Movie Review: The HitcherOctober 31, 2011 at 12:02 am | Posted in Movies, Reviews | Leave a comment
Tags: rutger hauer, the hitcher
Today is Halloween and one of the best things about this holiday, other than the candy, is all the horror movies on TV. In order to get into the spirit of things, I decided to review one of my favorite horror films of all time, The Hitcher. Now when I say The Hitcher, I’m not talking about the awful remake. There is, and can only be one, original: the 1986 film directed by Robert Harmon and written by Eric Red. It was a film that changed an entire country, much like Jaws did in 1975. After The Hitcher came out, no one ever looked at a hitchhiker the same way again.
When boiled down to a sub-genre of horror, The Hitcher is a cerebral slasher. Some fans might argue that The Hitcher doesn’t qualify as a slasher, but I’d disagree. The villain starts the film off with a knife, and throughout the movie the body count gets higher and higher. Plus the stars of the film are a couple of 20 year old youths being chased by a pyscho. On top of that, the core of the story is a tale of fear, suspense, and drama. The reason people might not see it as a slasher is because it’s not your typical dumb flick with over-the-top kills, senseless nudity, and a masked murderer. The Hitcher strives for something a bit more intelligent, enjoyable, and realistic.
The stars of the film are C. Thomas Howell (Jim Halsey), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Nash), and Rutger Hauer (John Ryder). Jim is a young guy driving through the deserted highways of the western United States. It’s dark, raining, and sleep is creeping up on Jim. Out of nowhere a hitchhiker appears. His name is John Ryder, and he makes it very clear, very quickly, that he’s not in his right state of mind. If there is one place you don’t want to be, it’s next to a psychotic Rutger Hauer in the close confines of a car in the middle of the night with no one else in sight.
The actors do a great job in the film. Howell and Leigh both present the typical youths in distress. Hauer of course brings his great talent to the forefront and steals the show as the perfect villain. He’s a natural in this kind of role. Whether it’s a murderous replicant or a cannibal Catholic cardinal, Hauer is the guy you want for the part. His ability to convince the audience that he’s not an actor on some safe location with cameras and film crew, but a cold, insane killer who is considering the multiple ways in which he could murder you for his enjoyment, is hard to match. According to IMDb, C. Thomas Howell admitted that he was actually afraid of Rutger Hauer on and off the set because of the actor’s general intensity. Keep in mind that Sam Elliot and Terence Stamp were also offered the part. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hauer was the perfect choice.
“I think the core of my talent is that you can see my soul if it’s the right character. You can read my soul as the character and there are not many people who have it. I didn’t earn it. I was born that way…” -Rugter Hauer
Robert Harmon also did a top notch job in the director’s seat. Perhaps there isn’t much to directing Hauer as a nutcase, but it is important to make sure the film has a story and characters that can evoke the emotions of the viewers. Rather than relying on the actual harshness of violence itself, Harmon often provokes the audience with the mere threat or hint of violence. Early on there are murders but the audience doesn’t get to see them. Slowly the violence escalates and the audience is shown a little more, gradually building up. The threats become more and more visceral as the audience begins to see what acts of cruelty Ryder is willing to go to. Yet when Harmon isn’t pummeling the audience with sudden threats and acts of violence, he’s showing them beautiful scenic shots of the desert landscape. A touching sunrise creates a striking harmony with the horrific elements of the film. Moments like that help break up the action. By giving the audience something other than fear, he’s able to make the scary parts that much more effective.
The coup de grâce of The Hitcher is the purpose of the madman. It is never explicitly stated why John Ryder wants to kill anybody. He kills for seemingly no reason at all and viewers are left to reason that he’s simply insane. How can anyone fathom the mind of a madman? Furthermore, he repeatedly taunts Jim to kill him. Throughout the movie, he has ample opportunities to kill the main character, but he doesn’t. Ryder doesn’t show any mercy or hesitation at killing anyone else in the movie except Jim. He murders dozens of people in movie, some of them quite graphically. Yet the end is the most striking event in the whole film. If you haven’t seen the movie, then stop right now, rent it, then come back afterwards. It’s really is worth the time and effort.
Alright, now that we’re all on the same page, the final stroke of the film is one that could have several interpretations, but here is my take. John Ryder is obviously a killer. He’s messed up in the head. But like the Joker said in The Killing Joke, “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” That’s exactly what Ryder has done. He torments Jim to the point that he snaps. He completely and utterly breaks his will, his spirit, and his sanity. By the end of the film, Jim has been broken and reformed into something of Ryder’s making. He unknowingly becomes a puppet, and for the final act, Ryder wants him to complete the transformation. It’s one thing to lose your mind. It’s a whole new ball game when you kill another human being. In the end, Jim becomes Ryder, and Ryder wins.
Here’s one more morsel to chew on. If you’re a serial killer, you can’t just put out an ad and train someone to be your apprentice. It takes a lot of time to weed through potential candidates. Then you have to carefully shape them and break them into a new mold. When Ryder is done, he’s trained Jim to take his place. The looming question of the film could be seen as whether Jim will ultimately follow in Ryder’s footsteps, and that of course is completely up to the audience to decide. Regardless, The Hitcher is a horror film that strikes an emotional and intellectual thread that is startling to behold. Whatever reason you give Ryder for his ghastly deeds, he still turned Jim into a killer. The idea that a psychopath can come out of nowhere and destroy your entire life on a whim is thoroughly terrifying. The worst part is that this film is not some fantastical monster flick, but a very viable scenario. That reality, coupled with the great acting, direction, and story, make The Hitcher one of the best horror films out there.
The next time your out driving and see a lonely hitcher on the side of the road, try not to think of Rutger Hauer. And to be safe, it’s probably best to leave them be.