The Hidden (1987)

The different types of aliens that we encounter in science fiction movies are limited only by our imagination, and they can be grouped in various ways as we see fit, one of which is our attitude toward these aliens.  Of course, the most general attitude toward them is fear, at least in the beginning, since we fear the unknown.  But there are other attitudes more specific than that.

One attitude is disgust.  And the most disgusting type of all is the insectoid, an ugly, repulsive creature, often reminiscent of an insect, but one that typically goes about on two legs.  They are evil, dangerous, and must be evaded or destroyed.  In A Trip to the Moon (1902), the insectoid Selenites are decently attired, but most insectoid aliens do not wear clothes, as is befitting of anything subhuman.  Because they are subhuman, we usually encounter them when we go to their planet (or our moon), since they are incapable of developing the needed technology to come to us.  One exception to this is The War of the Worlds (1953), in which the aliens who launch an invasion of Earth may not be insectoids exactly, but they do look pretty repulsive.  When we visit other planets, it sometimes happens that an insectoid will manage to get onto the rocket ship and head back to Earth with us, as in It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), the precursor to Alien (1979), the most famous insectoid movie of all.  It was always a given that there was no reasoning with these creatures.

Another type quite common in science fiction movies is the humanoid.  They look like us, they wear clothes, and they even speak English. They are usually technologically advanced, and thus come to Earth, although in the television series Star Trek (1966-1969), the crew of the USS Enterprise would often encounter humanoid civilizations on other planets less advanced than that of America at the time the show was produced. They may be dangerous, as are humans, but they look like us, so we are comfortable with this type even so.  And there is always the chance that they can be reasoned with, as in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).  These movies may also feature insectoids, as in This Island Earth (1955). In that movie, the principal aliens are humanoids, but there are also mutants, insectoids that walk around with exposed brains, so they are easily dispatched, if you can get behind them and hit them right between the lobes.

Regarding the different attitudes we may have toward aliens, one more type worth mentioning is the ET.  Aliens of this type are similar to humans, but they are physically slight with large heads and big eyes.  They are not only technologically advanced, but usually spiritually advanced as well, as evidenced by the fact that they don’t wear clothes, indicating that they have progressed beyond any concern for modesty.  They do not speak English.  They are usually the ones to visit us.  This type is a latecomer, found in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). They are typically friendly and benevolent, even childlike.  Our attitude toward them is affectionate.

The emergence of this type in the 1970s is probably an expression of the peace movements formed in opposition to nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War.  Both movements represented a desire to get along with other nations rather than continue an attitude of Cold War hostility.  In science fiction, this expressed itself as a desire to get along with aliens from other planets, and the easiest way to imagine doing that was to picture them as ETs, as being as innocent as children.

But in so doing, we made things too easy for ourselves.  Of course we can get along with aliens that look like that.  But what about aliens that are as ugly as they are physically imposing, the insectoids?  The bar scene in Star Wars (1977) shows all types getting along together, humanoids and insectoids in particular, but the tone of that movie is cute, not to be taken seriously.  A more realistic depiction of our being able to get along with an insectoid would be far more challenging.  Such a movie was almost made.  Almost.

The Hidden (1987) could never have been a great science fiction movie on a par with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but as most science fiction movies go, this one could have been something really special in its own small way.  Unfortunately, those most responsible for how this movie was told, screenwriter Jim Kouf and director Jack Sholder, did not have the courage to carry things out to their logical conclusion, but pulled back to something they felt would be safe. Big mistake.

FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) enlists the aid of local cop Tom Beck to hunt for a succession of people connected to a bunch of strange murders.  As Gallagher knows, but Beck does not, they are pursuing a criminal alien from another planet that takes over human bodies, and when the police manage to pump one so full of lead that it can barely function, it leaves that body and takes over another.  During the transfer, the human body opens its mouth, and a large, disgusting parasite that looks part slug and part insect comes out and enters into the mouth of its new host. As the alien moves from one host to another, it really seems to enjoy the pleasures afforded it by dwelling inside a human:  it likes fast cars, rock music, and sex.  Its big crimes are motivated by a desire for money and power.

Eventually, it turns out that Gallagher is actually an alien cop from the same planet as the alien they are pursuing.  After coming to Earth, Gallagher took over a human body that was going to die anyway.  Just before Gallagher manages to destroy the evil alien, Beck suffers fatal bullet wounds. But Gallagher has met Beck’s wife and daughter, whom he likes, and having lost his own wife and daughter at the hands of his nemesis, he decides to take over Beck’s body just as Beck is about to breathe his last.  But when Gallagher opens his mouth, we see no parasite emerge, but only a golden beam of light leaving him and entering Beck’s mouth. When the doctor enters the room, along with Beck’s wife and daughter, they find that Gallagher has died and Beck has seemingly made a miraculous recovery.

If only Gallagher had opened his mouth and another parasite had come out and entered into Beck’s mouth instead!  We would have been forced to think that something that looks like a combination slug-insect could be good, decent, and kind. That would have split those alien stereotypes wide open, metaphorically reminding us that someone who is ugly may nevertheless be a nice person to know.  But Kouf and Sholder had a failure of nerve.  They were afraid that even though Gallagher had established himself as the good guy, once those in the audience saw that deep down inside he too was an ugly parasite, they would have concluded that Gallagher was evil as well.  I suppose some in the audience might have thought so, but most would have understood that the ugly parasite that was in Gallagher’s body, but is now in Beck’s body, would be a good husband and father.

Some people try to salvage this movie by arguing that Gallagher and his nemesis, though from the same planet, were of two different species, but that strains our credulity.  How would a beam of light have had a wife and a daughter back on the planet it came from?

In the end, that doesn’t matter.  We can make up any story we want.  But the result will still be the same.  The minute Gallagher opened his mouth and a beam of yellow light came out instead of an insectoid, this movie became second rate.


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