|UK Release Date||1987|
|Reviewed||22nd December 2013|
The opening of The Hidden has a sombre, mournful quality to it. Through black and white CCTV we quietly observe the comings and goings of the Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles. The bank’s customers are almost reverential in their chapel of commerce, shuffling in line to deposit or withdraw their hard earned cash, or take out a loan they can’t afford. A man in a trench coat, Jack DeVries shifts our focus. He stands still looking respectable enough, a middle class white guy minding his own business. Respectable until he pulls out that staple 80s movie weapon, a pump action shotgun and blows away the security guards.
In 1987 America was six years into Reaganomics, meaning a reduction in government spending and regulation, tax cuts and trickle-down economics. In reality the gap between rich and poor grew exponentially in line with the crack epidemic sweeping America’s major cities. Throw in the Iran-Contra affair, an assassination attempt on Reagan, the Tripoli bombing, the Star Wars defence system and the invasion of Grenada and The Hidden transcends its B-movie exploitation roots. This is no post Terminator rip-off but a wry commentary on 1980s America, a Don Simpson nation overdosing on fast food, fast cars, hard drugs and harder pornography.
When director Jack Sholder finally cuts to colour the result is carnage. Jack DeVries blasts his way out of the bank and into a black Ferrari. The resulting car chase is an adrenaline-fuelled spectacle of raw wheel-to-wheel action; think Grand Theft Auto meets Death Race 2000 and you’re on the right track. Gears shift, engines redline and wheel chairs and glass fly through the air on impact. This pursuit is as politically incorrect as they come, after all, “He killed twelve people, wounded twenty three more, stole six cars, most of them Ferraris. Robbed eight banks, six supermarkets, four jewelry stores and a candy shop. Six of the ones he killed he carved up with a butcher knife. Two of them were kids.”
The Hidden’s opening set piece is as audacious as they come, certainly in the same league as the car chases in The French Connection and The Bourne Identity. Where can the movie go now? When you catch your breath watching DeVries plugged into a life support machine you could be forgiven for thinking that the action like DeVries would never recover its former glory. Instead Sholder completely changes tack and unleashes a scene so horrific that we automatically forget the nitrous oxide of DeVries’ earlier rampage. The dark alien horror inhabiting DeVries spews forth in a revolting act of fellatio and penetrates a dying human, Jonathon Miller while we gag on our popcorn. Now think Invasion of the Body Snatchers directed by David Cronenberg.
This black stain of corruption, a gelatin oil slick swimming around in Miller’s guts and pulling his hamstrings is an allegorical nightmare. Sholder has revealed the real hidden America of the Reagan administration, one of violence and greed lurking behind polite society, the murderous, rampant excess of the American Dream when left to the mercy of unregulated money markets. Having expertly shocked his audience into suspending their disbelief Sholder can now do as he damn well pleases in the rest of his film. This hedonistic monstrosity, explores the baser human instincts supported by a wonderfully sleazy second-string synth-rock soundtrack, whilst treating us to a series of hostile human takeovers.
The violent bombast is checked by the moral partnership of FBI Agent Lloyd Gallagher and L.A. cop Tom Beck. In these parts Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri play The Hidden (for the most part) surprisingly straight laced. MacLachlan hot off the heels of Blue Velvet but yet to enter the global consciousness, as Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks is an awkwardly effective fish out of water. His suit doesn’t quite fit and a single beer renders him incapacitated. Nouri on the other hand is the dependable pro trying to keep the case in context; “I want to ask you if I'm crazy, or does this seem just a little bizarre?” Lloyd answers, “Yeah, it's a little bizarre” to which Beck, replies, “I knew that. I just wanted to know if you knew that?”
MacLachlan and Nouri are expertly supported by a bunch of great character actors such as Ed O’ Ross, Chris Mulkey and Claudia Christian. Their commitment to the cause alongside Sholder’s electric direction and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s uncanny ability to make independent movies look like blockbusters, raises The Hidden to such unexpected heights, that we are forced like Beck to accept the crazy explanations set before us. When we reach the enigmatic climax MacLachlan and Nouri invest such pathos into their parts that we wrestle with and ponder the ending for many more years than a modest genre film like The Hidden would normally deserve.
Check out the trailer here.