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Director Jack Sholder remembers “THE HIDDEN,” playing Chicago this weekend

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Movies like ALONE IN THE DARK and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE have secured eclectic director Jack Sholder a permanent position in many a genre fan’s horror hall of fame. But, Sholder, whose less recognizable yet enjoyable credits include WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES, ARACHNID and the killer-shark telemovie 12 DAYS OF TERROR, is especially and justifiably proud of his work on 1987’s THE HIDDEN, New Line Cinema’s popular science fiction/action/horror hybrid.

Written by Jim Kouf under the pseudonym Bob Hunt, THE HIDDEN stars TWIN PEAKS’ Kyle MacLachlan as an alien in human form who teams with LA cop Michael Nouri to track a vicious extraterrestrial that takes control of a succession of human hosts to wage a campaign of destruction and murder. On the eve of his guest appearance at Chicago’s Sci-Fi Spectacular this weeken, where THE HIDDEN will be screened (see details below), Sholder reminisced with FANGORIA about his efforts to make an emotional impact with THE HIDDEN, his biggest on-set difficulty and working on projects with prized performers like Jack Palance.

HIDDENSHOLDER1FANGORIA: You had already proven yourself as an editor on THE BURNING and a writer on ALONE IN THE DARK before taking on THE HIDDEN. Did New Line Cinema utilize these skills, or were you more of a director for hire on the project?

JACK SHOLDER: I was involved in shaping it. When I did NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, I was basically a director for hire. I did whatever a director-for-hire does, but with THE HIDDEN, I saw the film a little differently than the script initially was. It was written as kind of a romp. There was another director attached who was pretty much that kind of filmmaker, a straight-on action, shoot-’em-up type. I saw it as more than that.

FANG: What was that vision, specifically?

SHOLDER: I thought there was a very compelling story there. It was really about what it meant to be human. You had these two aliens, and with them you could focus on what it means to be a good person and what it means to be a bad one. I wanted to shape it in that direction. The writer, Jim Kouf, had wanted to direct it, but since he wasn’t, he simply wasn’t interested in doing anything more than selling it. So I actually did a rewrite. The that I did mainly involved the characters. I added the whole thing with the Detective Beck’s family and the little girl. In the original, Beck was married and there was a scene with his wife, but I felt they just had a breezy relationship and wanted them to have something stronger, so I added their daughter. That was my major contribution. I mean, it was a really good script. Most of what you see is what Jim Kouf wrote, but I sort of beefed up that end.

Then I emphasized the whole thing about the aliens finding themselves in these suits, which are basically human bodies. I honestly don’t recall if it was always in the script or not, but I have a lot of scenes where the aliens look at themselves in the mirror just see what they jumped into. Even the dog—there’s that one shot where you see the dog looking in the mirror, and that usually gets the biggest laugh in the whole movie. But it’s a good laugh, because it’s based on something.

FANG: Did your influence extend to the action sequences, too?

SHOLDER: The car chase, I kind of put my own spin on that as well. There was this elaborate bank robbery that started off the story [in the script], but New Line didn’t want to do it. They felt it wasn’t a bank-robbery movie and didn’t want to spend the money on it. They kind of saw it as a horror film, while I saw it as a cop-thriller-science fiction deal. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool, rather than starting with the robbery, to just begin with the guy walking out of the bank, holding the sack of money, and people start shooting at him. Then we go into the car chase. When we saw the film cut together, though, it just didn’t feel like a strong opening, and we decided we somehow needed to do the robbery—but again, they didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

HIDDENSHOLDER2So I said, “Hey, why don’t we set up the camera like it’s a surveillance unit, and we’ll do the whole thing in one shot.” They said, “OK! That’s good!” We found a bank that had recently gone out of business, and that’s what we did. That was another departure from the script, but it wasn’t anything I wrote in. It was just the way things happened, but I think it works really well for the film.

FANG: The cast is very strong. What was it like working with Kyle MacLachan and Michael Nouri?

SHOLDER: Well, Kyle was great and Michael was very difficult. It was probably the toughest situation I have ever had with an actor. Part of that was him and, I think, part of that was me. Part of it might have been that he was expecting to have a huge career. After FLASHDANCE, I believe he thought he was going to be a big star. Now, here he was in this little horror film by this little company with this guy whose last movie was the sequel to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I think he felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and that he’d better protect himself. He wanted to make sure that he sort of controlled his performance. It was my third feature, but I had never encountered an actor who didn’t want to do what I asked him to do, or who was sort of diametrically opposed to everything I asked him to do.

FANG: But you had already worked with some accomplished people—Martin Landau and Jack Palance on ALONE IN THE DARK, Clu Gulager and Hope Lange on the NIGHTMARE sequel…

SHOLDER: Yeah. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing. Palance was a handful, himself, but he was different. Palance came across as “You know what? I’m a tough guy. I’m an asshole!” He seemed like he could give you a hard time, but then he was a lot nicer than he appeared. Whereas Nouri was like, “I’m a nice guy, a great actor and I’m going to help you!” But he was the exact opposite. So it was kind of easier with Palance. He was always better than he seemed. Nouri was always not as nice as he seemed. I was pretty angry about him for a long time. We eventually bumped into each other and said, “Let’s get together,” and we talked it through. It was just one of those things that happens. It was a very difficult shoot for that reason. But some things went right, and the film turned out really well.

FANG: And that is what’s going to stand the test of time, ultimately!

SHOLDER: Yeah. But you often hear how everybody loved each other on a set, and it’s all bullshit. Honestly, because of Nouri, I was always a little bit off balance. It wasn’t like I could just come in and say, “OK, we’re going to do this!” If said, “I want you to come in and walk over to the chair on the left,” he’d say, “No, I want to come in and stand at the table on the right.” I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how I was going to get him to do what I wanted, so there was a lot of effort put into that. That was just part of the dynamic. I’ve worked with other actors who have given me a hard time, but by then I had had a lot more experience, so I knew how to deal with it. If I had just had more experience with the psychology of the whole thing, it probably wouldn’t have been as much of a problem. I just didn’t know how to handle it at that point.

FANG: Speaking of actors, can you talk about working with Claudia Christian, who is truly memorable as Brenda, the stripper?

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SHOLDER: Oh, she was great. She was kind of a wild and crazy girl. She was up for anything and had a good attitude. She really, really went for it. I think she’s iconic in the role.

FANG: Is it surprising to you that we’re still talking about THE HIDDEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 all these years later?

SHOLDER: I think THE HIDDEN is a really good film. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, the reason people talk about that is because the series is so iconic. Honestly, I believe ELM STREET 2 is a good movie, but I don’t consider it one of my best. Still, I think I did a good job, but I see ALONE IN THE DARK as a much more interesting film. So, listen, you just make ’em and you put ’em out there and hope they turn out well. I just feel fortunate that most of the projects I’ve worked on are things I actually thought had a chance to be good.

Sholder and actress Jennifer Ruben (SCREAMERS, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, BAD DREAMS) will be appearing at The Sci-Fi Spectacular 2015, featuring 16 hours of science fiction and horror-film madness, this Saturday, April 18 at the Patio Theater, 6008 Irving Park Road in Chicago. Free photos and autographs will be offered. Tickets are $20 pre-sale, $25 at the door day of the show. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased here; for more info, click here.

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