Hello again and welcome back to the NOFS Video Vault! Please excuse how frosty it is in here, we have been having problems with our overlord- excuse me, our landlord, lately. Things have been breaking, including the heat. Mind you, this is a vault so you know, there’s bound to be a nip in the air.
Speaking of the cold, I have just the movie to quench your blood lusts. It’s the tale of a good samaritan who offers a guy a ride and the consequences that ensue are pure, cold-blooded nightmare fuel. Folks, for your viewing pleasure I offer you The Hitcher (1986).
Back of The Box Overview
Jim Halsey has been given the responsibility of delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego. It seems like a pretty easy gig, yeah? While transporting said car Halsey picks up a hitchhiker named John Ryder. Everything seems cool until Ryder claims to be a serial killer. Red flags fly and needless to say, Halsey isn’t cool with his new companion’s antics and he ends up having to make a daring escape, hoping to never see the psychotic Ryder again. But after Halsey witnesses the hitchhiker murdering an entire family in cold blood, he pursues Ryder with the help of a truck-stop waitress, pitting the rivals head to head in a deadly series of car chases and gristly murders.
Road Trip Rowdies
Our road trip starts with C. Thomas Howell (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982) as Jim Halsey taking the wheel and heading into a fateful meeting with strange drifter John Ryder, played to perfection by the late Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, 1982). As the story progresses into Ryder’s crazed deeds, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female, 1992) enters the picture as an unlikely aide to Halsey as Nash, a truck stop waitress destined for a very bad day.
Of course, you can’t have psycho picking people off and not have the police take notice and the cops in this story include Jeffrey DeMunn (Christmas Evil, 1980) as Captain Esteridge, John M. Jackson (Eve of Destruction, 1991) as Cap’n Esteridge’s right-hand man, Sergeant Starr, Billy Green Bush (Jason Goes to Hell, 1993) as Trooper Donner, Jack Thibeau (Warning Sign, 1985) as Trooper Prestone, Gene Davis (The Relic, 1997) as Trooper Dodge, Jon Van Ness (Tourist Trap, 1979) as Trooper Harscomb, Henry Darrow (Losin’ It, 1983) as Trooper Hancock, and Tony Epper (The Beastmaster, 1982) as Trooper Conners.
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Truck Stop Troupe
It’s hard to picture anyone else playing ill-fated driver Jim Halsey and psychopath John Ryder but believe it or not, a few surprising Hollywood names were bounced around the casting room. For the part of Halsey actors like Tom Cruise (Interview With the Vampire, 1994), Matthew Modine (47 Meters Down, 2017) and Emilio Esteves (Maximum Overdrive, 1986) were all considered. Even C. Thomas Howell wasn’t one hundred percent on doing a generic thriller but after being shown the script, he couldn’t put it down and knew right away that he wanted to play the part.
For the Ryder character, the cold-blooded killer was originally described in the script as skeletal in nature and actors such as David Bowie (The Hunger, 1983), Sting (The Bride, 1985), Sam Sheppard (The Pledge, 2001), and Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, 1979), were contemplated. Sam Elliott (Frogs, 1972) was in the running at one point as well but when an agreement of salary couldn’t be made, the deal fell through. Canadian heavy, Michael Ironside (Scanners, 1981) was also brought in but not cast. It was ultimately after a suggestion from a producer, actor Ruter Hauer was brought in. He almost didn’t take the role as he was trying to escape his bad guy type but after he read the script, he felt he simply couldn’t turn the part down.
As soon as Hauer was onboard, Jennifer Jason Leigh was in. She had worked with the Dutch actor previously on Flesh + Blood (1985) and jumped at the chance to do it again. She was also taken by the screenplay saying she fell in love with the part because of how realistic her character had been written.
A Production Torn In Two
The original script for The Hitcher was really quite violent and there were two key scenes that were written to show just how vicious Ryder’s character could be. One involved the Nash character being torn apart by two vehicles while the other saw (quite literally) an eyeball in a hamburger.
The eyeball was changed to a finger but the car scene was the bone of contention between almost everyone involved in the production. Everyone on the studio side wanted the scene changed. They thought the brutality of the death would be too much for most audiences and they even suggested adding a funeral scene to soften the blow but the filmmakers weren’t going to budge. Producer Debra Dubrow even argued that the change would alter the story significantly yet the studio dug in their heels. The final cut suggests that the studio won the argument.
Home Video, Sequels, And Remakes
Released to 800 theaters on February 21, 1986, The Hitcher grossed a respectable $2.1 million in its opening weekend and $5.8 million across North America. The critics were typically tough on the movie, as was usually the case for genre films in the 1980s, with some calling it a thinly veiled ripoff of Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971) but audiences had differing opinions. They raved about Hauer’s white-knuckled portrayal of the mysterious Ryder and how the film was a dark allegory of good vs. evil and not the straight-ahead thriller the marketing department tried to sell it as.
The exact date of the VHS release is unknown but there was a two-disc special edition DVD released in Europe in 1999. A Blu-ray/DVD combo was released in Germany earlier this year but there hasn’t been any mention of a North American hi-def release.
There was also a sequel to the movie made in 2003 called The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting. The film saw Howell reprise his role as Jim Halsey. A remake was done in 2017 by producer Michael Bay (Friday the 13th, 2009) It starred Sean Bean (Silent Hill, 2006) as Ryder, Zachary Knighton (Cherry Falls, 2000) as Halsey, and added a strong female protagonist named Grace Andrews played by Sophia Bush (Stay Alive, 2006). In this version of the film Andrews survives, while Halsey suffers Nash’s (of the original) fate.
The Hitcher is a strange film in that it is very polarizing between those that love it and those that don’t. Some are fans through and through, citing the film as a near-perfect emblem of the age-old battle between the forces of good and evil while others call it nothing more than a slasher movie badly disguise as a high concept thriller. Whatever way you look at it, there is no denying its impact on horror cinema. From the creepy, menacing force of Rutger Hauer’s performance to the flat-out terrifying images of his carnage, The Hitcher deserves its place in the unholy history of horror.
ADS ARE SCARY
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Now before you go, I advise you to bundle up. This cold snap we’re having can leave one freezing to death in no time and we really don’t want to have to go about removing any frozen bodies… that aren’t already in our freezer. Here you are. Your movie and receipt. On the bottom of your bill, you will see our NOFS Twitter, Subreddit and Horror Movie Fiend page on Facebook. Be sure to check them out, there is a ton of creepy, frightening and enlightening content for you to peruse while you load this tape into your VCR. Until next time, stay warm and stay creepy!