(Part 1 of 2)
Red is a name that meant a lot to me as I was growing up.
Hitcher" and "Near Dark" are two movies that I cherish and the
man's always been (and still is) an inspiration.
I recently had the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with him
and just didn't want to ever hang up, since I loved talking to him so
much, and wound up with an extra-long interview. So instead of going crazy with the editing scissors
and putting it all together in one shot, I decided to put this one out in two parts.
You can read Part 2 next week. Dig in guys!
When you started off in the business, did you want to be
a screenwriter, an actor, a director? What was your main
My goal was to direct features. I got in as a writer. I sold
my first script "The Hitcher" and I attached myself to direct
one of my next two scripts and that was "Cohen And Tate". At the
time that was the simplest route.
RED IN THE 80'S
What was the inspiration for "The Hitcher" screenplay?
The Doors song “Rider from the Storms”.
I knew the song when I was living in New York; I thought it was
a good opening for a movie. When I left
New York and went to Texas, I drove from the city to Austin and
had a lot of time on my hands just driving through the Texas
Badlands. I sort of started with that song as an opening and
just kind of went through the sequence of events in my head. When I
got to Texas, I wrote the script in about a
Too bad they never used the song in the movie.
I don’t think we needed too. The whole opening of the film
right down to the rain storm and the character…you can see the
That's true. To me, the character of John Rider is very
ambiguous. Everybody has their own take on who he is, what
he’s about. When you wrote him, what did he mean to you?
It was a definite decision in the script to never give him a
back-story. Certain characters, if you don’t tell where
they’re from or what chain of events led them to be who they
are, take on a more mythical characteristic and that was very
intentional in that picture. Mostly he’s forging the kid in
the film. Ryder wants to die but he’s putting him through a
series of horrific incidents that the kid will have to prevail
against and therefore strengthen in the process. In
Rider’s twisted mind and perspective, he’s passing on
some form of strength to the kid.
A: Some people were talking at some point about
“homosexual undertones”. Was that intentional? The scene
with the spit comes to mind when the kid spits in Rider’s face
and he proceeds to lick it off.
That was actually something that Rutger came up with. There’s
maybe a type of sexual charge between The Hitcher and the kid
but it certainly wasn’t intended to be some kind of homoerotic
How much involvement did you have during the shoot?
I was on the set for about two weeks. My fundamental involvement
was getting the script in shape. Once the script was ready, we
really didn’t change it much while we were shooting. There
really wasn’t much for me to do.
Are you happy with the way the film turned out?
I just have to say this: your Hitcher script is probably one of
the best scripts I have ever read.
Oh, thank you.
I always admired the way that you filled the movie with action and at
the same time never sacrificed character development in the
process. The action actually strengthens the characters. Not
anybody could’ve pulled that off.
One of the things in the script that gives it its pace is that
there’s no subplot. It's basically the main linear story,
there’s no back-story, no digression from the point of view of
the main character and what he’s going through. That’s part
of where the pace of the picture comes from.
Was Rutger Hauer the first choice of casting?
I wasn’t particularly involved in the casting of the picture.
We talked about a lot of people. Sam Elliott actually came in
and gave an excellent audition for the picture. He also
would’ve been quite good.
When I heard Rutger was going to be in the picture, I
thought just like everyone else that we really nailed it. I
don’t think he had done lots of American films at that point.
He had done "Blade Runner" before…
Yeah, but that was about it.
Actually his Blade Runner part and The Hitcher are probably the
best two roles he’s had in his whole career.
I agree with you.
Rumor has it that there might be a Hitcher sequel. Care
to clear that up?
There’s been an attempt to get a sequel to "The Hitcher" going
but the rights to the projects have gone back and forth between
Charlie Meeker, who was one of the producers on the original,
Steve White and I think Fred Heber for quite some time. But
virtually over ten years it’s been a subject of lawsuits and
the project has not developed in any kind of organized fashion.
I think they might have gotten a script done.
You didn’t write it?
No, as a matter of fact I was never approached.
I had the contractual rights of first refusal on the script and
for whatever reason back in 1993, I relinquished those rights. I
was doing other projects and really didn’t want to cover the
same ground again. I didn’t think a sequel would be as good as
the first one and I still don’t. But in retrospect, I
should’ve maintained those rights so I would’ve been able to
assert some control over the development of the sequel. The
process has proceeded in such a disorganized fashion and so much
time has gone by, I don’t think it’s in the best interest to
make a franchise out of it.
That sucks. If there’s ever going to be a sequel, you should
it ..that’s it, that’s all! I hope it doesn’t happen.
Let's move on to
"Near Dark". You had a partnership with Kathryn
Bigelow for a while.
We wrote three scripts back in the mid-eighties. "Undertow" first,
"Near Dark" second and "Blue Steel" third.
The partnership is over?
We’ve had no dealings for years as it often happens in
So you co-wrote "Near Dark" with Kathryn Bigelow.
and I co-produced it…
I didn’t know that.
Yeah, because of my relationship with Ed Feldman and Charlie
Meeker on "The Hitcher", I helped put the financing together for
I personally love the movie but I heard you weren’t fully
satisfied with how it turned out.
I’m perfectly satisfied with the execution of the picture. I
had some casting reservations.
Care to expand on that?
they were two fold. I was not too pleased with
using the cast of "Aliens" in the picture, not that they
weren’t good. Henriksen, Paxton and Jeannette Goldstein were
great, particularly Paxton. But I felt at the time, and still do, that
it made the film look a little bit like a knockoff of another
picture and it wasn’t. It was very original and unique. But
they were good. My ultimate reservation about the casting: I
didn’t like the casting of Adrian Pascar.
I don’t know the sequence of events that led to them not being
cast but at the time Johnny Depp and D.B. Sweeney
tested for the role. And I think they could’ve been more
likeable and better choices for the hero. In seeing the film to
me, it's very vampire-heavy; the bad guys are more interesting
than the protagonist and there isn't the necessary rooting
interest in the Caleb character. I think if we would’ve cast
that role better, it would’ve improved the picture somewhat.
But as far as the rest of the film; I’m delighted about it.
How come you didn’t direct it?
At the time, I owned "Undertow" and Kathryn owned
"Near Dark". I would direct one and she would direct the other. That
was our deal and that’s how we proceeded.
AND TATE (1989)
You directed your first
film "Cohen and Tate" at the age of 26.
I was 24 when I wrote "The Hitcher".
Shit, I feel like schmuck (I’m 25)! I saw Cohen and Tate
and enjoyed it but always felt there was something missing. It
felt incomplete to me. I heard you had some problems with the
The film in term of scripts, editing, performances reflected the
movie I wanted to make. The picture works for some people and it
doesn’t work for others. It's a pretty hard edge “film noir”,
I’m actually reasonably happy with it. There were political
problems with the picture. Not so much in terms of creative
studio interference but one of the producers on the picture at
the time was fired, so there was a lack of studio support. That
happens when that sort of thing occurs. It was a somewhat
fictive picture to make but I think my only reservation with
that picture has to do with the car shots in the film.
You learn something on every picture you do. What I learned on
that picture was to never compromise technically on a film. On set,
they had a company hack named Victor Kemper (cameraman). He suggested to the
producers that we could save money on the car shots if he would
shot them on a stage. We did some tests with a poor man’s
process, I took a look at the dailies and it looked awful. It's
not so bad if you watch the film on video but if you see it on
the big screen, all the sequences in the car look stage bound,
the ones that were shot that way. I agreed to do it because it was
cost effective but I think technically it compromised the
picture to some degree. I loved the performances though; Scheider’s great, Baldwin’s great, they’re both very
believable as psychotic hit men.
Even the kid came through, I forgot his name, he was in "The Fly
Yeah…how was it working with a kid?
I worked with two. I worked with Harley on "Cohen and Tate" and
then with Mason Gamble on "Bad Moon". Harley was in every single
scene, he was very young and it was a somewhat tense picture to
make. His concentration span was very restrictive and that was a
challenge to deal with. We had to roll a lot of film and use
certain tricks to get the performance out of him but also try to
not do anything that was going to…
Traumatize the kid…
Yeah. You can use tricks with older professional actors
sometimes and do certain mind games. You put certain pressures
on them to get a moment out, but you can’t do that with kids
because you've got to remember that you’re still dealing with a
Did you have any trouble with the rating boards for "Cohen and
I’ve had problems with the ratings board on every picture
I’ve directed except for "Undertow". I got an X rating for
and Tate" not specifically for the gore in the film, although my
initial cut of the film was much gorier than the film that
Yeah, I heard that it was somewhat dried up before its release.
Not totally dried up. For example the scene at the beginning of
the film, Tate kicks the door down and shoots one of the FBI
agents and in my original cut of the picture he pumped 5 shotgun
blasts into him to knock him back to the widow, put the shotgun
against his chest, pulled the trigger and blew him out of the
window. How it is now, he kicks the door in, fires the shotgun,
hits the FBI guy and he flies out the window; that kind of
thing. But yeah…I think it had more to with the fact that there was
a child involved in the picture. The ratings board in my
experience is not so much about specific graphic gore scenes, it's
about subject matter and in this film because it was a child in jeopardy, it probably made it a little more
restrictive in terms of blood and guts.
The film must be very close to your heart, since it was your
Yeah, I love it. I did things on that picture that I wouldn’t do
now. In retrospect, I like that it wasn’t at all a "safe film" to
do for a first picture, it's very film noir. For me, the film is a
lot like a Don Siegel picture. It has a really hard edge and a
realistic film noir feel to it.
Is it out on DVD yet?
It was out on laser and it just got re-released on video.
Is it the same R version…
There’s never been an extended version. There have never been
any alternate cuts of the pictures that I have directed that
have been as of yet released on DVD or laser disc.
here to read PART TWO of this interview
the first part! Hope you enjoyed it! Come back next week when I'll be
covering Eric Red in the 90's and beyond! Red talks about
"Blue Steel", "Body Parts", "Bad Moon" and more. Be there
or be dead.
Arrow's Hitcher review here
Arrow's Near Dark review here