“A young man who escapes the clutches of a murderous hitchhiker is subsequently stalked by the hitcher and framed for his crimes.”

Director: Robert Harmon
Writer: Eric Red
Staring: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Release Date: February 21, 1986

Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is a young man driving by his lonesome from Chicago to Los Angeles. A simple boy who is just tired, he picks up a hitchhiker by the name of John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) hoping that it’ll spell good karma and keep him awake. Turns out Halsey’s decision turns into his worst living nightmare.

Ryder is a a serial killer and is hunting the roads for unsuspecting drivers and killing them. He takes pleasure in his murderous pastime, even telling Jim while a passenger all the harm he is going to inflict upon him and others. Jim is able to escape Ryder once and he thinks he is in the clear when he gets to a diner and bugs Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to call the cops.

That is not the case. Ryder begins chasing after Jim, wreaking havoc on him mentally while also framing him for the murder or random strangers and pursuing policemen. There are numerous car chases, multiple car fires and explosions, and gun fights a plenty. The Hitcher (1986) sets itself up with a simple premise, but expands into a western shoots and ladder evasion escapade.

The Hitcher is nothing without the performance of Rutger Hauer. Most recognizable for his role Roy Batty in Blade Runner (1982), Hauer has a great presence about him from his first appearance as Ryder. From the first time he sets foot in Jim’s car, it is obvious that he has no positive thoughts behind those eyes. The hair flowing over his eyes and a smirk that could kill on its own, Hauer ensures that a character with few lines still speaks volumes.

Also, a fun fact on IMDB.com is that Hauer did his own driving stunts. Most of the time you see the character of Ryder speeding down the road, hurdling over desert dunes and being a motor vehicle bandit, it is Hauer himself. He was so good that he impressed the crew and the fellow stuntmen.

The point of view of the story comes from the perspective of Jim Halsey. C. Thomas Howell really is going for the Martin Sheen in The Badlands (1973) look. Sheen played Kit in that movie, a rebel on the run from the law and in search of a personal identity. Jim doesn’t have that deep of a story behind him, but he does have the hair, and the beaten up shirt. Come the end of The Hitcher, he grows up and he is one cool as customer as the credits roll.

Really love these end credits. Surprisingly artistic shot.

With The Hitcher being a mid-tier 1980s feeling horror movie, there are a few little potholes. For one, the movie is really long, and it drags at times. The Hitcher‘s runtime is at one hours and 37 minutes, but you could chop 10 minutes off the movie and be fine. It is interesting that the 2007 remake, which I have rented, has a run time of less than an hour and a half. We will see how they compare in the time management department.

Sidenote here. I think I have a new running writing bit I could start on this blog. I think I can compare original movies to their remakes; for example Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Psycho, etc. Just a thought.

The Hitcher has one female character, and she is merely a pawn in the game between Ryder and Jim. She meets Jim once, then the second time she sees him, she helps him escape from the cops and goes on the run with him. It is a pretty far leap to make, and the chemistry between the pair is not nearly strong enough to convince the audience. Nash also gets the short end of the stick in terms of longevity of a character…let’s just say her life is cut short.

Alright, how much was the practical effects budget for this movie? So many car explosions and car crashes. It is honestly like a mini Mad Max (1979) with the amount of demolition derby.

Next question is how many endings does The Hitcher have? I know that there are horror movies that need to have the multiple endings and twists, but The Hitcher has no supernatural elements to garner the super extra inning length. The best horror movies that drag things out tend to have a bit more of the fantastical element, but The Hitcher‘s only massive suspension of disbelief comes from the amount a car blows up when it calls off a cliff.

Okay, so The Hitcher has some problems, but it has more positives than negatives. Hauer carries the majority of the weight of entertainment, but Halsey is respectable in his own right and the frenetic energy helps stir the sauce.

STANKO RATING: C+ (3.0/5 Stars)

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