Modern psycho-thrillers succumb to last-act fatigue with depressing regularity. From the popular FATAL ATTRACTION to last year's underrated LISA to innumerable bad teens-in-jeopardy flicks, comes that hokey connect-the-dots climax: the psycho's scheme revealed, he or she goes bananas
with a sharp instrument; the menaced protagonist flailingly fights back; the psycho goes down, presumably dead; the trembling protagonist tiptoes near the psycho's corpse; a hand shoots out--the psycho's still alive! Thankfully, the requisite boyfriend/girlfriend/cop bursts onto the scene and
finishes the psycho off for good. So much for the finale of HIDER IN THE HOUSE, a polished production that went belatedly to home video. But what of its beginning?
Tom Sykes (Gary Busey) grew up abused by his parents and learned early that to avoid beating he had to hide, under sinks, in closets, anywhere that he could be out of sight. But Tom's problems wouldn't go away, and he reacted by setting a blaze that killed his mother and father. After years in a
mental institution, the adult Tom is judged sane and discharged. Immediately he slides back into his old habit, but on a grand scale. Tom finds a newly-built home, as yet unoccupied, and he secretly partitions off a section of the attic. He's comfortably installed in this hiding place when the
house is bought by the impossibly contented Dryer family: lovely wife Julie (Mimi Rogers), handsome and successful husband Phil (Michael McKean), preteen son Neil (Kurt Christopher Kinder) and toddler Holly (Candy Hutson). Spying through gratings, listening in via the intercom, lurking Tom
imagines himself both a member of this happy clan and their guardian angel.
But the Dryers are less blissful than they appear. A hard-driving executive, Phil neglects Julie at home and carries on a sleazy affair with a younger woman. An angry Tom makes a few strategic phone calls and arranges for Julie to catch Phil with his mistress. The trap succeeds, and the faithless
Phil gets thrown out of the house. Now Tom sees his chance. Masquerading as a normal area resident, he befriends the devastated Julie, comforting her and serving as a surrogate father to Neil and Holly. In his mind, the psychotic Tom sees himself taking Phil's place as master of the house,
instantly gaining the love he's lacked all his life--and he'll let nothing stop him.
Not long afterwards HIDER IN THE HOUSE goes on autopilot, as described above, and ends as a routine mad-slasher rampage. Up until then it's a well-crafted suburban nightmare. Director Matthew Patrick builds the tension steadily, until the viewers themselves come to believe that Tom's twisted ruse
may actually triumph. Gary Busey (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, CARNY, INSIGNIFICANCE), a stocky, bear-like actor whose range has seldom been tapped, makes Tom a dangerous yet sympathetic misfit. One could almost root for this madman but for the character's abrupt shifts from cunning to childlike rage
and downright stupidity. Paul Tobias, Ph.D., is listed in the credits as "psychological consultant," but much of Tom Sykes's antics seem contrived solely to increase his aura of danger.
Mimi Rogers is well cast as the domestic ideal (when first glimpsed, she's in soft focus and delicately sniffing a flower) whose life turns out to be far from perfect. Bruce Glover, one of the few actors around who looks crazier than Busey, turns up in a brief bit as a neighborhood Romeo with his
own designs on Julia. Although Glover's character plays a pivotal role at the climax, he stays offscreen, adding to the perfunctory feeling of the picture's finish.
Screenwriter Lem Dobbs became legendary in Hollywood for his formidable output of intriguing--and unproduced--scripts, including KAFKA. HIDER IN THE HOUSE was the first of his works finally to reach the screen, although Dobbs himself disparaged the results as "a total hideous embarrassment." It's
not that bad as psychological thrillers go, but falls short of reaching the upper echelon of the genre. Still, the film offers a quality shudder or two and did not deserve complete obscurity with Vestron's fall. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Modern psycho-thrillers succumb to last-act fatigue with depressing regularity. From the popular FATAL ATTRACTION to last year's underrated LISA to innumerable bad teens-in-jeopardy flicks, comes that hokey connect-the-dots climax: the psycho's scheme reve… (more)