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The Hitcher (1986)

Never pick up a stranger

Directed by:

Robert Harmon

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 97 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

Quite possibly the most lengthy, elaborate and downright gruesome public information film ever made, ‘The Hitcher’ teaches us one lesson and one lesson only: DON’T pick up hitch-hikers. Ever. Not even Dutch ones.

Above all the shocks, the gruesome deaths, the car crashes and the explosions, it works primarily because it taps into the one basic primal fear from which we all suffer: fear of Rutger Hauer. The big craggy-faced Aryan is pant-browningly scary as the appropriately-named John Ryder who, one dark and rainy night on a desolate road, is picked up by idiotic youngster Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell). Jim just wants some company to help prevent him from nodding off. John just wants someone whose eyeball he can jab his flick-knife into. You can tell they’re not going to make happy bedfellows.

The film swiftly turns into an electric cat and mouse chase, as Ryder carries on slaying all and sundry whilst an exasperated Halsey desperately attempts to convince the hapless local police force of his side of the story. The only person who’ll believe him turns out to be roadside café waitress Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who you’ll instantly know REALLY shouldn’t get involved. And you’ll be right.

Laced with suspense and terror, John Harmon’s directorial style is spot on for getting the most out of this dark yet strangely enjoyable tale. The story itself doesn’t always work that well, with the plot relying increasingly on the glossing over of various holes in order to progress from one stage to the next. And Halsey, in textbook horror movie fashion, makes just about every wrong decision possible as he bids to outsmart his almost inhuman stalker. You’ll want to punch him in the side of the face by the time it’s all over, but only once you’ve climbed out from behind the sofa.

It's Got: Finger-lickin’ French fries.

It Needs: To lock the passenger door.

DVD Extras The Hitcher – Special Edition DVD. There’s a great range of extras here for a film so old – audio commentary from Robert Harmon and writer Eric Red, a trailer, filmographies, a selection of screenplay samples, a decent documentary exclusive to the DVD, and two short movies entitled ‘China Lake’ and ‘The Room’. DVD Extras Rating: 8/10

Alternatives:

Duel, Jeepers Creepers

Summary

The story’s not to difficult to find fault with, but thanks to Harmon’s eerie direction and Hauer’s foreboding presence, this is deservedly a cult classic. Watch it with the lights turned off.

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