here I’ll reward you with a “like” in the comments below. Writer/director Seth Pinsker is in the same boat, as not only is this his only feature film credit (as writer or director), but his most viewed directorial effort is probably an episode of Eight Is Enough from 1980.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

The Hidden II‘s biggest strength, in theory anyway, is its decision to be a direct sequel that follows the events and characters of the first film. Too often DTV sequels junk the details of the original and then simply attempt to retell the same story on a greatly decreased budget, but for fans, the fun is often in seeing where the characters they know go next.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

Unfortunately, the path they chose to follow as a direct sequel is inadequate in nearly every way. Instead of bringing Nouri back they hire a lookalike who looks nothing like him. Why? Nouri made three other films in 1993 – No Escape No Return, Da Vinci’s War, and American Yakuza – so let’s not pretend his asking price was too high. Their workaround is to kill his character early, and while it’s nothing compared to murdering Hicks during Alien 3‘s opening credits (spoiler), it’s still a disservice for fans. Worse, after all that was fought for in the first film, most importantly the value we put on family and companionship, he’s relegated here to living in a hovel and avoiding his daughter for the past several years.

And speaking of his daughter Juliet, she’s the main reason a film made six years after the original is set 15 years later. The script just needed her to be past the age of consent so she could play Starman (1984) with MacLachlan and get busy in the sheets. The reference to John Carpenter’s beautiful film is by no means an implied suggestion of equal quality, but what his movie gets so right is executed clumsily here. Juliet giggles as her soon to be alien lover fumbles trying to understand a couch or a toothbrush, and after an accidentally erotic scene of her brushing his teeth, the two fall madly in love. There’s no chemistry between the actors, no real connection between the characters, and we’re left with a movie trying to recreate the first film’s emotional beats with a rushed romance instead of friendship/family, but failing miserably.

The script makes a point of copying some of the original’s highlights, including having a host stealing a car and a boombox, but it’s simply checking off boxes rather than aiming for a similar commentary on gratification and consumerism. It tries in vain to recreate the original’s feel, but after those copycat scenes, the film shrinks to focus its poorly crafted and dimly lit action in cramped spaces and dark locations. We get a better look at the creatures, but despite six years in prosthetic effects advances, they look even less convincing here.

Ultimately, the film’s best moments barely rise to the level of competent. The bright, loud, and vibrant bombast of Sholder’s film is pared down to the bare minimum for what amounts to a lifeless sequel.

Conclusion

The Hidden is an exciting and entertaining ride from beginning to end. The Hidden II is DOA by comparison. The story may continue, but the wit, emotion, and pure fun have all been left behind. Do yourself a favor – leave this DTV sequel behind, too.

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