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The Hitcher(1986)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Robert Harmon

Rutger Hauer/John Ryder
C. Thomas Howell/Jim
Jennifer Jason Leigh/Nash
10 10
Jim (Howell) is driving a driveway car to San Diego. He picks up a mysterious hitchhiker (Hauer) on the way, one who winds up being a soulless serial killer. He gets rid of him but the somber hitcher keeps popping back up on his road, murdering folks and making it look like Jim's the culprit. There’s no other way to cut it: Jim must face the hitcher.

Because I cut off his legs... his arms...and his head...
and I'm going to do the same to you. - John Ryder

I have a very personal relationship with the original THE HITCHER as I owe a lot to it. When I first saw the film as a younger, nose picking, Sears Catalog Lingerie section abusing Arrow, it left a deep mark on me. Consequence; it made me want to explore the screenwriting process and eventually prompted me to start writing scripts of my own.

Moreover, it resulted in me tracking down screenwriter Eric Red when I launched this site for a lengthy interview. We kept in touch after that and became friends while working together on various projects. It goes without saying that I learned Mack-Truck-loads about screenwriting through knowing the lad (I still suck though) and I consider him to be the best writer I've ever met, bar none. Funny how things goes down sometimes. The old saying pops to my mind "Everything happens for a reason". Okay, enough of my shite and on to the film!

The relentlessly paced THE HITCHER was a moody, quasi-existential, action/horror flick that hit notes most efforts of its ilk don't even dare reach or yet alone accomplish. At first glance it might come across as standard serial killer opus, one filled to the brim with mayhem and "burn the envelope" brutality, but for me, I've always gotten more than that out of it! Blame Red's purposefully ambiguous screenplay! The character of John Ryder and his sadistic actions were never given a clear motive, hence could be perceived as so many things! Are they a metaphor for the obstacles we all have to face in life? You know the ones that make us stronger and help shape us into who we are? Or maybe a physical embodiment of the rite of passage that all males go through when they transition from boyhood to manhood? Or is it’s just about a nut-job who wants to die and is training this young pup to kill him already? It was up for grabs! But one thing was for damn sure; I’m always mentally stimulated when I watch this mean-machine.

Now many have stated that the film has homo-erotic tones lodged firmly in its Jock-Strap and that these two dudes just want to bang sillier than monkeys on E. I can see how that can be perceived but with that said, I know for a fact that this was not intentional on the screenplay’s part. The gay vibes are in the house mostly due to Hauer's eccentric choices in terms of his performance (He just had to play with that spit didn’t he?) but hey, if you wanna see it as Brokeback in the desert with phallic guns in tow… go right ahead. Which brings me to Hauer himself. Personally I can't think of a more entrancing, onscreen villain than him as John Ryder. He brought riveting nuances, dangerous charisma and a terrifying mean streak to what could've been, in the hands of a lesser actor, a more “standard” type of psycho character. Hauer played up the mystery of the character and owned the screen like nobody’s whipped bitch! He came across as un-stoppable force, one that could be more than human even though he wasn't. Apart from his stint in Blade Runner it was the best showcase of his career if you ask me or the chopped off finger swimming in my tub of French fries.

Now don't me wrong dudes and dudettes, THE HITCHER was much more than heavy on psychological/symbolism clit teasing, it was a badass, take no prisoners, grab you by the throat and bang your mom, visceral cinematic experience too. The flick shot-gunned fantastic car chase bits and down n dirty, machismo heavy gun-stuff my way and I relished every second of it! CHAOS in motion baby! CHAOS! The same went horror wise with the theme of being “alone” against an evil entity, moments of inventive (yet suggested) brutality and all kinds of tension whip-lashing hard. And the cherry on top was that all that genre loving was communicated with action. I have to admire a film that pulls off relying on physical get-downs to tell its story without sacrificing character development/arc in the process. There was hardly any dialogue in this film (what was there was damn clever though) and it rarely let up, but the characters and their growth were still very prominent! It’s called getting your whore and eating her too!

Finally, add to ALL THAT one heck of a left field kill, a “true to its audience” male/female courtship that ducked the clichés, sumptuous photography (flick made me want to live in the desert) and an atmospheric score that backed up the imagery perfectly and you get a Grade-A horror/action/ thriller. Well to me anyways, and at the end of the road rage, that's all I need. Does it show this is one of my fav films of all time? IT SHOULD! Let’s hitch a ride with THE HITCHER…straight to hell!

The violence was mostly off-screen, smartly letting the audience do the work. Dead families, a dog snacking on a dead cop, the French fry finger and of course the Mack-Truck incident (that's all I’ll say). The movie was mucho mean spirited but not visually too gory.
Rutger Hauer’s (Ryder) Aryan looks served him well here… again. The Hitcher was a scary, funny, sad and enigmatic character. Thankfully, Hauer was up to the task and then some! C Thomas Howell (Jim) did good here, communicating Jim’s every emotion through his actions and facial expression (He did pull one un-intentionally funny face during the diner scene though. I was on the floor!). Jennifer Jason Leigh (Nash) was younger, chubbier and cuter. She also gave a strong show by taking a fairly simple part and giving it depth and color.
T & A
We get NATHING and the ladies get C. Thomas Howell’s pasty white chest…sorry girls, no butt shots.
The movie looked incredible and atmosphere was in the forefront! Lavish desert landscapes, ominous shadows, rainy nights....loved it! Slap in some slow motion, tightly directed action sequences and lots of close ups of Hauer’s face and you get a film that bathed in beauty, clashing with its ugly happenings. Good work Harmon!

The eerie and eclectic score by Mark Isham played a strong part in the film's impact. Far from typical, it powerfully accentuated the "off kilter" nature of the story and the Ryder/Halsey relationship while backing up the action like a champ.

How kool is THE HITCHER? Well Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and called it "diseased and corrupt", that's how kool it is! Its definitely one for the books! A thriller with brains, an action flick with soul, a horror film with purpose, sporting a captivating baddie to boot! Engagingly vague, razor directed, well acted and heavy on the suspense, it was one of those rare films that worked me on every freaking level. Yup, THE HITCHER is in a league of it’s own and will always be one of my top draw when it comes to getting a healthy dose of top-notch horror and action rolled up in one film!
C. Thomas Howell said that he was frightened of Hauer on the set but that he learned a lot by watching and listening to the man.

This film was written by Eric Red. He co-wrote Blue Steel and Near Dark with Kathryn Bigelow. He also wrote and directed Body Parts and Bad Moon.

The Hitcher Part 2 exists and it blows. There's also an inferior remake (2007) on the loose.