In science fiction movies in which we encounter aliens from another planet, we find there are three types. One type is insectoid, an ugly, repulsive creature, reminiscent of an insect, but one that 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. The creature in the movie 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) is more like a reptile than an insect, but that’s close enough. It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) is the precursor to the most famous insectoid movie of all, title character of Alien (1979). It was always a given that there was no reasoning with these creatures.
The second type is humanoid. They look like us, they wear clothes, and they even speak English. They are usually technologically advanced, although in the television series Star Trek (1966-1969), the crew of the USS Enterprise would often encounter humanoid civilizations less advanced than that of America at the time the show was produced. They may be dangerous, as are humans, but there is always the chance that they can be reasoned with, as in Flash Gordon (1936) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). These movies may also feature insectoids, as in This Island Earth (1955). The insectoid in that movie, known as a Mutant, walks around with an exposed brain, so they are easily dispatched, if you can get behind them and hit them right between the lobes.
Finally, there is a third type, the ETs. They are similar to humans, but they are physically slight with large heads. 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 the need for modesty. They do not speak English. This type is a late comer, found in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). They are typically friendly and benevolent, even childlike, literally so in the latter film, where the title character is a child of a childlike species of alien.
The emergence of this third type in the 1970s, decades after we first started seeing movies of the first two types, begs for an explanation. I cannot help but think it was a natural expression of the peace movements formed in opposition to nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War. Both represented a desire to get along with other nations rather than continue an attitude of hostility. In science fiction, this expressed itself as a desire to get along with other planets as well. The easiest way to envision getting along with aliens from other planets was to picture them as ETs, as being as innocent as children, though far more intelligent than even adult humans.
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? If a movie were made portraying insectoids in a positive light, showing how we can get along with them too, that would really be something. Such a movie was almost made. Almost.
The Hidden could never have been a great science fiction movie on a par with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Star Wars (1977), 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 an criminal alien from another planet that takes over human bodies, and when they manage to pump one so full of bullet holes 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, however, 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, instead of that beam of light, another disgusting parasite had come out and entered into Beck’s mouth! 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 the Kouf and Sholder had a failure of nerve. They were afraid that even though Gallagher had established himself as the good guy, once the audience saw that deep down inside he was an ugly parasite, they would have concluded that Gallagher was evil too. Some in the audience might have thought so, but others would have understood that ugly-parasite Gallagher, now in Beck’s body, was still a good guy and would be a good husband and father. People would be debating that ending to this day.
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 it strains our credulity. Let’s call the two species the good aliens and the bad aliens. Now, we can easily imagine the bad alien landing on this planet in his spaceship, walking around like the insectoid that he is until he finds a human and enters his mouth, thereby taking over his body. But how did the good alien get around? Are we to believe that a spaceship landed and a ray of light came out, and then that ray of light wandered around until it found a body it could beam itself into?
But 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.