The Hidden: An Oddball 80s Movie

The Hidden (1987) is an obscure science fiction film starring Kyle MacLachlan after his role in Blue Velvet, but preceding his Twin Peaks fame.  Despite several tropes, the skewed plot line makes it an enjoyable distraction. 

Essentially a warped version of the “buddy cop” genre, Michael Nouri plays L.A. detective Thomas Beck.  Beck pursues and (apparently) fatally injures spree killer Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey) during the chase.  FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (MacLachlan) later confronts Beck, saying DeVries is still a threat.

“Mr DeVries, we think you might have a throat infection.”

Meanwhile, in the hospital, DeVries jumps up and attacks a heart patient Jonathan P. Miller (William Boyett).  DeVries pops opens his mouth and out crawls a hideous, slug-like alien.  It crawls down Miller’s throat and takes him over, letting its old host collapse.  Miller runs off to commit more of the random violence in the same manner as DeVries.

After this starts, Gallagher tries to convince Beck that Miller is a partner of DeVries who is every bit as dangerous, despite no criminal record.

You can probably guess how the rest of this goes.  The evil alien continues to jump through host bodies while the authorities struggle to catch up. 

Aliens are teatotallers.

It’s fairly obvious from the beginning that Gallagher is another alien.  MacLachlan does a brilliant job of being “not quite right”.  He conveys a vibe of alien without much scenery-chewing.  Not only his weird questions, but MacLachlan’s deliciously “off” mannerisms.  There’s an especially amusing dinner scene with Beck’s family, where Gallagher gets tipsy.  Bloody hilarious.  My favorite part is when Beck asks him where he’s from.  Gallagher points straight up.  “From up north?” Beck asks.  Gallagher nods.

It turns out Lloyd is an alien “cop” (named Alhague) and the evil alien is a criminal who killed Alhague’s family.  Yes, it’s a cop revenge story.

That’s a damn fine ray gun.

If all this sounds cheesy, it’s actually not.  Or not much.  The performances in this are wonderful, despite the bizarre premise.  William Boyett has a wickedly good time being the heart patient turned evil alien.  His murder spree is both amusing and horrifying.  Of special interest is when the alien possesses a stripper named Brenda (gorgeous Claudia Christian of Babylon 5 fame).  She fondles herself in front of a couple of cops before shooting them with an assault rifle.  This is after she humps a drunken lecher to death.

Claudia’s role is . . . I’m sorry, was I saying something?

There aren’t many special effects in this.  I suspect it’s deliberate–a combination of shrewd writing and budget considerations.  The few that do appear are pretty effective.  The alien slug switching bodies is skin-crawlingly impressive.  I think it’s a case of “less is more”.

MacLachlan’s freaky acting in this is worth it, even if you don’t care about the rest of the film.  Go dig up a copy and enjoy.

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Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Computer Game

The Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is an oddball offshoot of the RTS genre.  I am a bit of a real-time strategy freak.  I’ve played a lot of RTS games.  The Dune II game from 1993 became my first encounter with the genre and hooked me from the outset.  For a while I played them all.  Good, bad, and mediocre–it didn’t matter.  Must . . . play . . . all!

Along came the Jeff Wayne’s WOTW game in 1998.  Adoring the novel as well as the RTS genre, I jumped on it.

This game came out an an uncomfortable time in the RTS game advances.  It couldn’t be played online during a time when that was the growing rage.  It looked–and sounded!–nifty, but its formula varied from the established formula.

In a nutshell, it is neither fish nor fowl.  It’s a duckbilled platypus.

First, a little background.  The music on this game comes from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds techno-music, art rock album from 1978.  If you have never listened to this album, do yourself a favor and check it out.  Anyway, I don’t need to elaborate since it is a kind of cult classic album.  The music gives a nice sense of eeriness to the proceedings in the game.

In the game, the player can play as either the humans or the Martians.  Unlike in the 1898 novel, the Martians are destroyed in England and divert their landings to Scotland.  (Picture the amusing thought of a Martian in a kilt, with a blue-painted face, screaming “Freedom!”.)  I assume they did this to give the war a definite front, rather than scattered Martian battles. 

Instead of merely a RTS, the game also has turns.  Sort of.  You have a strategic/production map where you look at all your sectors.  Time is halted on this screen until you advance it, usually by days.  The feature allows you to pick your research and production.  Like many RTS, each side has multiple resources they must use.  Humans have steel, coal and oil, while the Martians have copper, heavy elements and human blood! (The most ghoulishly amusing resource I’ve seen in any RTS game.)

British war technology in this is quite a bit more advanced than in the novel, despite being set in the same year of 1898.  A necessary change if you want the humans to have a prayer.  A steampunk vibe appears to be what they were going for and, for the most part, it works.  The game had sufficient entertainment value that I played it through once both as the humans and Martians. 

The graphics and gameplay are adequate, if uninspired.  Fighting as the humans is rough at the beginning, with no vehicles capable of defeating anything.  Your only chance is to build artillery–a lot of it.  You must simply endure Martian attacks until your technology is advanced enough to go on the offensive.  Try an early offensive will see your vehicles evaporate like a fart in the wind.  Playing as the Martians is more active, as you have an advantage right off the bat.  If you wade into a bunch of gun emplacements, you definitely can lose, though.

What I suspect truly doomed this game to obscurity was its lack of online options.  Honestly, I’m not sure it could have worked with the turn options.

JWWOTW isn’t great, nor is it terrible.  The highlight is (unsurprisingly) the soundtrack.  Production turns are an interesting idea, but clunky.  Multiple scenarios would have greatly expanded the playability as well.

Any fan of either H.G. Wells War of the Worlds or Jeff Wayne’s musical album ought to check it out.  There are multiple sites online where one can download it for free.

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