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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.23%
Average: 2.56%
Pretty Bad: 3.85%
Total Crap: 3.85%

2 reviews, 66 user ratings

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Hitcher, The (1986)
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by David Hollands

"Pure cinematic terror; the best of its kind."
5 stars

After watching Robert Harmon’s brilliant and terrifying The Hitcher, I will never be able to look at a thriller the same way again. This film is done right on so many levels, that I will never be able to see that kind of perfection again. The Hitcher has ruined me, and all because it is expertly made.

The film centres around young Jim Halsey as he’s driving across the country in a rented car that he’s transporting to a dealership in California. It is a dark evening, and raining to boot, and the drive is beginning to make poor young Jim feel sleepy. He even nods off, almost getting himself in an accident in the process. After recovering, he sees the figure of a man standing in the rain, and decides to pick up the guy. He quickly comes to regret it, as the man starts behaving very strangely in his presence. He pushes down Halsey’s foot when they pass a stopped Volks Wagon, causing them to speed pass. Soon, the hitchhiker has a knife to Jim’s throat, and is asking him if he would like to die. Noticing the door is ajar, Jim pushes the stranger out, and thinks he’s finally rid of the guy. Unfortunately, the hitcher is soon in the backseat of another car, and begins pursuing Jim and getting him into more scrapes as the film goes on.

The Hitcher works so well because of the fantastic screenplay by Eric Red. The sharp dialogue and quotable lines just never stop in this flick. Everything from when the Hitcher asks Jim if he wants to know what happens when an eyeball gets punctured to a riveting scene in a diner involving fries and a severed finger, this is just an extremely relentless movie that hardly lets up. One thing I’d definitely have to commend is that fact that Red never allows his characters or the script to become hooky in any way. He never introduces dumb Hannibal Lector-like dialogue in the mix, always making the psychopath seem extremely creepy just because he speaks so normally all the time. Red paces the screenplay expertly, never simply making something happen just for the sake of it happening to advance the plot in some dumb Hollywood-contrivance kind of way. Instead, he allows the actions of the characters and the drive of its psychotic monster to push the tale.

The movie is a variation on the slasher film. The main villain is a madman, linking him to other popular slasher icons of the era, although some things are definitely done to enhance the murderer to give him more of a realistic edge. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger are all frightening figures, but they are still indestructible monsters, and no matter what the filmmakers do, one can never truly get that much suspense from the material based on the fact that they know the madmen are totally impervious to death. The Hitcher turns the formula on its head by actually returning to the style of some of the earlier slashers, like Alex Hammond inProm Night or Billy from Black Christmas and improving on those. John Ryder, a.k.a. the Hitcher, is a frightening man based on just how normal he seems. It’s the kind of thing where someone would never even think that he was as dangerous as the movie makes him out to be, simply based on his actions and the simple fashion in which he goes about his business. Making Ryder a human being definitely gives the film a “darkest aspect of the human mind” quality to it that makes it terrifying.

Like all perfect screen psychos, one is never told Ryder's true motives. Even when the film ends, one doesn’t understand what the guy was trying to do. Because Red has made the wise choice to not explain anything in his script about Ryder, Ryder becomes all the more terrifying. Consider a scene in which main character Halsey practically pleads to Ryder about his intentions and Ryder simply replies “You figure it out”.

Just as impressive is Jim Halsey’s conversion in the movie. He starts out as a normal person when he picks up John Ryder, and throughout the film he starts changing almost into a John Ryder himself. He’s pushed so far to the edge that he would even consider killing a fellow human being, and that’s a very interesting commentary on the overall human condition. Before the rules of society neutered man, we were a harsh people basically surviving on our animal instincts to survive, killing anyone who would hinder that possibility. The film is ripping the mask that we’ve placed on ourselves off and showing us true human nature. We see how a human will begin to think under extreme pressure in a very realistic manor, and I commend Eric Red and company for not making the change come too quickly. They show excellent restraint even in a scene where Jim can’t kill Ryder even when his new found friend’s life hangs in the balance. It is actually quite touching to see a character driven to the edge, and one who will have to resort to animal-like instincts in order to beat his adversary, but one who goes through that change slowly and effectively.

An interesting aspect is the relationship between Jim Halsey and John Ryder. Although the two are definitely different in what they do, there is that strange feeling that John is trying to become either the father Jim never had, or the lover he wants the guy to have. There is a definite over-bearing father figure/homosexuality undertone that runs throughout the picture, almost making this movie seem like a puberty driven picture. Perhaps this is completely ludicrous, but I just felt that this was a coming of age story. Note that there are never any outright homosexual love scenes, but there are some moments that illustrate this theme. For example, there is a scene in a diner where John talks to Jim while tenderly feeling his face and placing quarters over his eyes, while Jim seems to react to that as if he’s in a kind of nirvana. He snaps out of it after John leaves the place. There’s also the later moment when Jim spits in John’s face, and John simply takes the spit in his hands and brings it close to his mouth.

Odd is the fact that John Ryder appears to want to die more than his victims. He goes from car to car, talking to people, putting knives up to their throats and killing the weak ones. The ones who show some strength, he returns to them and tries to drive them so insane that they will soon want to kill him. Although I can’t really understand why he does this, perhaps we really weren’t meant to understand. Maybe we were just supposed to see this guy as a really screwed up individual, a really pathetic person who might have been using his victims to judge him. Could it be possible that this is the first slasher who realises that he’s dangerous? He wants to die, yet is so seriously screwed up that he will only allow the worthy person to do him in?

Now, there is definitely a suspension of disbelief on display throughout much of the movie. At times, it is unbelievable that John could be in so many places at so many different times pursuing this character. Plus, a scene in which he shoots down a helicopter with a pistol while driving a very large truck across bumpy terrain just seems totally unbelievable. Still, I just can’t mark the film down because of that since the movie is just so well executed. Even the unbelievable parts come off as terrifying rather than stupid. Come to think of it, the fact that the Ryder character can simply turn up in virtually any spot really gets the claustrophobia aspect going. Basically, even though we’re out in wide-open country, we feel closed in because anywhere out there Ryder could be hiding. The fact that Ryder always seems to be one step ahead of Jim at practically every moment is pretty scary, even if it is slightly hard to believe. But again, the execution is just so brilliant that we really end up not caring at all.

Robert Harmon is a master of cinema, and with The Hitcher he proves to be one of the most competent horror directors. This is a movie which thankfully isn’t awash in all kinds of annoying camera-batics. This film looks bleak at all times, making it acceptable to the country roads on which this film takes place. The bleak look helps reflect Jim Halsey’s feelings throughout most of the film, and as the movie goes on, the direction and lighting becomes subtly more intense, reflecting the character’s changes as the film goes on very well. Also impressive is that film functions as a totally claustrophobic exercise even though it resorts to very wide 2.35:1 compositions. By using wide angles, Harmon has brought us closer to Halsey then we’d ever thought we’d get. Halsey is a guy who is completely isolated, and Harmon sometimes cuts to wide shots to show the character’s isolation at a given moment. Thankfully, he only uses those at specific moments, which is always the most effective thing to do. Such a moment like that is that is when Jim has his pathetic suicidal moment. Harmon shoots it perfectly, staying in close at exactly the right moments, and pulling back to demonstrate just how isolated Jim has become. We can fully realise the terror and suspense this character is going through, simply because we see that he is the only human being in a wide vista of nothing.

Harmon and cinematographer John Seale do take risks at times by giving the film a slightly gothic edge in certain scenes. These moments had the risk of being off-putting and strange given the stylistic look of the rest of the film, but the flourishes actually suit the film. For example, in the opening shots of Halsey’s drive down the road, everything is totally blue, but everything is still very dark, much like how the night atmosphere would look like considering the darkness and the moonlight. Another gothic moment comes when Jim and Ryder meet in a barn, with long streams of light shining through the cracks in the barn wood, and dust in the air. This is a hauntingly shot moment between the two, as it almost feels like some epic battle of the Gods in a way. Also, I must commend Harmon for shooting some fantastic and exciting action sequences that truly kick a*s. There’s a long car chase that happens later in the film, and it remains extremely exciting thanks to sharp editing and wonderful compositions, and also because Harmon basically keeps his camera inside Halsey’s car most of the time.

Also wonderful is that Harmon constantly surprises us with wonderful and off-putting visual tricks. Consider that the compositions during Ryder and Jim’s first confrontation in his car are shot in a very imposing fashion, almost making us want to lean back. We can feel the confines of the car, which become all the more unsettling given the fact that a psychopath now occupies it. Also consider a very surprising moment when Jim discovers a severed finger in a plate of fries. Harmon keeps the shot focussed on Halsey for a very long time as he eats the fries, so long that we start to get bored and begin to look away. Coming back to the screen, we see the finger, and immediately get the required jolt simply because we never would have guessed it was coming because the scene was shot so brilliantly. Note that Harmon spares the audience seeing the most intense portions of gore scattered throughout the film. Ryder kills a few people, and Harmon has Halsey seeing the aftermaths mostly. These are shot showing Halsey’s reaction, and Harmon never reveals the extreme violence, giving the film a sense of class and helping it rise above the feeling of a cheap highway-chase/slasher movie. Psychologically, the effect is very startling. Basically, we aren’t seeing what Halsey doesn’t want to see, bringing us close to Halsey’s wish that he isn’t seeing the grisly stuff on display here. Showing this kind of restraint makes one scene in which Halsey finds an entire family hacked to bits in a car all the more horrifying, because we can imagine exactly what Halsey is seeing, and our imagination is most likely ten times more frightening than any splatter effect throw at us.

As John Ryder, Rutger Hauer is extremely creepy and frighteningly at ease throughout most of the picture. He never engages in absolutely stupid hammy Anthony Hopkins crap, and instead plays Ryder like any other person. The way he smiles slightly, the way his hawk-like eyes stare deep into Halsey at all times is just fascinating stuff, and it is made even more intense by the fact that Hauer plays it totally straight at all times.

Just as good is C. Thomas Howell as Jim Halsey, who actually has to do a lot more than the average movie hero. He has to break down a few times, and go from a regular citizen to a slightly mad and vengeful individual by the film’s end. Howell handles the transformation expertly, going extremely slowly through all the required changes, and never rushing through character moments. As a result, we can truly feel that this character is experiencing these things and is going through a realistic descent into some pretty serious depression.

Extremely refreshing about both performances is the fact that both these actors never engage in onscreen mouth fights. Nobody shouts in this film, and the confrontations between Halsey and Ryder are kept quiet and totally contained without exploding into eardrum-shattering shrieking, so the film is constantly believable on a character driven level.

Mark Isham has contributed a cold, haunting electronic score to the film that brings the audience into Ryder’s completely driven and uncaring mindset. It’s a frightening place to be, to say the least. Isham also does a great job scoring the set pieces in this flick, and never heads into that idiotic realm of over-scoring. There aren’t any annoying loud portions of the music; in fact, the entire score is rather quiet, giving a much more haunting quality to the film than it would have had otherwise. For an example, look no further than the wonderful bars of score playing over the opening credits. They are lonely, reflecting Jim’s position, and almost ghostly, reflecting the look of the scene unfolding in front of our eyes. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Isham clearly understands when and when not to score a scene. Some of the best moments in the film are ones that are silent. Much of the confrontation between Halsey and Ryder in the car doesn’t have even an ounce of score, making the situation play out in a much more frightening way than it would have had there been music present.

The Hitcher is a modern horror classic that will never loose any of its power. Its ability to provide sheer fright will never be compromised. Robert Harmon truly hit a nerve with this flick. The performances are great, the themes lovely and disturbing, and the many wonderful individual sequences littered throughout this flick just make it worthwhile.

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originally posted: 12/27/03 07:20:24
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User Comments

6/16/16 JJL Fan Jennifer Jason Leigh never got naked, I wonder what movie you're thinking of? 5 stars
5/05/15 stanley welles an overcooked, unimaginative teen identification fantasy 2 stars
10/15/11 Dick Trombley Interesting thata folks either love it or hate it. Observe the ratio of love to hate. 5 stars
11/05/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Classic chiller! Perfect movie to watch in october 4 stars
1/12/10 TravisN Slick, scary movie. Well worth a watch or two. 5 stars
12/08/09 Geeza A Classic - And Ebert's a Moron 5 stars
6/22/09 action movie fan scary story of young man pursued by psycho and wrongly thought to be the killer 4 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White sadistic movie for stupid people who pick up strangers 3 stars
9/15/07 Ted Bundy Influential movie, I feel I can relate to the Hitcher and his way of life 5 stars
6/20/07 Dk Really enjoyed this, though I doubt I'll think much of the remake now 4 stars
6/10/07 al smith amazing movie pure acting masterclass from hauer 5 stars
1/17/07 Jan Try as they might, a remake can only be a sorry imitation of this masterpiece! 5 stars
12/28/06 David Pollastrini Jennifer jason leigh is hot! 4 stars
12/10/06 William Goss Impressively taut thriller without a moment to breathe, let alone think about it too much. 4 stars
11/16/06 db0seven I include this remarkable film in my Rites of Passage class. 5 stars
11/05/06 MP Bartley Grisly and nastily entertaining - goes overboard at the climax though. 4 stars
12/20/05 Death-Threat Jennifer Jason Leigh never got naked.Great movie though.. 5 stars
11/11/05 saika great movie 5 stars
8/30/05 ES this is what thrillers are all about 5 stars
6/23/05 G-Unit......fidy cent this movie was good......i dont stop for them mofo's no more!! no wot i mean?!?!?!?!? 5 stars
6/14/05 Dr. Zoidberg Scared the living fuck out of me 5 stars
5/21/05 Jeff Anderson Repulsive, but undeniably exciting & gripping thriller. Howell & Hauer are aces & brilliant 5 stars
5/01/04 Adam Classic thriller, unlike the "Hitcher II" which is pure shit 5 stars
5/01/04 Jaycee Great horror & suspense from the minute Rutger Hauer gets into Howell's car. 3 stars
4/18/04 Daveman This is a well directed, brilliantly shot intense thriller, see it at least once! 4 stars
4/17/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the best "On the Road" thrillers ever. 5 stars
1/28/04 LIAM JACKSON don't pick up hitchers. they may just brutally torture and kill you for fun. 5 stars
1/20/04 Marion Great!!!!! 5 stars
1/04/04 maffat Well;me,I will seet it again and again.... 5 stars
1/01/04 Ian Lowndes I will NEVER pick up a hitch-hiker again! 4 stars
12/30/03 maffat I like The Hicher a lot! 5 stars
12/27/03 Y2mckay What he did to that girl at the truck stop was just FUCKED UP!!! 5 stars
11/04/03 maffat Te Hitcher?..... One of the best movies i ever saw!....Dense, terrific .....Beautiful. 5 stars
10/10/03 Alfie Just GREAT 5 stars
10/03/03 Marita Rutger Hauer is the villain. Need I more to say? 5 stars
10/02/03 Anita One of the best movies I've ever seen. 5 stars
8/28/03 Sugarfoot Had me on the edge of my seat. 4 stars
3/25/03 Jack Sommersby Blood-curdling suspense which unfortunately turns just too ludicrous in final third. 4 stars
3/05/03 Cat I have seen it ages ago, and each time I think of it, I feel sick coz I am still afraid ! 5 stars
2/23/03 Sugarfoot Very good... 4 stars
12/19/02 MooseMice Very entertaining. Effective performances by all. 5 stars
11/23/02 Charles Tatum Suspenseful but don't look too close 4 stars
11/22/02 Zargo THE road movie 5 stars
7/29/02 Megan C. Thomas Howell is a hottie!! it's a good movie too!! 5 stars
7/11/02 S.Mozzo ( Great movie loaded with suspense that is not half as gory as people remember it to be. 5 stars
6/07/02 Nuke "The Hitcher" is antensely creepy and chillling thriller. 4 stars
6/06/02 zotteLORRE hauer is one real sicko sob, love this dude 5 stars
2/07/02 clearmountain4 brilliant dark rites of passage fairy tale 5 stars
1/22/02 Jay A. An amazing movie, my absolute favorite. 5 stars
1/16/02 David A. A simpering rip-off of Duel, which is the greatest action film of all time. 2 stars
6/06/01 King Jackass freaky as hell, especially the french fries part 5 stars
5/24/01 Erik North If it weren't so violent and gory, this would be a DUEL-type masterpiece. 4 stars
3/01/01 The Cock sick BDSM motherfuckers 1 stars
3/01/01 Steve in Prague still freaks me out 5 stars
2/25/01 jeroen C.Thomas Howell should have stopped after this one!!! 5 stars
2/12/01 perverted pixie The road movie equivilant of Hamlet. 5 stars
12/29/00 Andy Olivera Incredible. One of the great films of the 80s. All feelings can't be described in this area 5 stars
1/22/00 Chrissy T Wanna know what happens when an eyeball gets punctured? Rutger is the man. 5 stars
1/13/00 Tim Gerchmez Piece of trash for emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic morons. 1 stars
12/31/99 Red SO da Can "The Hitcher" kicks ass! Hauer is terrifying and there are so many freaky scenes! 5 stars
11/23/99 The Velvet Edge Yeah, this is a good one. I'd still pick Rutger Hauer up, though. 5 stars
11/22/99 the Grinch This one's a keeper. I can definitely see the Hitchcock. See it! Don't let these films die 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1986 (R)



Directed by
  Robert Harmon

Written by
  Eric Red

  C. Thomas Howell
  Rutger Hauer
  Jennifer Jason Leigh
  Jeffrey DeMunn

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