Never pick up a stranger.
Year of Release: 1986
Running Time: 98 minutes (1:38)
Director: Robert Harmon
Rutger Hauer ... John Ryder
C. Thomas Howell ... Jim Halsey
Jennifer Jason Leigh ... Nash
Jeffrey DeMunn ... Captain Esteridge
John M. Jackson ... Sergeant Starr
Billy Green Bush ... Trooper Donner
Jack Thibeau ... Trooper Prestone
Armin Shimerman ... Interrogation Sergeant
Gene Davis ... Trooper Dodge
Jon Van Ness ... Trooper Hapscomb
Henry Darrow ... Trooper Hancock
Tony Epper ... Trooper Conners
When Jim Halsey stops to pick up a hitcher one rainy night, he is soon dying to turn back time. The man puts a knife to Jim's throat as he tells him to pull past a stranded car on the side of the road. Its occupants have already been brutally slaughtered by the ominous stranger.
Now a bloody game of cat-and-mouse is about to be played out on this desolate stretch of highway, and every car that passes, and every poor soul who rides that road, are going to take part whether they want to or not.
The Hitcher, the movie that reminds us that being pulled in two separate directions is far less painful when it's only metaphorical. Truck drivers love this movie, makes 'em nostalgic for all the screwed up people they've picked up over the years. An not just the ass, grass, or cash crowd, the guys in the tin foil hats always have the best stories. Sure, you may get stabbed every now an then but after the first couple times you learn to wear Kevlar. It's stylish and effective. God bless you wide loaded, pork bellied souls, you are truly kings among men. I shouldn't have to sell you on this one, it stars Rutger Hauer, an he's always got something new and borderline insane up his sleeve. So first of all, if you can't stay awake while driving and refuse to acknowledge the dangers of taking a break, at least acknowledge that your judgement is probably compromised an don't immediately do the stupidest thing anyone can ever do. Of course, I refer to helping others. Second, don't bother trying to make a stand when you're scared shitless to the point that your voice is more cracked out than Rodney King. An third, if something's free, particularly food, you'd better believe there's gonna be something wrong with it. But something this movie brings to light, an something a lot of people may have trouble accepting, is that sometimes shit happens an there's really no reason for it. People try to make sense of everything. Rationalize everything, everything needs to happen for a reason, otherwise God doesn't exist, or they have to accept that you cannot be prepared for everything. In the movie, Rutger Hauer's character really doesn't have much of a vested interest in C. Thomas Howell's character, he just finds the kid unusually fun to screw with. Some people are going to debate this fact of course. Some people say Rutger wants bromance with the kid, others will say he's trying to make his homocidal lifestyle appeal to the kid to gain a partner, but the reality is that he just likes killing people, and he enjoys the game. C. Thomas Howell is just way too much fun to ever finish off, he gets as much thrill out of scaring the bejezus outta him as he does killing the other people. There's no real motive, the kid's just in the wrong place at the wrong time an as much as it may harm some people's psyche to accept it, shit happens sometimes. And it's possible that there's no real reason behind anything that happens. No deeper meaning. It's not a test, it's just how life works.
The movie begins with Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders driving a car across country so he can get to California where all women are whores. I know this because I saw I Spit on Your Grave. But the kid's run out of "Trucker's Choice" brand stay awake capsules an he can't keep his eyes open worth a damn, so when he nods off an wakes up to find the space ship from Close Encounters barreling down on him he has to swerve back into his lane an reevaluate his alertness level a little bit. Only a short distance down the road, he spots a hitchhiker an figures maybe he can pay the guy to smack 'em every five minutes so he'll quit playing unconscious chicken with the other drivers. Only the guy's not a real big talker an jerks the wheel back onto the road as Ponyboy tries to pull off an check on a vehicle that's gone off the road. So after a few miles Ponyboy builds up enough gumption to pull over an tell the guy (Rutger Hauer) to kindly get out of his car cause having to jerk the steering wheel suddenly is his bit. Only Rutger won't leave an the kid's gumption shrivels up like a penis in a swimming pool an Rutger tells 'im the car was his an that he ran out of gas. Just kidding, he doesn't know whose car it is, only that he hacked off the driver's arms, legs an head an that he's gonna do the same to Ponyboy for being so curt with him earlier. Shortly thereafter they come to a construction site an Rutger gives 'im the switchblade massage an tells 'em not to get cute or he'll give 'im body piercings in places nobody ever thought of before. Once they get through, Rutger starts screwing with his head an making him blubber like Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until the kid realizes the door's not quite shut an shoves Rutger out the door an leaves little bits of his face all embedded in the asphalt. Rutger didn't have time to tuck an roll. Later that day, after his excessive celebration, Ponyboy gets passed by another car driving up the road, only Rutger's in the back seat with the kids making dirty faces at him. He tries to warn the other driver but only succeeds in tearing the front bumper off a tour bus as he narrowly avoids needing the Highway Patrol to tear his face out of its grille. Now he's a man on a mission. Having committed felony hit and run, he follows the road until he comes to an eerily familiar scene. Rutger's latest chauffeur and his family have all been corpsed up an Rutger's nowhere to be seen.
So Ponyboy pulls into an abandoned building off the road looking for a phone, but Rutger's one step ahead of him an throws the kid's keys at 'im, just so he knows he could have killed 'im 10 times already if he wanted to, an leaves with another good Samaritan. Ponyboy tries to warn 'em but the wind's howling like an RSD syndrome patient that just got a bikini wax an he's left in the dust. Still further down the road, the still extremely inattentive Ponyboy doesn't notice Rutger tailgating him so he has to ram his new wheels into 'em a few times to get his attention. But once Rutger's pretty confident the kid's crapped his pants he takes the truck off-road and out of sight. So Ponyboy again stops at the next sign of civilization he comes to, only the gas pumps are self serve an Ponyboy comes from New Jersey. He can't find the attendant, but that's just as well because about the time he's done a little searching Rutger busts through the bay door in his truck an plows over the gas pumps. Gas starts spewing out like pea soup outta Linda Blair an Rutger pulls right up behind Ponyboy an lights a match. Ponyboy's able to get out of there just before Rutger blows the piss out of the station an the surrounding area an Rutger takes off to figure out some even more amusing ways to dampen the kid's drawers. So a few miles down the road Ponyboy finally finds a structure that's open, only the hay seed waitress won't open up the door an he has to press his face up against it an look real sad until she feels sorry for him. He's able to get ahold of the cops, who tell him they'll be there when they get done booking all the minorities they pulled over that day for having tinted windows. Then the hay seed (Nash) cooks him a burger while he spends the next half hour ringing the unleaded out of his jean jacket. They make some small talk until she realizes he's not listening to her, an she realizes he's probably not marriage material anyway an goes to get things setup for her shift. Moments later he finds a finger in his fries an the idea of eating it without any cocktail sauce makes him so sick that he has to run outside an hurl just as the cops are pulling in. Only the cops cuff 'em an rough 'em an haul his butt off to the hoosegow an start interrogating him about why he's got Rutger's bloody switchblade in his pocket an how come he's perpetrated more hit an runs than Amanda Bynes.
They don't really think he did it, but the boss wants results an they're in danger of losing their Christmas bonus if they don't pin this stuff on somebody real quick like, so they lock 'em up until they can think of a better plan. So Ponyboy lays down an catches some much needed winks, but when he wakes up he notices the cell is open. He also notices that all the cops are leakin' Ragu chunky style all over the station an the K-9 unit must have called for backup because a horde of cop cars pull into the place an he just has time to grab a gun an run like he stole Mr. T's jewelry box. He then makes his way to still another gas station where he tries to make a call, only the cops pull in as he's dialing an he hijacks them an their wheels an makes 'em get in touch with the Captain so he can do some 'splainin. The Captain convinces him to turn himself in, but by that time Rutger shows up again an caps the two cops an leaves Ponyboy to try to steer the out of control police cruiser until it rolls to a stop an he has a nervous breakdown. That Rutger, what a cut up. So the kid trudges to a new diner (this patch of nowhere has more diners an gas stations than Sunset Strip) where Rutger walks in a sits down next to 'em to see if the food's any good here. Ponyboy figures he's got 'em now, as he points the gun at him under the table a la Harrison Ford, only Rutger gets this smug look on his face an tells the kid it's empty. Sure enough, the kid empties all six empty chambers of their air an starts blubbering about how Rutger never lets him win. Then Rutger puts pennies over the kid's eyes an leaves 'im the bullets an takes off cause he hasn't killed anyone in damn near half an hour. So then Ponyboy gets on a tour bus that happens to stop in, when he spots Nash on the same bus headed for the can an he has to jerk her in there before she sees 'im an freaks out. He tells her he didn't do it an she just takes his word for it, only the cops show up an pull the bus over. Ponyboy decides to go quietly, but the cops are pissed. They had to miss the annual police picnic an they're thinking real seriously about just popping Ponyboy like a zit until Nash comes out an uses Ponyboy's gun to get 'em to back off so they can hijack the cop car an turn themselves in at slightly less biased police department. I'm thinkin' that by this point, even Texas would give them a better trial.
But it's not long before the chase is on. Nash gets on the horn an tries to reason with the cops but they're mega pissed now an they don't negotiate with terrorists or dumb blondes that make 'em look bad. The cops get up close an blow the piss out of every portion of the car except one that might stop it, such as the engine or the tires, an realize their Imperial Storm Trooper Marksmanship Academy training has failed them an they move in to box the kids in. Ponyboy knows they think the Miranda rights are optional around here an that there's a good chance that if they get within five feet they might actually hit 'em. So just as they pull alongside him he puts the brake to the floor an the cruiser on the left blows out the tires of the cruiser on the right, just as he tries to spin around after the kids' car an goes airborne an completes the triple somersault with a half twist before crashing down to the pavement an sliding for a few hundred yards on the roof. The other cruiser doesn't fare any better as it tries to avoid the first cruiser an the kids are able to get away. But about five minutes later they come under helicopter fire (Where the hell did a town this size come up with a chopper so quick? If there even is a town, we never do see anything besides sage brush, greasy spoon diners an gas stations). Then Rutger shows up again an gets real pissed off when he spots the chopper trying to blast HIS victims an caps the chopper pilot, one handed, outta the side of his moving vehicle. The helicopter crashes spectacularly an the additional police cruisers that have now shown up to join the chase either crash into the flaming chopper or into the hills on either side of the road. I hope they're in a wealthy state, cause there's no way a town this small is gonna be able to replace all these vehicles. Rutger by himself has done more financial damage than Freddie Mac an Fannie Mae combined. Safe for the moment, the kids abandon their hijacked police cruiser an settle into a hotel. But as you may have noticed, Rutger is always at least one step ahead, an when Ponyboy goes to wash the terror sweat off in the shower, he snatches up Nash an ties her arms to a stationary trailer, and her legs to the back of a running semi with only his foot on the clutch separating her from separating. Though this exact situation isn't technically the end, it really sets up the ending so we'll cut her here. It here. I meant it.
Previously, in the Visiting Hours review, I went over the difference between a Suspense movie and a Horror movie. Here, it's worthwhile to briefly go over the difference between a Thriller movie, and a Horror movie. A Thriller is essentially one rung above Suspense and one rung below Horror. If you're measuring with the Joe Bob Briggs Vomit Meter. A Thriller is more disturbing than a Suspense movie, but lacks enough on screen violence and gore to attain Horror status. So Thrillers, to be successful, have to be extremely well written, well acted, well directed... basically for a Thriller to be good they cannot falter anywhere. Particularly in the writing, because they depend so heavily on the psychological aspect, if something doesn't make sense, it's over. This is why there exist so few that aren't pathetic. The Hitcher, however, is great. Not only is it great, but if you tried to make it into a horror movie it probably wouldn't work as well, because the gore effects would detract from the real horror of the movie, which is of course, Rutger Hauer's character. The original script, in fact, was extremely graphic and had intended to show every murder scene, including the coup de gras on Jennifer Jason Leigh. It also originally called for an eyeball in C. Thomas Howell's hamburger, but I think the finger in the french fries works a lot better. An eyeball in a hamburger screams "we're trying way too hard." A finger in the fries is clever, an makes for a much better moment of discovery. There's still a reasonable amount of violence, but a lot of it happens off screen. Another critical difference between a Thriller and a Suspense movie is the pacing, here, there's important stuff happening virtually the entire time, the movie never lets up. Suspense movies generally have to stop to relay back story or slow to a crawl long enough to give the sissies in the audience enough time to cover their eyes. Thrillers don't do that quite so painfully. They've also got "psychological thrillers" as well, but don't let the name throw you, that's just a suspense movie with way too much plot. The Hitcher is going to be one of the very few movies that I believe comes off better by showing less. And for that to happen, you've gotta have a lot of really good stuff happening elsewhere.
So, the pieces which make up the whole. The acting is the biggest contributing factor to its success. Rutger Hauer is pretty much great in everything he's ever done, but particularly villains. He's one of the best character actors the industry has ever known, so naturally, 8 out of 10 people have no idea who he is, even though probably all 10 have seen something he's been in, and liked it. He's probably better known for the role in Blade Runner, although I liked his performance here better. Blade Runner is the better movie, but he gave the better performance in The Hitcher. He doesn't do much in the genre I really enjoy, so to see him much you'll have to get into the Action genre, but he's great in everything he touches. C. Thomas Howell is pretty good as Ponyboy, an Jennifer Jason Leigh is adequate as Nash, neither interest me enough to delve much into their usual fare, however. As far as genre actors there isn't much else to mention, mostly just Billy Green Bush from Critters an Jason Goes to Hell, although Jeffrey DeMunn also played a sheriff in the 1988 remake of The Blob. These guys get seriously typecast, a lot of sheriff roles between 'em. The plot is simplistic enough. Extremely simplistic in fact. Without Rutger Hauer's performance this becomes another slasher movie with a minor plot twist. But it works. The writing is good enough that it makes the plot seem a lot more intricate than it really is. Not much of a soundtrack, or at least I didn't notice it much. Which may speak well of the movie's ability to hold your focus on what's happening, or it may just be that there wasn't much music to it. So there isn't much to comment on, it's not memorable, but nor does it cause any negative backlash. The settings are great, and I do realize that it's essentially just sage desert which could be practically anywhere. That's why it's great. It's real. Modern movies seldom shoot in places like this, although it was fairly common if you go back in time a ways. I refer mostly to the outdoor shots of course, though the diners and gas stations are good as well, typical of the 1980s, good stuff. So, overall, it's possibly the greatest thriller movie ever made. But for me, a great thriller is only equal to a good horror movie. None the less, The Hitcher should be pretty accessible to the main stream public, because it uses atmosphere and Rutger Hauer where horror movies use a monster and an atomizer filled with stage blood. Even the sissies should enjoy it.