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I'm never gonna feel as safe as I want to.
~ Tom Sykes

Tom Sykes is the main protagonist/antagonist of the 1989 psychological horror film Hider in the House

He was portrayed by Gary Busey. The young Tom Sykes seen in photographs in the beginning is Gary's son, Jake Busey.

Character Biography

In 1964, when he was 15 years old, he burned down his house with his parents inside, killing them. Sykes claimed that he was driven to it because of their horrible abuse, which included beatings, emotional manipulation and burns. His way to cope with his rough childhood would be to create spaces to hide in his home to avoid his abusive family, one such place being under the sink. 18 years later in 1982, Tom (now a grown man) is finally due for release from the Burley State Hospital. Desiring to live in a house again, Tom creates a secret, hidden home for himself in the attic of a newly built house that is soon purchased by the Dreyer family. Curious, he taps into their home intercom to spy on them. Tom is able to live in the house undetected, but has to kill the family dog, Rudolph, when the dog finds out that he is living in the attic. He buries the dog in the backyard garden and starts to focus his attention on the mom, Julie, going so far as to watch her skinny dip in the pool, watch them while they are asleep and wear Julie's husband Phil's robe. He interferes secretly in the strained relationship between Julie and Phil, arranging for Julie to find out about Phil's affair with another woman, which he overheard Phil discussing with one of his friends. He saves the Dreyer's daughter, Holly, from a potential drowning and befriends the Dreyer's son Neal, teaching him fighting techniques to deal with bullies at his school. After two explosive arguments, Phil leaves the house and moves into a hotel. Seeing this as an opportunity, Sykes pretends to be a visitor who lives on Willmington St. a couple of blocks over. His attempt to insinuate himself into their lives works at first. Sykes murders two people, an exterminator and Julie's friend Rita in self-defense who had accidentally discovered his bizarre secret. He covers up both murders, but not well enough to avoid suspicion. Finally, Julie becomes sufficiently suspicious and discovers his home in their attic. Tom tells her that she has to kick out Phil for good so he can be a father figure to her children. She rejects his advances, causing him to lose it, and he tries to kill her by attempting to light her on fire. Phil succeeds in stopping him, but is severely injured while defending her. Before Tom can kill Phil, Julie gets a gun and shoots Tom in the chest twice. This does not kill him, and Tom gets up and tries to kill both Julie and himself in a murder-suicide, but the police (summoned by Gene, their neighbor) shoot Tom dead from the doorway.

Psychology

A psychologist was hired as an adviser for the film to make the sure the psychology of the Tom Sykes character was as realistic as possible. The film's director, Matthew Patrick, sees the character as a tragic figure who never meant to cause harm and only wanted a family to call his own, causing him to do monstrous things for sympathetic reasons. Although Tom Sykes has a few different mental illnesses, none are specified in the film. However, three are apparent: Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychosis (possibly also Schizophrenia) and Pyromania. The most apparent one appears to be Borderline Personality Disorder, also called Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. This illness is a mood disorder characterized by unstable moods and relationships, where the person affected desires close relationships with others, but this is made difficult by impulsive actions, paranoid behavior and tendency to go from love to hate in a short period of time for various minor reasons. This disorder was likely caused by Tom's parents "abandoning" him with their abuse, which drove him to murder them. Because of this void in his life, Tom sought to fill it by finding a family of his own. This is made difficult because he does not know how to communicate properly with other people. Tom Sykes also appears to suffer from Psychosis, possibly brought on from Schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterized by affecting a person's ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. Despite the term Psychosis, this does not mean he is a Psychopath. Tom Sykes does not hate other people, he's merely a delusional man who doesn't understand reality and wants to be loved. As he was denied a childhood, Sykes appears to be a child living in an adult body, acting mainly out of fear and unaware of his own strength or the consequences of his actions. He also appears to have pyromania, an obsession with fire, likely brought on when his parents burned him as part of their abuse.

Trivia

  • Tom Sykes shares his last name with Bill Sykes, the primary antagonist of the Charles Dickens story "Oliver Twist". Both characters share a propensity for impulsive behavior. 
  • He shares some similarities to Alex Forrest, the main antagonist of the 1987 film Fatal Attraction
  • The film's original ending was quite different. After being devastated by rejection of the family, he explodes in fury and attempts to burn the house down with them inside. However, he realizes that he recreating what he did to his abusive family when he was a child, but he has become as evil as his parents. He goes back inside to save them, but the house would collapse, killing him. This was a more optimistic ending, as it would cause him to break the chain of violence that is usually carried down from generation to generation by sacrificing his own life. However, the studio wanted a more commerically safe ending, so they had Tom attempt to kill the family only to be shot by police. A couple years later, Matthew Patrick saw the film's executive producer, Steven Reuther, again at the Academy Awards. Reuther said, "you know what… I think you were right… that would have made a better ending." On this, Patrick said: "I really admire Steve, that he could say that."
  • After a meeting with the psychologist adviser for the film, actor Gary Busey was excited, saying it was a "NAR film." He explained that NAR meant "No acting required." Gary said: "I am the character!"
  • Gary Busey was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident, where he was not wearing a helmet and got horrible brain damage. This occurred five days after principal photography wrapped on Hider in the House.
  • Tom Sykes shares several similarities with Seymour "Sy" Parrish from the film One Hour Photo:
    • Both characters are tragic as they long for a family to call their own.
    • Both characters likely have Borderline Personalities, as they crave attachments with others yet are unable to form any meaningful relationships.
    • Both fantasize about a life with a family they are obsessed with. However, Tom attempts to harm the family when he is rejected. Sy never does this. 
    • Both attempt to alert the family they adore of the husband's infidelity.
    • Both had abusive childhoods, although Tom killed his abusive family. What became of Sy's abusive family is unclear.
    • Despite both being antagonists, they are tragic characters and the focus of their respective stories.