The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas is something of a Mecca for movie geeks. In addition to first-run theatrical fare, the Drafthouse regularly showcases cult, foreign, and classic films. For the last four years, Alamo programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you.
So I decided, since I am already a fixture at the Drafthouse, despite their best efforts to get rid of me, why not provide coverage for this weekly treat? The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: The Hidden.
The Hidden is the story of a series of bizarre incidents taking place in L.A. over the course of one day. These events involve perfectly rational, decent people suddenly exhibiting despicable, criminal, and often violent behavior. It starts with a stock broker who robs a smattering of businesses including a bank, a few liquor stores, a jewelry store, and a candy shop. Though his neighbors described him as a sweet guy who wouldn't hurt a fly, he's now stealing Ferraris and killing anyone who gets in his way. When he is finally brought down by police, they assume the case is closed...until another law-abiding citizen begins to run amok in exactly the same pattern. Is this a trend? How many more regular Joes will snap? And who is this mysterious FBI agent who seems to know everything about these unlikely perpetrators?
Let me kick this off by stating emphatically that The Hidden is one of the best films I've seen at Terror Tuesday. I may need to further quantify that given the venue; I have enjoyed few films at Terror Tuesday as much as The Hidden. It is rife with obligatory 80's faux pas so as to supply the laughs at the film's expense. But I honestly feel this is a very well-made film harboring a strong subtext. The film is about a force inside people that transforms them into base, gluttonous rogues hell-bent on getting anything and everything they want. The people infected are universally drawn toward Italian sports cars, stereo equipment, and colossal sums of cash.
So some unknown force within these people draws them robotically toward exemplars of excess? Sounds like a condemnation of the 80's if I ever heard one! The addition of a woman being afflicted, cryptic those this may sound in the interest of remaining spoiler free, further supports this commentary as she is another possession sought by the previous carrier. I found it apt that they showed a trailer for They Live prior to this film because the themes are strikingly similar.
What I loved most about this film is that, for the first half, it felt like an 80's episode of The X-Files. You have a cop from a regular beat who believes in nothing supernatural suddenly thrust into an extraordinary case, and the bulk of the first half centers more on the investigation than the perpetrators. When our no-nonsense cop is paired with an eccentric FBI agent with a mysterious past, The X-Files parallel becomes starkly apparent. It was a really interesting approach to this story and one that afforded a goodly amount of buddy cop back-and-forth between Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri. MacLachlan in particular is phenomenal in this; giving off the same creepy vibes as did his Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks with enough supernatural sentience to invoke images of David Duchovny. He was irresistibly likeable even at his weirdest.
There are some great action sequences and car chases in this film which standout in what seems otherwise to be low-budget production. There are also a number of great kills that should satiate any horror fan who may find this film a little too sci-fi for Terror Tuesday. I think this would make a great double feature with Terror Tuesday alum I Come in Peace, but you can make your own judgment on that point. The only thing that really hinders The Hidden is its molasses pacing. The film clicks along at the beginning at a great pace, but the extended periods of dead air really suck the wind out of the sails. It also seemed odd to me that the hard-boiled cop wasn't brought into the loop as far as what was going on until the very end of the film. He knew they were chasing murderers, but the FBI agent knew the whole truth and didn't divulge it until the climax. It's what made the film seem bottom-heavy with a preponderance of plot crammed into the last few minutes. All I'm saying is that The Hidden, at an actual running time of 96 minutes, felt like the longest movie I'd seen at Terror Tuesday.
My regular Terror Tuesday cohorts who had seen this film seemed convinced that it would be an audience favorite. I have to say, the crowd was pretty subdued until Mr. Zack Carlson, our resident horror ringmaster, did his introduction. Once the film started, the boisterous reaction to the film is something that I haven't seen rivaled in quite some time. But again, the long periods of stagnation prompted a tangible retraction of audience engagement. When it slams back into high gear near the end, the roar was deafening; emphasizing just how much it would have brought down the house if it were tightened.