Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey), a quiet citizen with no criminal past, robs a Los Angeles Wells Fargo bank, kills all of the security guards inside, and leads the Los Angeles Police Department on a high-speed chase. The chase ends when DeVries encounters a police blockade overseen by detective Thomas Beck (Michael Nouri). DeVries is shot several times, smashes through the blockade and crashes the Ferrari he is driving. DeVries is taken to a hospital, where a doctor informs Beck and his partner, Det. Cliff Willis (Ed O'Ross) that DeVries is not expected to survive the night.
Upon his return to LAPD headquarters, Beck and his supervisor, Lt. John Masterson (Clarence Felder), meet FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan), who informs them that Beck has been assigned to work with Gallagher to track down DeVries. When told of DeVries's condition, Gallagher rushes off to the hospital.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, DeVries suddenly awakens. Disconnecting his life-support equipment, he approaches the comatose man in the next bed, Jonathan P. Miller (William Boyett). After DeVries forces Miller's mouth open, a slug-like alien emerges from DeVries' mouth and transfers itself into Miller's body. Gallagher arrives to find DeVries dead on the floor and Miller's bed abandoned. Gallagher tells Beck to put out an alert on Miller, who refuses, because of Miller's lack of a criminal history.
Miller goes to a record store where he beats the store's owner to death. He then goes to a car dealership, where he kills three men and steals a red Ferrari. He then visits a strip club, where the alien leaves Miller's body and takes over the body of a stripper named Brenda (Claudia Christian). Gallagher asks police to track Brenda when he sees her picture next to Miller's body. Brenda is then propositioned by a cat-caller, she accepts and follows him to his car. They proceed to have vehicular sex in a parking lot which results in his death. She then takes his car. Gallagher and Beck pursue her to a rooftop, where they mortally wound her in a gun battle. As Brenda dies, Gallagher points a strangely-shaped, alien weapon at her; however, she leaps from the roof. As Masterson arrives from his house to take charge of the scene, the alien transfers itself from Brenda's dying body to Masterson's dog.
Frustrated by Gallagher's continuing refusal to explain the strange phenomenon of ordinary citizens turning into crazed killers, Beck arrests him and puts him in a jail cell. Beck soon learns that "Gallagher" is an imposter, impersonating the real agent Gallagher, who is dead. When Beck confronts "Gallagher" with this information, "Gallagher" tells him that he ("Gallagher") is an extraterrestrial lawman and that they are in fact pursuing an alien thrill killer who has the ability to take over human bodies. Beck dismisses the story as insane and leaves "Gallagher" incarcerated in a jail cell at the police station.
Back at Masterson's house, the alien leaves the dog's body and takes over the lieutenant's body. In the morning Masterson goes to the police station and seizes a number of weapons, sparking a shootout between himself and the station's police officers as he attempts to track down "Gallagher". Convinced of "Gallagher"'s story due to Masterson's immunity to excessive bullet wounds, Beck releases him from his cell, and the two confront Masterson. During the resulting shootout, Masterson confirms that "Gallagher" is an alien law enforcer named Alhague who has been pursuing the alien ever since it murdered his family and his partner on another planet. Though Beck manages to stop Masterson, Alhague/Gallagher reveals that his weapon can't kill the alien when it's inside a Human body as the weapon doesn't work on Human skin, thus requiring him to be present when it is transferring hosts. They are unable to stop the alien from abandoning Masterson's body for that of Beck's partner Willis, who then escapes the station.
Using Willis' credentials, the alien tries to gain access to Senator Holt, a likely presidential candidate, at the hotel where the senator is staying. Alhague/Gallagher and Beck follow Willis, and a shootout ensues between Beck and Willis, during which Beck is severely wounded. As Willis, the alien corners Senator Holt and enters his body before Alhague/Gallagher can stop him. "Holt" then calls a press conference and announces his candidacy for the presidency. Alhague/Gallagher is forced to attack Holt in the middle of the press conference; though shot several times by the police and the senator's bodyguards, Alhague/Gallagher is able to get close enough to use a flamethrower on Holt. As the alien emerges from Holt's charred body shocking everybody, Alhague/Gallagher kills it with his weapon before himself collapsing.
Taken to the hospital where Beck is being treated, Alhague/Gallagher discovers that Beck is close to death. Witnessing the emotional suffering of Beck's wife and daughter, Alhague/Gallagher transfers his life force from Gallagher to Beck as Beck dies. When she sees her miraculously "recovered" father, Beck's daughter initially hesitates when he reaches out to her, but then smiles and takes his hand.Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Lloyd Gallagher/Robert Stone/Alhague
Michael Nouri as Det. Thomas Beck
Richard Brooks as Det. Sanchez
Claudia Christian as Brenda Lee Van Buren (the stripper)
Chris Mulkey as Jack DeVries
William Boyett as Jonathan P. Miller
John McCann as Senator Holt
Clarence Felder as Lt. John Masterson
Clu Gulager as Lt. Ed Flynn
Ed O'Ross as Det. Cliff Willis
Steve Eastin as Agent Stadt
Katherine Cannon as Barbara Beck
Larry Cedar as Brem
James Luisi as the sleezy cocaine-sniffing Ferrari Salesman
Danny Trejo as a prisoner
Lin Shaye as senator's assistant
The soundtrack was released on Varese Sarabande Records, Cassettes and CDs with the score by Michael Convertino. The end credits states a soundtrack was released on I.R.S. Records.
Songs:"Hidden" – The Truth
"Black Girl White Girl" – The Lords of the New Church
"Is There Anybody In There?" – Hunters & Collectors
"Say Good Bye" – Hunters & Collectors
"On Your Feet" – Shok Paris
"Going Down Fighting" – Shok Paris
"Weapons of Love" – The Truth
"Still in Hollywood" – Concrete Blonde
"Your Haunted Head" – Concrete Blonde
"While the Going's Good" – Twin Set & the Pearls
"You Make Me Feel So Young" – Brian Gunboty
"Out of Control (In My Car)" – ULI
"Bad Girl" – Mendy Lee
"Over Your Shoulder" – Concrete Blonde
The film was released theatrically in the United States by New Line Cinema in October 1987. It turned out to be a modest hit for the company, grossing $9,747,988 at the box office.
The film was released on VHS and laserdisc by Media Home Entertainment in 1988. In August 1997, New Line Home Video re-released the film on VHS.
In 2000, New Line Home Entertainment released the film on special edition DVD. The film was re-released in a set including the sequel The Hidden II in 2005.
In August 2017, Warner Archive announced a special edition release of the film on MOD DVD. It is scheduled to be released on September 12, 2017.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 78% of 24 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.9/10. Variety wrote, "The Hidden is a well-constructed thriller, directed with swift assurance by Jack Sholder, brought down by an utterly conventional sci-fi ending." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it 3/4 stars and called it "a surprisingly effective film". Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "The movie is mostly a series of automobile chases through Los Angeles, but there is also some humor." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times, called it "as unstintingly violent as it is crudely ingenious". Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote, "The Hidden is one of the most satisfying genre movies to hit the streets in a while."
In a 1992 retrospective, James M. Silver of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film did not have a long enough release to attract a proper audience but is "outstanding". It has since become a cult film.Jack Sholder won the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in 1988.
Jack Sholder won Best Director at Fantasporto in 1988. It was also nominated for Best Film at that festival.
Michael Nouri won Best Actor at the Catalan International Film Festival in 1987. Jack Sholder took Prize of the International Critics’ Jury at the same festival.
At the 1988 Saturn Awards, Michael Nouri was nominated for Best Actor, Jack Sholder was nominated for Best Director, Jim Kouf was nominated for best writing, and The Hidden was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film.