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Hitch with Red #1

01.16.2007by: Eric Red

"PART 1 OF 2"

Arrow intro: Last week, we asked YOU the readers to send in your questions for writer/director and AITH alumni ERIC RED. Of course Eric is the lad who gave birth to John Ryder in 1986 via his original THE HITCHER screenplay to now see him born again in 2007 via a remake which he also holds top screenwriting credit on. So put your thumbs way up and hitch a bumpy & dangerous ride with Mr. Red as he extensively answers your questions having to do with John Ryder's mystique, the two Hitcher films, Rutger Hauer/Sean Bean, his new movie 100 Feet, the Near Dark sequel and beyond!

"Lets answer them questions!"

Rich asks: "When asked whether he thought Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining had ruined his book, Stephen King pointed to the bookshelf behind him and said 'Nope. It's still right there'. Given that you're credited as lead screenwriter on the The Hitcher remake, despite having no involvement, what are your thoughts on others effectively taking your original script and putting their own spin on it (though it sounds as though much of the original treatment remains there, hence your credit), and the fact that if it sucks ass then not only will your name be the one attached to it, but it may deter today's audience who didn't grow up with the original (as I did, and still love it) from checking it out?"

RED: I didn’t tell ‘em to remake it. If somebody is going to use the story, scenes and characters of a script I created in a remake, to the degree they did in this one, you bet your ass they’re going to give me lead writing credit. The idea of other writers getting credit for authorship of “THE HITCHER,” particularly with younger fans who may not have seen the original, doesn’t work for me. And that hasn’t happened.

In a W.G.A. remake credit arbitration the guild, correctly, uses the shooting script from the original film as the first draft of the remake. So I did have involvement in the remake, albeit reluctantly, because they used my script. The remake writers didn’t put much of “their own spin” on my original script, and that was the problem.

Even the producers recently acknowledged to Fangoria they didn’t change it much. When I read the script for the remake I was surprised at how close it followed my original shooting script for “THE HITCHER.” Too close, in my opinion. The reason being, if you’ve seen the first one, you’ve seen the remake. I’d have changed it up much, much more. I expected the other writers would have added much more fresh material, particularly in terms of new horror and action sequences for today’s audiences.

I should also mention it was one of Platinum Dunes writers who started this W.G.A. credit arbitration by trying to knock one of the other Dunes writers off the screen credits. They dragged me in to it and now it’s Let The Big Dog Eat! Actually, Stephen King was quoting novelist James M. Cain (“THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE”) and Cain’s right. The remake of “THE HITCHER,” whether good, bad or indifferent, doesn’t change the fact that the original “THE HITCHER” remains an established horror film classic.

Ben asks: When does 100 Feet start shooting? Any cast attached yet! Big fan! Thank you for your time.

RED: “100 FEET” is scheduled for production in the last week of March in Brooklyn, N.Y. for exteriors and Budapest, Hungary for stage interiors. There will be a major casting announcement on “100 FEET” in the not too distant future. We’re in final negotiations with a terrific leading lady, a beautiful amazing actress who is well-known by the fans.

For those who don’t know, “100 FEET” is a ghost story about a women who kills her abusive husband in self-defense and is condemned to house arrest, only to discover that the house is possessed by the enraged and violent spirit of her dead husband. A supernatural thriller combining elements of “PANIC ROOM” and “THE GRUDGE,” it’s an elevated horror film that relies on character and suggestion for terror and suspense, as well as visceral horror.

Steve (Psychocandy) asks: Has there been any progress on the Cohen & Tate special edition DVD front? If and when it does surface what extras would you like to include?

RED: I’ve discussed with Tartan about releasing a Special Edition of “COHEN AND TATE.” It’s really an issue of rights, and a matter of time. Special Features will include the original opening shots, some incredible NC-17 gore footage of the hit men’s attack on the farmhouse and the much more graphic shoot-out between Cohen and Tate at the end. And of course a commentary by me, and hopefully my partners in crime Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin. I think that audiences now are going to be much more in sync with this hard-noised crime picture than they were when we made it.

Steve (Psychocandy) asks: You scripted Near Dark, one of the greatest modern day vampire movies (actually scratch that…it is the fucking greatest). For years there was talk of a possible prequel. How close did this come to fruition? What was your involvement if any? What obstacles prevented it from being greenlit?

RED: Being as I never heard of the prequel, probably not very close. However, a few years ago I wrote a treatment for a sequel to “NEAR DARK” that takes place 15 years after the first film and focuses on Caleb’s little sister now in her 20’s facing off against relatives of the original vampire clan hell bent on revenge.

If the first one was Bonnie and Clyde and Jesse James, the sequel is The Hatfields and The McCoys. It has a shocking opening and action sequences you won’t believe, including a spectacular showdown finale on a freight train at dawn.

But the obstacles to a “NEAR DARK” prequel or sequel were similar to a proper “HITCHER” sequel. Rights issues. And crooked producer incompetence…you know who you are Charley.

Pete O'Connor asks: Rutger Hauer's performance created a horror film icon in the original film, do you think Sean Bean will be able to make us squirm in our seats as much as Ryder did the first go round?

RED: Rutger is going to be a tough act to follow. Hauer was a singular screen presence then, and he had more to work with in the script to the original as well. Much of the psychological dimension of The Hitcher was taken out of the remake script I read, making Ryder more of a generic psycho. Kind of like John Jarratt in “WOLF CREEK.”

Rutger was the best choice for the original, but might not have played it. Sam Elliott screen tested for the original film back in the 80’s and was so f*cking beyond belief scary in the part we wanted to cast him on the spot. Ultimately, Elliot got cold feet about playing John Ryder as I guess he was nervous it would ruin his image. He was probably right, but boy, I would have loved to see that performance.

John Ryder is the most evil meanest motherfucker I’ve written to date (at least that’s been produced) and it is a great bad guy role that actors can be great in. I’m sure Bean plays the hell out of it.

Andy T asks: Given that the original movie placed such an emphasis on the one-on-one nature of the Halsey-Ryder relationship, do you think that the remake has in any way jeopardized much of the tension shown in the original by seemingly making it a more traditional 'couple in peril' scenario?

RED: Sure, obviously. A good deal of the tension in my script derives from the isolation and terror of being alone on the empty highway, pursued by this psycho killer, with nobody to turn to. When you have two people from the beginning, like the remake does, it’s less tense because you have a buddy. In remaking the film, they should have made the Jim Halsey character a young woman, which would have kept the isolation and terror of being alone on the road.

The relationship with John Ryder would have kept the psychological mano a mano but added a fresh, strange, hot, scary sexual edge and gone a long way towards re-imaging the original. And I’d have flipped it with the Nash character being a guy she meets on the road.

Steve Szabo asks: I forgot the source. I believe it was on the UK Special Edition DVD of The Hitcher where Rutger Hauer said that you weren't fully aware of what you have written when you wrote the screenplay (he also hoped you wouldn't kick his ass for him saying that.) By this he meant that perhaps your intention was to write a typical (yet certainly unconventional) cat n' mouse thriller but behind it all there was a lot more going on. He believed John Ryder was a ghost who came out of the desert or a deeply disturbed man.

RED: Rutger said I didn’t know the character I wrote, eh? I have to tell this story. During production of the original, when it came time to shoot the truck sequence where Nash gets torn apart, Rutger refused to come out of his trailer to shoot the scene. Nobody understood what was going on as we were many weeks into production and Hauer had obviously read the script.

Hours passed while the crew were all set up to shoot with cameras, lights, trucks, Jennifer Jason Leigh all roped up, etc. Finally, because we were wasting a lot of money, the producer Ed Feldman went in to Rutger’s trailer and asks him face to face, “Rutger, what’s the problem?” Rutger says, “If I do this scene, I’ll be the BAD GUY.” Feldman says, “Rutger, I got news for you. You ARE the bad guy. Now get the f*ck out there and be the bad guy.” Actors, man.

Steve Szabo asks: There are fans who believe John Ryder does have supernatural abilities, hence being able to pop up seemingly out of nowhere at times. There are some who believe John Ryder is inside Jim Halsey's head, hence him appearing USUALLY when he is tired. How do you interpret this enigmatic character? Was he just some random psycho hitch-hiker or was there more to him than that?

RED: Many people have come to me over the years and asked me what is going on between Ryder and Halsey, and many people have different “takes” and I respect that and don’t try to spoil it.

But you’ve asked, so... Because of the hell living inside his skin, John Ryder wants to die. But he wants to make Jim Halsey strong enough to kill him. Ryder wants to pass something on to Halsey. Everything the Hitcher does in the movie, framing the kid for the road killings, shooting the cops when the kid tries to turn himself in, everything, is to get this unformed punk kid into deeper and deeper shit that will forge him into someone strong enough to take Ryder down.

It’s a psychotic logic, but a logic nonetheless and the Hitcher is not just some random nut that likes to kill people. But when the shit gets too deep for the kid, the Hitcher protects him. He does it when he breaks Halsey out of jail. He does it during the police chase when Ryder helps Halsey by shooting a police sniper helicopter down. The Hitcher protects the kid while he’s going through the ordeal, because Ryder needs Halsey to kill him ultimately.& And finally, at the end, after the girl has been torn apart, Halsey is ready. He takes control, steals the gun and truck from the Texas Ranger and goes after the prison bus carrying Ryder.

And Ryder somehow knows he’s coming. There’s this thing between them that leads to the final showdown. I really think that this strange psychological connection between The Hitcher and the Kid, the irony that something of value is passed from this horrific guy Ryder to Halsey, a strength to persevere in a nightmarish world of f*cked up no win situations, is one of the things that gets under people’s skin about the original film.

Whether they can articulate it or not. I always figured that before the movie opens, Ryder had pulled that knife on every driver who picked him up and said the same thing when they begged for their life. “Say four words…I want to die.” Until Halsey, everyone said it. And he killed them. Halsey had that life spark. Said “I DON’T WANT TO DIE” and threw Ryder out of the car. And Ryder said to himself… this kid’s got potential. Anyway, that’s what I was I was going for, in the twisted logic that 24-year old writers have. I purposely did not to give John Ryder any backstory or explain him, so he’d have a mystery and mythical aspect.

He has a supernatural feel, this guy who comes out of the desert dust and appears here or there seemingly inexplicably. Did I really need to show you the stolen police radio he has with him that he listens to in order to get from point A to point B? It would have diminished the character.

Paul Doro asks: Mr. Red, I would argue that horror has changed a lot since the release of (the original) The Hitcher. Currently we have a lot of remakes, the Asian craze, so-called "horror porn" with the Saw series, etc... How do you view the evolution of the genre since around 1985, and has your approach to or philosophy about writing a horror screenplay changed much during that time? Thank you.

RED: I have not changed as a writer, but the industry has definitely changed as far as tolerance for horror. When I started, the executives and producers were always asking me to take the blood out of my scripts. That been said, the psychological thrust was always the core of my screenplays. Now though, I think things have swung too much in the other direction where there is too much gore where we are depending too much on the splatter and not leaving anything up to the imagination of the viewer. Call it “horror porn” or author David Morrell’s term, “carnography.” But you don’t have to be afraid not to use gore. In my opinion, the most indelible horror moments in movies they never really show “it” to you.

The shower sequence in “PSYCHO” is the perfect example. Janet Leigh is naked and getting knifed to death but with all the carefully composed shots, cuts and music, there is not a single frame of actual nudity or a knife going into flesh and barely any blood. You think you see it but it’s all in your mind. The scene traumatized audiences for generations and stood the test of time. The girl at the beginning of “JAWS” who goes for the swim and gets eaten by the shark is another example. We never see what’s below the water as she is being chewed up and that’s what got under the audience’s subconscious, from when we go swimming and can’t see what’s under the water.

Obviously, if they’d used disgusting makeup effects and animatronics of her lower torso being chomped, it would have a fraction of the impact of the original scene. Sometimes, the fin is scarier than the shark. The difference between the original “HITCHER” and the remake is summed up by the approach to the scene where the kid gets drawn and quartered and torn apart between the two trucks. We kept it off screen. They show it. What makes the transgressive truck scene work isn’t splatter, it’s the drama and horror of the situation. It’s the ultimate existential mind f*ck horror predicament where if the kid shoots the Hitcher his foot will come off the brake, if the kid doesn’t shoot him, the Hitcher will step on the gas, and the girl will get ripped in half anyway. And she does. That’s what makes the scene work for an audience.

Showing the victim getting ripped in half makes the scene about the gore and the makeup effects, not the drama. But I love gore and graphic splatter, it can have an incredible impact. In my original cut of “BODY PARTS” I shot a scene after the crash where Jeff Fahey is lying on the road and sees his severed, twitching arm on the freeway and reaches for it, revealing the torn open shoulder socket with the bone and meat hanging out and watches helplessly as an eighteen wheeler runs over the arm and the squashes it flat (SEE THE SCENE HERE). The preview audiences went apeshit, but the studio got cold feet and made me cut it. My point is there’s room for both gore and restraint, and you can have more than one brush in your paint kit.

Giovanni Bernardini asks: Hello Eric, I would like to know if "Nightlife" will ever be made. I'm asking this because the premise sounds very original and I was blown away when I first read it in one of your past interviews.

RED: I’ve been in talks with Twisted Pictures and Lion’s Gate on “NIGHTLIFE” for years. It came an inch away from production recently and I’m pretty confident we’ll make it in the next few years. It has to be the right set of elements. The story is a triangle between a handsome male vampire and two beautiful sisters with a strong psychological level and the cast has to be perfect. It is extremely graphic in terms of sexuality and gore, a hard hard R, and that can’t be compromised. This is a kick ass vampire film. I love the project because it’s like “NEAR DARK” in that it imagines if vampires really existed in a believable, gritty and contemporary manner. And I don’t think audience interest in vampires is going anywhere. Do you?

S.P.M. asks: Hey Eric, quick one for you man. With the upcoming re-do of The Hitcher due out soon, do you think the "remake" thing has gotten out of control? Are there truly no good ideas left?

RED: The word that comes to mind about this horror remake trend is “cannibalistic.” It reminds me of the cannibalism Indians and serial killers practiced by eating the heart and flesh of an adversary to supposedly absorb and gain his strength. The remake guys think that by remaking a film, they somehow gain, through perception or box office, creative ownership of a brand name that was established by other people who took the risk to do something original and do it well.

If “THE HITCHER” remake does better than the original at the box office, besides the fact that tickets cost twice as much as the ‘80’s, it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality or lack of quality of the remake. It simply has to do that horror is hot now. It’s timing. And horror is hot because films like “THE HITCHER” and “NEAR DARK,” among others, cracked the slab for the current horror film wave.

By the way, we took a lot of heat from the press and the industry back in the 80’s on “THE HITCHER,” because horror was unpopular. To indicate the level of negative Hollywood reaction to the original film, Paul Verhoeven once told me to my face that “THE HITCHER” was an immoral film! Kid you not. To get that criticism from a guy like Verhoeven was one of the best compliments the film ever got. Sure, there’s good new ideas. Here’s one: Stop with the f*cking remakes and make something original that somebody else can remake.

Diamonddash17 asks: How did you feel when Sean Bean was cast as the new Hitcher?

RED: Bean never occurred to me in terms of casting, but neither did Rutger. Actually, I saw Viggo Mortensen in the role.

Craig J. Gallagher asks: How apprehensive are you regarding the Hitcher remake? And did you have any interest in directing the remake yourself?

RED: I have always been more interested directing originals like “NIGHTLIFE” and “100 FEET” than directing a remake of anything.

But it’s cool getting a film remade. Any way you cut it, it means there’s something enduring in my original script that has stood the test of time to be redone for a new audience. Screenwriters never get the chance to have scripts made twice, and although compromised, the script to “THE HITCHER” has basically been made twice.

I get to see two sensational actors play the best bad guy I’ve written so far. Playwrights get multiple productions of their work all the time, but never screenwriters. It’s a unique experience. I had it only once before years ago with a short film script called “TELEPHONE” that was filmed several different times by different people, including me.

Is “THE HITCHER” remake going to be as good as the original? Hell no. Is the remake my script? Basically. Is the remake going to be a wild ride for the audience with some great scenes? Probably. The bottom line for me is it’s an undeniable thrill to see the billboards, bus ads, TV trailers of a film that started with me all those years ago as a kid in Texas. With “THE HITCHER" & John Ryder, I have created a horror icon that’s gone the distance, and I’m proud as hell of it. Later, gang!



Source: AITH



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