Review: The Hitcher (1986)

Posted by Peter Hall - March 2nd 2007 @ 11:06 am

Directed by Robert Harmon, 1986
Written by Eric Red

The Hitcher Original Poster

The original Hitcher has a damned die hard set of enthusiasts.  People love that movie in unbelievable ways.  Twenty or thirty minutes into it, I was considering joining them.  The opening act of Red’s script is the very definition of caged intensity.  It captures the spirit of an all-too-possible scenario beautifully, as if Red experienced this very event and then slid in one of those things from Ghostbusters, trapping all the terror into an easily manipulated box.

A never cooler Rutger Hauer is picked up by a sleepy C. Thomas Howell on the monsoon drenched side of a desolate highway.  Hauer instantly lays on the creep, refusing to answer questions before casually confessing he cut off all the limbs of the last person who picked him up.  Appropriately freaked out Howell doesn’t know what to do with a knife to his throat, but eventually is granted a chance of kicking the hitcher out of the door and speeding off.  Things seem in the clear, until a car containing a family passes him a whiles later.  Hauer is in the backseat, playing with their young child.  Howell tries to warn them, but crashes his car in the process and so begins a long, slow showdown between Hauer and Howell that plays on for miles of road and dozens of dead bodies.

It is a triumphant opener that takes perfect advantage of relativity, spooling out over a good length of runtime while simultaneously feeling a faster pace than it actually is.  You became instantly invested in the story and characters.  But then Newton kicks in and laws of momentum slow everything down.

The highlight of the film is without question Rutger Hauer’s deathly cold performance.  The man is a statue of everything to be feared about man.  He brings the excellent character of the hitcher to life with blinding clarity.  So much so that audience interest in seeing what he does far out weighs the fates of C. Thomas Howell or a very young, very innocent looking Jennifer Jason Leigh.

There are some top notch, at least by ’80s standards, car stunts and blood splatters.  The script doesn’t require gallons of red, but layers of psychological atmosphere.  The relationship between Hauer and Howell is complex, for sure, but lacks iron clad motivations on Howell’s part.  Because of this, latter portions of the movie that use this relationship as a requisite for action lose a lot of their bang.

I’m not going to start up a chapter of the Eric Red fan club.  I think his scripts have a lot of originality going on for them, but they tend to slump the farther they go along.  The Hitcher is still a good movie, but the whole thing runs out of gas midway, coasting on its brilliant, beginning set up.  The rest of the movie is certainly interesting, its just not nearly as primed as promised.  It keeps an aura that anything could go wrong at any time, but the things that do go wrong continually become more and more plot convenient, leading up to a climax that requires the viewer to get out of the car and push a little.

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  1. March 2nd, 2007 | 11:35 am | #1

    Hmm… Posted: March 2nd 2007 @ 11:06 am. I see. I’m here at work picking up your slack while you wait for the “plumber”. AKA stay at home and write reviews since you haven’t updated your site in like a week.

  2. March 2nd, 2007 | 11:50 am | #2

    Yeah, and the call at work from Christine yesterday saying the basement was flooding was just my premeditated excuse. In fact, there was no one even on the other end, I was just making it up as I went along because Jeff was there.

  3. March 2nd, 2007 | 2:07 pm | #3

    I knew it was all a ruse! And no, I believe Christine was on the other end. She’s just part of your cabal. This is all part of the plan that will eventually lead to you not coming to the party on Saturday. I expect this from you Peter, but Christine? I thought you were better than that! FOR SHAME!

  4. March 2nd, 2007 | 3:35 pm | #4

    Well now when I DON’T show up Saturday, I can just say I did it to spite you.

  5. Ripp
    March 2nd, 2007 | 3:38 pm | #5

    You’re officially UNinvited!

  6. September 27th, 2009 | 5:05 pm | #6

    Was lucky enough to work on the film.
    Robert Harmon was new to directing but because of an open nature and caring hand the cinematographer, John Seale took him by the hand and guided him through the process and Mr. Harmon was wise enough to follow.
    Great fun to work on and an adventure that will stay with me. One of my most favorite films to work on beside Drugstore Cowboy and The Perfect Storm.

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