C Thomas Howell is probably most recognised for his role in E.T., or Red Dawn. In The Hitcher C (or do we call him Thomas?) plays a young man who is transporting a car from one side of the United States to the other, known as a ‘drive-away’. Driving through the night he begins to tire and after a near miss with a semi-trailer decides that it would be a good idea to pick up a psycho hitchhiker to keep him awake. Hasn’t he heard of ‘Stop, Revive, Survive”? (Ed: The 15 minute power-nap scene is in the directors cut).
His mother told him never to pick up hitch-hikers but did Jim Halsey (Howell) listen? He really should have because Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher) isn’t your average European back-packer. Actually, it’s never really explained what his motivations are, apart from just the desire to cause havoc and make poor Halsey turn into a quivering mess, or perhaps he really is just trying to keep him awake.
So the bulk of the movie revolves around Rutger stalking and terrorising poor C T for no apparent reason. During a dialog about half way through Jim even asks The Hitcher why he was doing this, Rutger replies “You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure it out” but I’m not sure if Jim ever did, and this reviewer certainly didn’t.
Despite the dubious motivations surrounding his actions, Rutger plays the unbalanced and unpredictable psycho as if he was born for it. C Thomas likewise plays the hapless victim who alternates between despair and heroics with an equally unpredictable regularity. All this combines to make a rather enjoyable and at times suspenseful film which happens to have also inspired a sequel some 17 years later, also staring C Thomas. How’s that for continuity!
For a movie now pushing 20 years of age the quality of the audio and video on this DVD are not too bad. When I say ‘Not too bad’ I mean ‘atrocious’ of course, but considering the age I would tend to cut it some slack.
On the positive side, the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved for this DVD and is enhanced for widescreen displays. However, that’s really where the good stuff ends. The image is constantly grainy and muted; flesh tones and deep colours lose a lot of their definition and are particularly noticeable with reds and blues. Also present are numerous obvious film flecks and specs which can usually be reduced to acceptable with some effort but not in this case. The image also tends to be soft overall giving the ‘second generation VHS copy’ look that all DVD reviewers love to hate.
The audio component of the disc isn’t much better. We do get the option of a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 soundtracks yet the difference between the two options isn’t significant or even noticeable. While the sound for each option is clear and crisp, for a 5.1 soundtrack the lack of audio coming from the surrounds and sub woofer is very noticeable in its absence. You could happily listen to either audio option, in this case the 5.1 option was likely more of a marketing than a technical move because the two are identical.
There are absolutely no extras on this DVD, not even an animated menu, a true low budget effort and sure to be a big disappointment for fans of the movie.
Overall The Hitcher is a violent and at times gripping thriller. Hauer is the definite highlight and the short role played by Jennifer Jason Leigh is also worth the price of admission (ok, so I’m a sucker for 80’s teenage actors, who isn’t?).