Welcome back to the WARPED DIMENSION and VHS SURPRISE NIGHT for our March Madness VHS Shows!
This week, PRESS PLAY on the VIRTUAL VCR! for Wednesday March 3rd, 7:07pm PST
ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD Presents
WARPED DIMENSION TV----
The Hitcher (1986) on VHS!
The Hitcher (1986) IMDB Synopsis---
"A young man who escapes the clutches of a murderous hitchhiker is subsequently stalked by the hitcher and framed for his crimes".
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MC Benji's Warped Dimension Reflection on THE HITCHER (1986)---
The Hitcher (1986) was one of the most high tension horror movies I ever watched the first time. It was on Halloween I was 14 years old. I hated the movie. Not because of how the movie was made but the experience of The Hitcher. I just couldn't wrap my head around how bleak and brutal this movie was compared to say Phantasm or The Evil Dead, it was a "simple" story---a young man is chased in the Texas highways by a mysterious killer then turns into the young man's revenge story by the end. Yet it contains such raw performances and surreal action scenes brought together in the 80s horror genre. It felt more in line with the violent and psychological dramas of the 1970s, this was before I discovered Sam Peckinpah movies too. It was also a movie I felt people, mainly critics, of pointless hype-- "the truck stop scene" with Jennifer Jason Leigh as the most shock and horrifying moment in a horror movie ever? Siskel & Ebert talked about the scene as one of the "morally reprehensible" ever put to cinema. My 14 year old self was like they didn't show anything nor was there any 80s gratuitous sex in the whole movie. What kind of 80s horror movie is this?
It was oddly the remake in 2007---I watched in theaters on a rainy Portland night that I thought I to myself I need to watch the original again. The remake is mostly a lifeless shot for shot remake with a few good casting choices, Sean Bean was born to play the faternal twin to Rutger Hauer's original John Ryder. The 3rd act twist actually give us the full bloodied famous "truck stop scene" though done in terrible CGI blood. The showdown is more over the top than the original with a new "hero" to take down the hitcher. What's really missing like most horror sequels/prequels/remakes was the tension and horrifying bleakness of the original.
Honestly, I just wasn't ready for the writing of Eric Red at age 14. The Hitcher, Near Dark, and Blue Steel are some of the most for "Mature Audience Only" horror movies ever made, not just for content but over all themes. A grey zone of characters that slices up only "good" people into horrible deaths and the "bad" people or those who turn "bad to worse" are fated to wander the highways of America alone, sexless and only excitement left if any is violence. The Coen Brothers are the lonely cinema authorities in this world with outlaw filmmakers like Matthew Bright's Freeway and Freeway 2 giving glimpses into the existential violence of a world not forgiving.
For the 80s sex and violence part, I thought, The Hitcher was missing back at the first viewing of Halloween. I was wrong--It's LOADED with sex and violence. The sex part is not between the desert outlaw romance between C. Thomas Howell's Jim Halsey and JJL's Nash but between John Ryder and Jim. From the moment they meet that rainy Texas highway night, "My Mother told me not to do this" said Jim, the diner scene with them playing gun footsie, and the final showdown with the world's largest shotgun. This movie isn't subtext on male sex and sexuality--it's full big dick swinging in the Texas whirlwind. Not excluding JJL's Nash with her light West Texas drawl and pale blue eyes, a young woman going nowhere fast. A moment before the infamous "Truck Stop scene", Jim and Nash share a moment in a motel room of a life together not led, this would be a moment like a year early in The Terminator--which has similar structure to The Hitcher, where they would get hot, heavy, and full frontal with each other before the violent showdown. Instead Jim takes a shower and she mistakes John Ryder hiding in the dark for Jim. The rest is violent tension unleashed for the final act.
And for the violence, police brutality and weak authority figures are more prevalent than in most horror movies for the conservative Reagan 80s era. Most of the Texas cops, rangers, and eventually federal agents all shoot first and ask questions later. Again in the "Truck Stop Scene" the cops are limp can't kill John Ryder, ask a kid like Jim to go in and save the girl, a classic sending boy into do a man's job---of course everyone including Jim fail. The only Texas cop that believes in Jim is killed brutally fast in the 1st act and his blood licked up his police dog, a family including young children are killed off screen in the first moments of true horror. This Eric Red's gray zone world of violence and characters in horror, no black & white nor good just bad turned worst.
All in all rewatching, The Hitcher, after the remake viewing that rainy Portland night. It did it's job if any remake should do make you go watch the original---I guess I matured maybe from being a Jim Halsey into a John Ryder in how I seeing the world now as an adult in the big bad world and not a kid at home watching horror movies on Halloween. It inspired to what kind of stories moved me to being a filmmaker, as a kid wanting to live more in The Evil Dead and Dead Alive horror. The world that Eric Red's screenplay and Robert Harmon's direction give to the craftmanship in tension and violence on screen.
I've read over the years that Red's script was much more explicit. Inspired by a cross country road trip that he played The Door's Riders on the Storm full blast. Sam Elliot was originally asked to be John Ryder, yet freaked out the producers. Elliot would have been an amazing John Ryder and keeping the explicit violence, this version of The Hitcher be in keeping more of the Peckinpah's neo westerns of the 1970s. The biggest example of change and 1980s feel of the movie. I look to the the big car chase shootout--Rutger Hauer plays Ryder with the scene so cold blooded as fall bodies, cars fly, and even a helicopter explodes. A moment picked in the editing is Hauer smiling for a moment after helicopter explosion. Yet it isn't joy, more of a disbelief in the surrealism of the horror and brutality this movie takes us on down the road.
It's a story of violence and entertainment colliding together of a hero's journey on the road not taken not unlike Luke Skywalker but if Luke's journey was written by poet Robert Frost with footnotes by Hunter S. Thompson.
It might just be the most American horror movie ever made.
To the Halloween night when I was 14, hating the movie. For that rainy night in Portland years later and finding it again. Years later being able to host and show here in the Warped Dimension with you all. I'm thankful.