“Into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown…”-The Doors
Now that the Christmas season is coming to a close, 2017 is speeding right along and will be approaching in just a few hours. 2016 will be left on the side within the road of our minds and lives as we embrace a new beginning…again. This annual resurgence of spirit will be filled with the promises of new opportunities, new adventures, and new possibilities in our efforts to maximize our personal continual improvement and grow as humans. With these opportunities, they will also birth new resolutions which always are rooted with the best intentions of being completed. Losing weight, travelling more, and meeting new people are some of the common resolutions which will be made 1 minute when the ball drops in Times Square and broken by the time your W-2 drops into your mailbox. Well my friend, take my hand come with me for I guarantee to help you with your resolution as you won’t eat as we travel the unforgiven West Texas desert highway to meet The Hitcher (1986).
We are cruising along with baby faced Jim, C. Thomas Howell Red Dawn (1984), as he transports a car from Chicago enroute to San Diego for delivery. Somewhere on a desolate stretch of West Texas highway during a storm, Jim pulls up to pick up a hitchhiker. It is true that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Apparently Jim has never had the chance to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977), to know that nothing good ever comes from picking up a hitchhiker in Texas or the potential risks of driving through the vast desert in the first place.
So yes, my millennial critics that can’t fathom a world existing without cellphones, in our current day, Jim’s approaching hell would have been possibly mitigated if he had a cellphone in 1986. Cell phones are important tools in emergency situations and apparently 40% of cell phone owners said they found themselves in an emergency situation in which having their phone with them helped (Pew Research Center, 2011). In my opinion, cell phones should not exist in the horror genre, especially within the subgenre of road/survival flicks. But I digress, let me steer this review back onto the blacktop, free of any other topical detours before we and this article end up in a ditch.
Jim picks up the drenched Ryder, Rutger Hauer of Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Ryder is a creepy cool, crazy eyed, calculating cat that smokes his cigarette with style… “His brain is squirmin’ like a toad.”
Before you know it, Jim’s peach fuzzed laden face is accosted by a knife and Ryder places his hand on the naïve driver’s thigh forcing his foot to accelerate the gas (“if you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die”). Within moments, Ryder establishes his character as being a possible savage sexual predator which may have a van with free kittens or a basement full of popsicles for tender Jim. After a psychotic homoerotic tone is set, Ryder is kind enough to share with us that he murdered the driver of the broken down car in the opening scenes, plans for Jim to be his next victim. Let’s add a few more sprinkles of crazy to the mix when Ryder tells Jim that he wants our hero to stop Ryder by killing him. What a hoot! Jim’s tries to be a good host and obliges by pushing Ryder out of the moving car. Thank God it was the 80’s before it was law which mandated that seatbelts must be worn and pre-automatic safety locks that secured a vehicle when moving. Technically speaking, if we would have been a safer automobile operating society back in the 80’s, Jim most likely would have been road kill.
Well now that this spell of weirdness is over (all within the first 10 minutes of this flick), Jim pushes on with his journey to San Diego armed with a story which he can tell his grandchildren one day. Jim is cruising along, making good time when he comes up on a family station wagon which Ryder is now in the back with the kids playing with stuffed animals. Jim tries to speed up to commit to another good deed to warn the family that they have picked up the hitchhiker from hell before having a car accident. No good deed… Unfortunately, after Jim finally meets up with the family, their car is just postmortem evidence of the bloody massacre which occurred by the hands of the sadistic Ryder.
Jim becomes repeatedly haunted on his travels by Ryder making his presence known time and time again. The Hitcher is the extreme version of “The Hitch-Hiker” episode (Twilight Zone, 1960), where a young lady is driving cross country and keeps seeing the same hitchhiker on the road ahead. Ryder blows up gas stations, prepares a tasty plate of French Fries for Jim (of course with a souvenir from his earlier encounter with traveler) at the diner where Jim goes for safe haven. Even Nash, Jennifer Jason Leigh of Fast Times of Ridemont High (1982), Jim’s new love interest and road companion, is not free of Ryder’s diabolical games as he stretches his time in town to torture her. In stereotypical fashion of Hollyweird presenting small town law enforcement small-mindedness’ on the silver screen, Captain Esteridge, Jefferey De Munn of The Green Mile (1999), and Trooper Donner, Billy Green Bush of Electra Glide in Blue (1973), follow suit by being inept to dealing with the serious threat of our charismatic psycho, Ryder, and are suspicious of Jim’s outrageous claims of the torment he has been living through. Will Jim survive? Will the cops come to their wits about Ryder? Will Jim grant Ryder with his odd death wish? The only way for you to find out is to thumb a copy and watch this award winning thriller.
The Hitcher was directed by Robert Harmon of Highwaymen (2003), with a script by the then young novice screenwriter, Eric Red of Near Dark (1987). The premise of The Hitcher stemmed from the imagery of a hitchhiker set to the tune of “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors conjured up by Red when he was driving cross country. After many rewrites due to producers wanting to trim the content of the initial graphic scenes of extreme violence and lengthy narrative, The Hitcher was released to a lackluster response with critics hating it due to the lack of backstory provided addressing Ryder’s root cause for psychosis and the sick subtle implication that there was a bond felt between Jim and his tormentor as the film carried on. Hitcher was a box office bomb bringing in close to $8 million from a budget of approximately $6 million. Years, video release, and HBO have been very kind to The Hitcher and it has become a diamond in the rough film favorite for fans and filmmakers. Producers after its release have suggested that it would have been better received by fans if more scenes of violence would have been filmed per Red’s original concept.
The Hitcher was plagued with a dismal direct-to-DVD sequel in 2003 with C. Thomas Howell reprising his role and Jake Busey of Starship Troopers (1997), playing the role of Jack, The Hitcher. No offense to Jake, but I would have loved to see the amount of craziness his father Gary Busey of Silver Bullet (1985), would have brought to the film. The Hitcher was remade in 2007 by music video director, Dave Meyers, and produced by Tinsel town tycoon, Michael Bay of Transformers (2007), but failed to capture the eerie essence of the original. Elements of other road thrillers The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), The Duel (1971), The Car (1977) are ever present and reinforce the excitement and danger of road travel across our roadways and could be considered modern fairy tales. As for The Hitcher, Jim is “Little Red Riding Hood” and Ryder, is the “Big Bad Wolf.” The lessons learned there are to be careful whom you trust, there are wolves everywhere in our world. Grim thought, isn’t it?
The Hitcher is packed with action, thrills and memorable situations that would excite any viewer and influenced such films as Urban Legend (1998), The Forsaken (2001), Jeepers Creepers (2001), Joy Ride (2001), and The Dark Knight (2008) —director Christopher Nolan is a huge fan. Though this year does mark the 30th anniversary for The Hitcher, the thrills may be felt as mild due to our current climate of desensitization in regards to the frequency and quantity of violence we are exposed to in our modern lives on and off the screen. The Hitcher had a lot of notable talent in talks to take part in the film such as Tom “Top Gun” Cruise; Emilio “Maximum Overdrive” Estevez, Charlie “Beyond the Law” Sheen, and Matthew “Full Metal Jacket” Modine for the role of Jim. Musicians David Bowie and Sting were in consideration, as well as actors Sam “Black Hawk Down” Shepard, Harry Dean “Christine” Stanton, Terence “Superman” Stamp, and Sam “Tombstone” Elliot, for the coveted role of Ryder. Rutger Hauer makes this film! He is an absolute force to be reckon with and was convincing, that he even scared the young C. Thomas Howell during production. C. Thomas Howell was topnotch as Jim, and the viewer (if you still have a pulse), can feel the terror and anguish he is repeatedly encountering. So if you are cinephile of thrillers or love road films gone awry then make a resolution you can stick to by checking out The Hitcher.
All of us here at the Intestinal Fortitude and Rick’s Rhetoric wish you and yours a Safe and Happy FILMtastic New Year! Remember to take a long holiday and let your children play…
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Rick is also president of The Winchester Clark County Film Society and can be found on https://www.facebook.com/WCCfilmsociety
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org