• Kyle MacLachlan in 'The Hidden'. (SBS Movies)
In time for Halloween, make a double feature out of two cult 1980s horror films at SBS On Demand, about murder investigations that point toward inhuman perpetrators.
By
Ian Barr

26 Oct 2017 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 26 Oct 2017 - 4:34 PM

We know it can be overwhelming to choose a movie from the 900+ now streaming at SBS On Demand. In this new series, we suggest movies best watched back-to-back (i.e. 'Watch this, then that'). 

The conventions of the police procedural and the horror genre initially seem greatly at odds with each other – after all, what’s more endemic to horror than ongoing exposition and explanation, and what’s the fun in matching wits with detectives when the case being solved invokes the great unknown? It’s therefore unsurprising that there’ve been few Hollywood films to merge the two; genre hybrids with no obvious antecedent present a major hurdle to an industry dominated by marketing, but more crucially, these two particular genres run the risk of cancelling each other out. The Hidden and Wolfen are two counterexamples from the 1980’s, which both successfully merge the methodical, coolly rational genre of the police procedural with the fantastical, irrational demands of the horror genre (and in The Hidden’s case, sci-fi as well) thanks to smart storytelling choices and some judicious tweaking of those very conventions.

Wolfen, a weary-looking Albert Finney plays former NYPD detective Dewey Wilson, pulled back into one last case involving the gory triple-homicide of a wealthy businessman, his wife and their bodyguard. The discovery of the bodyguard’s severed hand holding a loaded gun is just one bizarre detail that leads Wilson to doubt that terrorists are to blame (as the businessman’s firm insists), and further investigation suggests wolf attacks, with this upper crust couple (and instigator of the case) a wrong-place-wrong-time aberration in a long line of attacks that otherwise target the most isolated and vulnerable members of society. Based on Whitley Strieber’s novel of the same name, Wolfen exploits the political and sociological subtext inherent in this setup; it was the only narrative film directed by Michael Wadleigh, best known for his 1970 documentary Woodstock, which sympathetically chronicled the landmark counter-cultural music festival of the same name. All this alone should give some idea of what a strange, singular beast of a film it is – odd and unwieldy, for sure (the cut that Wadleigh presented to the studios, before being removed in post-production, was allegedly four and a half hours long) but never less than atmospheric and thoughtful. The use of thermographic/solarised footage to simulate the POV of a vicious creature on the prowl would prove enormously influential (cf. Predator), and elsewhere the film is visually striking in a classical, Val Lewton-ish sort of way. It ends with Finney’s voiceover solemnly intoning a variation on ‘the real monsters were us all along’, but with the kind of conviction that only a true outsider can summon.

Watch 'Wolfen' at SBS on Demand now  

In 1987's The Hidden, a stoic Kyle MacLachlan plays FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (a proto-Dale Cooper?), paired with grouchy LAPD detective Tom (Michael Nouri) to solve a series of murders carried out by citizens with no prior criminal record. Eventually, it’s revealed that an alien parasite travelling from body to body is responsible for the crimes, and like Wolfen, it’s inferred that only the most visible display of this epidemic is what we see first, with low-res surveillance footage of a nondescript man in prescription glasses shooting up a crowded bank in downtown Los Angeles. Unlike Wolfen, The Hidden is extremely entertaining schlock and firmly a product of the Reagan era; its horror is predicated on the cognitive dissonance of seeing “law-abiding taxpayers” engaging in transgressions such as theft, murder, visiting strip clubs and blasting punk and heavy metal music in public, and it ends with a pat affirmation of the nuclear family. Aside from its more conventional kicks, it offers a role for Kyle MacLachlan that showcases the often under-explored soulfulness and pathos that he’s capable of (as well as a jail-cell confrontation that weirdly anticipates the penultimate episode of the new season of Twin Peaks). Made on a low budget, the film became a modest commercial success in its time and then a cult favourite on late-night TV; its gradual progression from crime-thriller to horror to straight-up science fiction is the kind of genre-mash best experienced through increasingly bleary eyes.

Watch 'The Hidden' at SBS on Demand now

 

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