Release Date: January 17th, 1986 (Victoria, Texas premiere)
Directed by: Robert Harmon
Written by: Eric Red
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Thibeau
HBO Pictures, Silver Screen Partners, TriStar Pictures, 97 Minutes
“[Picking up the hitchhiker] My mother told me to never do this.” – Jim Halsey
I’ve been on this Rutger Hauer kick, lately. Maybe it’s because I watched Blade Runner for the 214th time a week ago and then introduced a friend to Hobo With a Shotgun, a few days later. I don’t know, but it made me want to go back and re-experience The Hitcher, as it’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen it.
The plot to this is real simple, C. Thomas Howell’s Jim picks up a hitchhiker (Hauer) in the Texas desert. Immediately, it is apparent that this stranger is a psycho. Things escalate and Jim actually knocks the hitchhiker out of his moving vehicle. The rest of the film is about the hitchhiker hunting him and going on a violent killing spree where he is framing Jim for the crimes. It’s a psychotic game of cat and mouse and in certain ways, reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Except Duel was a TV movie and very tame compared to the level of violence the Rutger Hauer character brings to this film.
The movie also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, a pretty backwoods waitress that gets caught up in the proceedings because she fancies Jim, and Jeffrey DeMunn, as the only reasonable cop in the entire movie.
This movie almost feels like a horror movie but is really just a very effective thriller. However, as a kid, I was more scared of villains in films like this and Sly Stallone’s Cobra than monsters like Freddy or Jason. These types of psychos were real and existed in the world that I actually lived in.
The Hitcher is an intense movie and that might be an understatement. It kicks off with a severe level of discomfort in the opening scene and never gives you a break. It is 90-plus minutes of a young man being hunted and mentally tortured while he is also trying to outwit the predator.
Films like this are hard to come by nowadays. At least, these types of films with this level of quality. For something that wasn’t wholly original and on the surface, pretty derivative, The Hitcher grabs onto your throat like a choke hold and doesn’t release its grip. Even after the credits role, you still can’t breathe.
This film does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it damn well.
Pairs well with: Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this film’s sequel The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting and its remake from 2007. The sequel and the remake don’t have quite the same quality though.