Warner Archive recently released two films that are perfectly tailored for this Halloween. Old to me is John Landis’ 1992 vampire-mob comedy, Innocent Blood; a movie I used to watch three or four times a week during its high tide on pay cable. New to me is Jack Sholder’s 1987 cops & aliens sci-fi burner, The Hidden, which was always the VHS cover in the background of every video store horror section I skimmed, but never felt compelled to rent. (Trust me, I now know the error of my ways.)
Let me start with my comfort zone. Innocent Blood follows Marie (Anne Parillaud, fresh off the international stardom of La Femme Nikita), a vampire who preys on the wicked between nude jaunts in her large-windowed loft. She has a code: feed on those who deserve it, then blow them and the evidence away with the trigger of a shotgun. Unfortunately, she makes a few mistakes along the way, mixing with a local mob crew headed by the amazing, scenery-chewing Robert Loggia. The dominos start to fall for Marie when she leaves Loggia’s Sallie “The Shark” Macelli sired. Macelli gets the bright idea that, with this new ferocious immortality, he – and any of his crew he bites – could be unstoppable in grabbing any gang territory they want. Throw in the mix, Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), an undercover cop in Macelli’s family whose cover is blown almost as the movie begins. Gennaro steals the heart of the disarmingly sweet bloodsucker, Marie, while they both try to clean up her mess.
The cast is wall-to-wall with New York actors you have seen in Goodfellas and on The Sopranos. And, they all have great little bits of business here, including Don Rickles as Macelli’s lawyer. Landis brings his reliable sense of humor to the proceedings, dry and peppered with moments of childish glee. The tone is similar to his An American Werewolf in London, but the fact that Innocent Blood is wedged between Oscar and Beverly Hills Cop III in his directorial efforts should tell you that it was destined for “cult classic” status. Parillaud, undoubtedly a great actress in her native France, is a crutch for this film. She is given more dialogue than her grasp of English can handle, and it is a shame because that is no reflection on her talent. She handles the two sides of the character – animalistic lust and innocent girl – quite well. However, when Landis has her voice modulated to depict her demonic side, Parillaud sounds like Tommy Wiseau. It was a constant source of amusement for me.
Innocent Blood does a lot really well. Rickles’ demise after becoming a vampire is one of the best FX deaths of the ’90s, hands down. The glowing eye lenses are really creepy, even when they are out of alignment and make the wearer look cockeyed. The comedy is juggled masterfully with the blood-soaked scares. The characters, slimy or not, are truly likable. Loggia, for instance, is a gem and the best part of the movie for me. And, while the love story between Marie and Joe flounders, their sex scene is Zalman King levels of hot. The movie does eventually run out of steam in the last act, and as a viewer, I never felt like it had a great grasp of its own rules. Apparently, vampires in New York easily die by broken neck and gunshots to the head, but can spin soliloquies while engulfed in fire? Okay. It is all good fun though and worth checking out.
The Hidden is one of the best examples of a movie I was on board with from the jump. Chris Mulkey robbing a bank, shooting random people without a care, driving fast in a Ferrari to heavy metal music – this would have been my favorite movie as an action-loving kid. By the time Mulkey ran over an innocent bystander and got lit up in a ball of fire by the extreme prejudice of the L.A.P.D., I actually said to myself, “where have you been all my life?” The Hidden was never on any must-see list of horror/sci-fi I ever read, but its cult status was noteworthy. Along with Alien Nation and Dark Angel / I Come in Peace, it occupied this sub-genre of cops & aliens action movies that got rented out quite frequently at my local video store. I knew director Jack Sholder from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, but that was about it on my foreknowledge of The Hidden.
While watching Wes Craven’s Shocker for the first time, I tweeted a joke about how Craven should have sued the makers of Fallen for ripping off his concept. I was rebutted by Film School Rejects’ Rob Hunter, mentioning that they all would then get sued by the makers of The Hidden. It is kind of true, but not quite. Where Shocker and Fallen deal with a supernatural invasion, The Hidden‘s culprit is an alien jumping from host to host, while dealing out crime, death and hedonism on epic levels. Michael Nouri plays Beck, the best the police force has to offer. And, Kyle MacLachlan plays Lloyd Gallagher, the FBI agent enlisting Beck’s help in finding the violent criminal alien as it moves from person to person. Gallagher is not all that he seems though. He has some insider knowledge Beck is suspicious of. And, he acts pretty weird for a human. (That’s because he isn’t.)
The cat-and-mouse setup is fun throughout the movie. Seeing each host go from good person to murderous maniac – loving junk food, metal & punk music, fast cars and big guns – just keeps selling how “1980s” The Hidden is. That is a compliment. It is of its time, and the excess is quaint by today’s standards. For instance, a Ferrari dealer shares his little stash of cocaine with a potential buyer, only for both to be gunned down by the alien and the car stolen. It really feels like GTA: The Movie sometimes. But it is not all ruthless. MacLachlan, for one, brings some real heart to the movie, as the alien discovering humanity for the first time. Coming off of watching Twin Peaks: The Return recently, it is comfy seeing MacLachlan as an FBI agent; it has become his default role for me. In The Hidden, before the reveal, I thought his acting was pretty wooden; a criticism levied at MacLachlan particularly after Blue Velvet and Dune. But, the performance clicks once the viewer knows he’s not human. MacLachlan is so gentle and well-meaning in this film. It is great to see The Hidden playing with what the viewer typically looks to for emotional investment; it does not rest with Nouri’s lead character and that feels fresh.
Speaking of Michael Nouri, he is solid as the gruff cop who knows the streets Gallagher is just a tourist on. He grounds the movie, which is a thankless job. Nouri is also so watchable, a quality that would have benefited him more as a leading man if he was not such a pain to work with, according to Sholder’s commentary. I loved the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Danny Trejo too. The only criticism I can really throw is the underuse of Ed O’Ross (Lethal Weapon, Dick Tracy). The dude is on all the posters. He is one of the most recognizable faces to any action geek. I figured he would eventually take on being “the face” of the bad guy in this movie. Not so much. Besides that, The Hidden is a really fun watch, with great alien FX and good characters. Check it out.
Warner Archive brings both Innocent Blood and The Hidden to blu-ray in typically solid editions. Innocent Blood‘s video is sharp, crisp, with great black levels to exploit a movie that takes place 95% at night. Blood is RED red. The audio is not bombastic, but the film is not trying to be Transformers either. The wildcat growls during vampire feeding time are vicious. Even with its age, this is the best Innocent Blood has been exhibited on home video. The blu includes the film’s trailer in HD. The Hidden also shows its age, but the colors are vibrant…where they exist. For instance, Sholder speaks on the commentary about omitting blue from the color palette in order to create discomfort in the viewer, and it is noticeable in the first half of the movie especially, when we are learning what The Hidden‘s L.A. is like. The audio fares a bit better here; again, not a sound system workout but the music and gunshots are fantastic. The blu includes extras ported over from the New Line DVD, including the film’s trailer in HD, a Special Effects Production Footage reel narrated by the director, and Commentary with Sholder and Tim Hunter. One note: it sounds like Sholder is talking about a different cut of the film, so I cannot speak to this version vs. the old DVD. It is a fun, engaging talk about the making of the movie, which I wanted more and more of as it went on. The commenters talk so long, they even seem to be cut off abruptly at the end of the movie’s duration.
Go track down these great movies, available now from Warner Archive!