Of The Terminator and Robotcop a little darker hands of steel and The Vindicatorthe 1980s was the decade of the indestructible being who is programmed to wreak as much havoc as possible on the unsuspecting American public. Cache has been all but forgotten compared to the oft-quoted antics of Arnie and his friends, but it delivers just as much thrill and it’s a much more accurate portrayal of the “greed is good” mood that defined the Reagan era.
Directed by Jack Sholder, the 1987 mix of alien invasion, body horror and social satire centers on an alien slug capable of entering and controlling the bodies of other living creatures. Having traveled to Earth with a bucket list of debauchery and depravity, he is determined to sample all the vices the planet has to offer.
That’s why Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey), a once gentle and law-abiding citizen, suddenly transforms into a murderous bank robber before leading the cops on a physics-defying cross-town car chase. knocks down a lot of people and, in a sign that the film has its tongue in cheek, involves two men carrying a plate of glass.
The majority of the police, including Michael Nouri’s pragmatic Thomas Beck, are understandably confused. Their confusion grows when a comatose patient (William Boyett) escapes from his hospital bed and beats a record store employee to death in broad daylight.
“Why would he come here and kill a guy for a hundred dollars and a radio? Beck asks cleaner FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan, warming up for his role in twin peaks). “Because he likes it. He sees something he wants, he steals it. If anything gets in his way, he kills it. And right now he’s hiding in your town,” is the ominous response.
There’s a reason Gallagher isn’t surprised by all the weird personality transplants. As foreshadowed by his confusion over alcohol and everyday kitchen utensils, he too turns out to be an alien. His family has been wiped out by the ever-changing thrill seeker, and he’s on Earth for revenge.
Watching this game of cat and mouse unfold is a blast, especially in the bizarre way the killer disguises himself. At one point, he transforms into a lieutenant’s cuddly dog. Later, he takes on the body of a senator, announcing a presidential candidacy that suggests his ambitions for power extend beyond Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the alien, his campaign to become leader of the free world is shorter than that of Scott Walker, as within seconds his parasitic origins are revealed by Gallagher’s flamethrower skills. More memorably, it takes the form of a stripper named Brenda Lee Van Buren (Claudia Christian), who becomes murderous in the middle of coitus before falling in love with the sight of her own breasts.
Indeed, the ever-evolving villain is all about instant gratification. He engages in sex with a cat in a vehicle moments after becoming a woman for the first time. He goes to a car dealership and steals a red Ferrari after dispatching the salesman and the coked test driver. “I want this car”, declares the impassive possessed before blowing his brains out. Even aliens weren’t immune to the pitfalls of ’80s consumerism.
They apparently couldn’t resist the lure of heavy rock either. In keeping with his sex, drug and rock and roll lifestyle, the alien still takes to the streets with songs ranging from pedal to metal like The Lords of the New Church, Concrete Blonde and Shok Paris. You half expect him to visit the Sunset Strip and start taking pictures with Mötley Crüe.
Sholder knows when to cut all the carnage off with a well-timed visual gag or a quick-witted one-liner, while MacLachlan and Nouri share chemistry to match the mismatched pal capers of the era.
Cache is not a comedy, however. The man behind early 80s slashers Alone in the dark and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is more concerned with scaring than laughing, which he achieves every time the disgusting slug slips into the mouth of a new host. There’s also something inherently creepy about the first CCTV footage in which the possessed gunman stares straight into the camera and adopts a maniacal smile.
It’s not all brutality, though, as there’s a surprising amount of heart for a movie that involves alien law enforcement and two car chases that both seem to last for the duration of the Daytona 500. Although incarcerated by his partner in crime after trying to explain his true identity, Gallagher later sacrifices himself by transporting his life force into Beck’s dying body. The moment when the latter’s young daughter and wife kiss the man they thought was near death is an unexpected and touching way to end a film so firmly rooted in ultra-violence.
But it’s the film’s way of exploiting the excesses of the era that helped it achieve cult classic status (and inspired an inferior 1993 straight-to-video sequel). That may not have been exactly what the 40th POTUS was selling, but the nameless alien is simply living his distorted American dream.