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John’s Horror Corner: The Hitcher (1986), creepy, intense and sinister… but not very graphic.

May 24, 2020

MY CALL: An 80s classic in considering the great, sinister, unmasked slashers, and boasting a very creepy and intense performance by a most unnerving Rutger Hauer. But if it’s gore and death scenes you seek, this isn’t your movie. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Hitcher: Looking for more horror on the road? Maybe schedule some detours for Jeepers Creepers (2001), Joyride (2001), The Hills Have Eyes (1977, 2006) and the remake of The Hitcher (2007).

A bit weary from a long day on the road, Jim (C. Thomas Howell; The Hitcher II, Kindred: The Embraced) picks up a hitchhiker by the name of John Ryder (Rutger Hauer; Bleeders, Salute of the Jugger) for some company. Just one problem, John is suspiciously quiet and wastes no time before threatening Jim when he’s asked to leave the car. Quite a lot happens in the first 15 minutes of the movie, and its inertia builds fast.

Within minutes of entering Jim’s car, John’s menace emanates powerfully even if quietly. He threatens Jim’s life and Jim manages to eject him from the car and escape. But he’s not free of John for long…

Jim’s murderous cop-killing hitchhiker follows him across the southwest and frames him for several violent crimes. I guess that’s suitable punishment for denying a hitchhiker a free ride, right? Our villain is just plain sadistic, and he basks in his own evil. I imagine this inspired Joyride (2001) in the best of ways.

Director Robert Harmon (They, Nowhere to Run) delivers more of a creepy, intense crime-action thriller than a horror movie. As a horror movie, I find it quite tame. A lot happens, so there’s nothing wrong with the pacing. I just find the events that transpire dull and uncompelling. Only when John sharpens his toothy personality on screen do enjoy the film—purely for Hauer’s performance and Howell’s wonderfully tortured and hopeless reactions. Now with that said, most of the cast did well. But Hauer shined brightest as a sociopath lacking any fear of death or remorse, and who thrived on the entropy he brought about. This movie was extremely mean-spirited… but surprisingly, not particularly graphic.

I find myself yearning for more 80s gore. The trailer hitch damsel (Jennifer Jason Leigh) death scene didn’t feel as intense as I recall… that is, until the scene abruptly ended. That was my single “gasp” of the movie. I just wish they showed us what happened even though we could easily imagine.

Fans of 80s and retro horror really ought to check this out. I may not be a big fan, but this film holds a special place in my heart. However, the real reason to see this is simply for Rutger Hauer’s performance. The man secretes villainy from every pore and delights in his sins like a demon pig wallowing in his own sinister filth.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2020 10:01 am

    I love Rutger and remember this one well. He is slimy and plays a great villain. I keep seeing this pop up in my Netflix or Amazon recommendations, I’ll have to toss it in the queue and have a retro movie night one night.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 11, 2022 6:03 pm

      This really is such a perfect, simple presentation of villainy.

  2. J. Grey permalink
    October 11, 2022 9:32 am

    Absolutely love this movie! Oh man! It’s frightening and weird and sinister and just a thrilling ride! John Ryder is about the weirdest most fascinating villain ever -Rutger Hauer brings a touch of magic to the whole thing. I loved him. So so very good looking as well. Miss seeing him on tv.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 11, 2022 6:12 pm

      Most terrifying for me (and probably most viewers) is how grounded and within reach his type of sinister truly is. And Hauer breathed horrifying life into that sinister character so perfectly.

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