7. The Hidden (1987)
“The Hidden” kicks off with a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ style bank robbery and car chase, with bonus hit and runs on innocent pedestrians; and it really doesn’t let the pace dip. Our perpetrator is a body swapping alien being with a love of violence, fast cars and 80s metal. It wreaks havoc everywhere it goes using up it’s host body until it’s too damaged to keep going.
For the major part of the movie, this all seems pretty motiveless, but there is a hint of the alien’s potential plan for greater power later in the story. The creature is pursued throughout the movie by an otherworldly FBI agent, with more than a few Dale Cooper traits, played by Kyle McLachlan, who has been trying to kill it for some time. He teams up with a city homicide detective played by Michael Nouri and the script allows them some good chemistry on screen.
“The Hidden” is a fast paced b-movie style thriller with good effects and a great story, look out for genre movie favourite Lin Shaye and a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance from Danny Trejo.
8. They Live (1988)
Starring late wrestling legend ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper as a drifter credited as ‘Nada’; “They Live” is a not so subtle critique of consumerist ideals and ‘Reaganomics’ which plays out as a paranoid allegory, despite that heavy message it’s a light approach that is taken by director John Carpenter and it makes for a great ride.
‘Nada’ discovers a box of sunglasses which allow him to see that aliens have assimilated themselves into the upper echelons of society; taking up positions of authority and power and recruiting select humans to join their cause in exchange for wealth. ‘Nada’ learns that the real world is an illusion created by a signal, broadcast by the alien invaders, everything we consume in the form of adverts, magazines and even money contains subliminal messaging causing humanity to exist in a state of waking sleep.
The messages order us to obey, reproduce and submit etc. Upon discovering this, ‘Nada’ decides it’s up to him to put a stop to it and proceeds to take action in the form of chewing gum and kicking ass. His task proves difficult alone and he faces challenges when looking to convince others to believe him, leading to a great extended fight with co-star Keith David, allowing Piper to put those wrestling skills on display.
Carpenter adopts a fast based comic book style with the usual high quality musical score setting the pace, the aliens when first introduced make for pretty disturbing figures, made more stark by filming them in black and white. It’s a great b-movie and Piper doesn’t do half bad in the lead, especially when compared to other wrestling actors.
9. Fortress (1992)
“Fortress” is a b-movie that started out life as a Hollywood vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the original budget was around the $70m mark and Arnold was responsible for getting Stuart Gordon on board as director, based on his love of Gordon’s classic ‘Re-animator.’ Arnold soon jumped ship and the budget was subsequently cut by a hefty percentage whilst Christopher Lambert was brought in as star.
Despite all this, Gordon made a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi actioner, which remains his most profitable movie. The story is set in a dystopian future where pregnancy is strictly controlled and only allowed with permission. ‘John ‘Brennick (Lambert) and his wife have fallen foul of this law and try to evade authorities.
Once caught they are sent to a huge futuristic prison, filled with hardened maniacs and state of the art technology to keep the inmates in line. This includes ‘intestinators’, a torturous, explosive device installed in every inmate’s stomach on arrival, and a devious surveillance system voiced by Gordon’s wife. Genre movie favourites Jeffrey Combs and Vernon Wells feature amongst a strong supporting cast.
The highlight of the movie though is Kurtwood Smith as the slimy ‘Prison Director Poe’, he’s just as unlikeable as his other iconic character ‘Clarence Boddicker’ from “RoboCop” despite toning down his performance in comparison. Brennick and his wife both quickly come to his attention and he becomes obsessed with both, even voyeuristically watching their dreams. ‘Fortress’ is well paced, has some great action scenes and was a real video store classic.
10. Split Second (1992)
“Split Second” is a stone cold, low budget sci-fi thriller set in the future of 2008 (our past now – and we should all be happy this didn’t turn out to be the future). Due to global warming and flooding London is now partly submerged in water.
Rutger Hauer stars as ‘Harley Stone’ and hams it up to good effect, chewing through scenes like he goes through cigars. He buddies up with the comically named, Oxford educated cop, ‘Dick Durkin’, to solve the case of a serial killer that rips the hearts from its victims. We discover ‘Stone’ is hell bent on the case as the killer has already taken the life of his partner and left ‘Stone’ an ex-alcoholic with psychological issues.
The killer seems an odd mix of genre tropes, which as the story transpires, is quite fitting, there’s a sub-plot outside of the mindless killing which suggests an occult motive but this isn’t given the necessary development. It’s not overtly noticeable though as the film rattles along with enough pace to distract from minor plot-holes. Given the low budget, the film is littered with decent gore and other well-done effect work.
‘Durkin’ and ‘Stone’s’ interplay offers some needed comic relief in the form of ‘Durkin’ being bullied throughout by ‘Stone’ and snapping to comic effect before losing and demanding some “big f**king guns” to deal with the killer. “Split Second” also features Alun Armstrong who spends the movie shouting at ‘Stone’, Kim Cattrall, post ‘Star Trek’ (which explains her odd hair-do), who seems to be an American from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and the late Pete Postlethwaite in a slightly under-used capacity.
11. Body Snatchers (1993)
“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” (1956) is an absolute classic and a perfect example of this genre, remarkably its 1978 remake came close to equalling it and is a classic in it’s own right, so did we need another remake in the mid 90s? On the basis of this, the answer is yes.
“Body Snatchers” shifts the approach and setting and plays to the strengths of these changes. The film focuses on ‘Marti’ (Gabrielle Anwar) and her family, they are moving to a military outpost in the US so that her father can conduct inspections for the EPA. ‘Marti’ has a strained relationship with her stepmother (Meg Tilly) but is closer to her stepbrother.
Unbeknownst to them, the base is being taken over by alien pods, which clone the bodies they consume. This version really ups the ante in the effects department and there are good sequences of the actual transformation of pods into ‘people’, with some impressive scenes involving half finished replicas.
Shifting the action to a military setting gives the impression the pod people have a real strategy here, their biggest weakness is their apparent lack of human emotion and starting their takeover with the army, known for their uniformity both in terms of appearance and behaviour, seems disturbingly logical. This lack of emotion also gives a number of tense moments awaiting the reveal of whether a character is a human or a pod person.
Abel Ferrara directs well, creating an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, much of the movie is darkly lit and there’s a good use of jaunty angles in filming. There are some plot-holes and some underdevelopment of characters but it’s largely forgivable based on the quality of the whole, a truly chilling moment toward the end of the movie may look a bit dated by today’s standards but it will stay with you once the credits roll.
12. No Escape (1994)
Set in 2022, “No Escape” stars Ray Liotta as a former special forces soldier convicted of murdering his commanding officer. He is transported to a vast maximum-security prison where we learn he has a tendency toward violence and does not work well with authority. He immediately sets about making life difficult for himself by threatening and then attacking the warden.
This results in his transfer to ‘Absolom’; a secured remote island from which there is allegedly no escape. The island is populated by other inmates who have split into two warring factions – ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘The Insiders’ (imaginatively), the former are savages led by a brilliantly camp character named ‘Marek’ (Stuart Wilson), the latter are led by the peaceful ‘Father’ played by 90s stalwart, Lance Henriksen. ‘
The Insiders’ have built a civilised peaceful compound but live under constant threat and regular attack from ‘Marek’s’ men. Liotta, as always, is a good watch and the rest of the cast, which includes Ernie Hudson are mainly entertaining. Kevin Dillon is the only real weakness here playing a pretty annoying character but overall it’s a great take on the futuristic prison movie.
13. Powder (1995)
Sean Patrick Flanery stars as the eponymous ‘Powder’, born an albino when his mother is killed by a lightning strike. He lives his early life in hiding, but upon the death of his grandfather he is taken to a children’s home to be looked after by Mary Steenburgen’s ‘Jessie’. There we find out ‘Powder’ has a number of pretty special powers, not limited to the fact that he can harness and utilise electricity and magnetism.
The movie plays out as a messianic fable with a number of teen movie tropes thrown in, ‘Powder’ is bullied as the outsider from the outset and defending himself using his powers drives those around him to treat him with fear and wariness.
The movie was heavily criticised by some for it’s overuse of clichés and it’s treatment of the main character as a perfect Christ like figure. Despite this though, it deals with some important messages about the treatment of those different from the mainstream accepted view of ‘normality’ and plays with some interesting spiritual and scientific ideas.
The cast around Flanery do a good job with Jeff Goldblum impressing as an inspirational science teacher, Lance Henriksen also puts in a solid performance as the local Sheriff going through a crisis of his own. ‘Powder’s’ overzealous portrayal of the main character may have put many viewers off but taken on its values it’s a great Sunday afternoon of escapism in the vein of many a teen movie.