Friday, March 11, 2016

My Mother Told Me To Never Do This: The Hitcher (1986)

The Hitcher (1986)
Rating: ****
Starring: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Jim Halsey was just a young man delivering a car across the country when he stopped for a hitchhiker one rainy night. The vagabond introduced himself as John Ryder and while he seems calm and quiet at first, he changes once they passed by a rundown car; Jim jokingly asked if that was Ryder's reason for hitchhiking and he answered yes...coz he had cut off the driver's legs... and his arms... and his head...

And he is going to do the same to him.

Panicking from the sudden turn of events, Jim notices that Ryder hadn't put on his seat belt and the car door wasn't locked; after an excruciating moment of have the tip of a knife by his neck, he kicked the hitcher out and drives on, sure that he will never see the maniac again.

That was until morning comes and Jim finds himself not only stalked by Ryder, but also pinned for the maniac hitcher's killings. Now hunted down by both Ryder and local police, Jim has no choice but to survive this nightmare and find a way to escape it.

Best described as Steven Spielberg's 1971 debut road horror film Duel with a knife-wielding gun-totting psycho in place of a monstrous truck, The Hitcher was originally scripted as a gory slasher with more onscreen carnage and exploitation, but got toned down through various rewrites when the executives feared it was too violent to be picked up. The final result is less of a paint-by-number bodycounter and more of a Hitchcockian thriller on the road, a final draft that proved itself to be just as worthy of a watch as any bloody slashers in the late 80s.

This said, the movie is more of a situation study between an everyday man, Jim Halsey, and an unstoppable force, which comes into the form of a mysterious fellow who calls himself John Ryder. The entire film itself is an inescapable pattern of nightmare logic that gradually gets worse by the minute, focusing on Halsey being harassed with situation upon situation that puts not only a strain on himself in every way, but also to those that just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. People die, people get hurt, all in an apparently meaningless mayhem caused by one hitcher.

It was never fully explained who -or what- the hitcher is in turn, as Ryder's uncanny ability to appear whenever Halsey thinks he is safe from him, as well as efficiently do all of the slaughtering that no simple man can do alone, gave him and the entire movie a near-supernatural feel despite implications of being human. It's this kind of uncertainty that made the atmosphere and direction of this film so effective, as one can never be certain as what will happen next and that anybody can be a victim to the hitcher's madness, making scenes wherein body parts suddenly show up on food and victims are suddenly found kidnapped and in peril all that shocking.

And true enough, The Hitcher may be tame on the blood department, but the fantastic set-ups and brooding tension courtesy of the score and imagery helped the simplest things in making up for the movie's near-dry run, somewhat proving that "less is more" could work just as good in terrifying us.

Playing the titular villain is Rutger Hauer and he does one of the most intimidating and selling performances as a ruthless madman without a reason. He is rarely seen angry and mostly wears a wry and malicious smile on his face, much adding to the air of mystery and threat from the character that goes so well with his robotic tone and murders. Heck, it was even stated that actor C.Thomas Howell (who played Jim) was uneasy around him, which may have helped the boy's frightened performance and isolated well-being as effective as possible on screen.

Thrown in between these men is Jennifer Jason Leigh's character Nash, a tough and spunky gal who became the motivation for Howell's character to step up and end the wickedness once and for all, seeing her as a light of hope in his dreadful predicament. It's going to be hard talking about this character without spoiling a few things for those of you who hadn't seen the film yet, but let's just say her presence and purpose was a good one, in a rather dark and horrifying twist.

Beautiful in terms of imagery, nail-biting in direction, cast of interesting characters, effectively simple bodycount, what else can I say about The Hitcher? Perhaps the only flaw I can try to think about it would be that, when it doesn't hit you right, it can be a little sluggish at times; I find the slow pace necessary for build, but I know people who prefers their boogeyman killing a victim in every five minutes so the brooding and implied murders can leave an unsatisfied aftertaste for these kind of folks. There's also the numerous plot holes and dumb decisions but, again, this movie was originally going to be a slasher movie so these brain-fart moments are inevitable.

I can say it now that The Hitcher is not gonna be for everyone, but if you are the kind of person who can learn to understand and appreciate a good cult classic, is open for ideas, or simply a true hardcore horror fanatic, this road horror is highly recommended for your viewing pleasure. Find it and buy it!

1 male mutilated and beheaded (implied)
1 male, 1 female, 1 boy and 1 girl implied slaughtered
1 female and 1 driver missing, presumably killed
1 male found with throat cut
1 male found shot on the chest
1 male found murdered
2 males shot on the neck
4 males killed in car collision
1 male shot, killed in helicopter crash
1 male killed in helicopter crash
4 males killed in car collision
1 female chained between trucks, torn in half
4 males shot death with a shotgun
1 male shot on the chest with a shotgun
Total: 28

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