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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/28/99

The Hitcher
1984 (1999) TriStar/Silver Screen Partners (HBO)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Hitcher Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/C+

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced (not indicated on packaging), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case, theatrical trailer, cast & crew bios, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Close Captioned

Ahh… there's nothing like a good scary movie. And The Hitcher, my friends, is one of the best, most-overlooked thrillers ever made. This is a film made successful on cable TV. I first saw it on HBO as a college student, on a lazy afternoon with a bunch of friends, and it scared us all but good.

Here's the gist: C. Thomas Howell plays Jim Halsey, a young bad-boy wannabe, almost from the wrong side of the tracks. You know the type - he's probably from a pretty nice home, but he smokes, he wears a leather jacket, he acts tough. And he does what his mommy told him not to do - he picks up a hitchhiker. Well, all right… let's give him some credit. He's driving a car from Chicago to California for someone, and late one night, in the middle of the desert, he's falling asleep at the wheel. Then it starts to rain, and Jimmy sees a poor bloke standing on the side of the road with his thumb out, getting drenched. So he figures he'll help the guy out, and have someone to talk to help keep him awake. Harmless, right?

Wrong! The hitchhiker turns out to be one John Ryder (played by Rutger Hauer), about as sick and twisted a bastard as you've ever seen on film. Okay, not as sick and twisted as Hannibal Lecter, but close. John holds a knife to Jim's throat, calmly reveals that he cut his last victim's legs off, and dares Jim to stop him. Jim manages to escape, pushing John from his moving car. But John was serious when he asked Jim to stop him, and when he finally rolls to a stop out on the highway, John decides to raise the stakes significantly. Not only does the maniac keep on killing, but he makes good old Jimmy's life a living hell in the process. What ensues is one of the most fascinating little life-or-death cat and mouse games you'll ever see on film.

The plot of this flick holds a number of surprising little twists and turns, and it's deftly directed by filmsmith Robert Harmon (who later steered Nowhere to Run and Gotti), to make the make the most of every little thrill and chill. There are some moments of really delicious suspense in The Hitcher, and the film has an almost noirish quality about it, that I find really interesting. If you dig the psycho-thriller genre, you're gonna love this film, trust me. Rutger Hauer is terrific here, giving one of the best performances of his career. This is the culmination of the dark characters Hauer helped create in his earlier appearances in Blade Runner and Nighthawks. Just great stuff. C. Thomas Howell is also very good, and gives a solid, believable performance. And Jennifer Jason Leigh is equally good as a truck stop waitress, who is the only person that believes Jim's story.

This release of The Hitcher on DVD could have been a little better. At least the video is in anamorphic widescreen (a surprise, as it isn't indicated anywhere on the packaging). The print is okay, but exhibits a great deal of grain here and there. Color seems good, if slightly muted, and the contrast is generally fair, although there's not a lot of detail visible in the darkest areas of the picture. There are occasional digital compression artifacts, and some edge enhancement is also visible. All in all, if the video isn't great, it is (at least) entirely watchable. And once again, the anamorphic transfer is a big plus. The audio fares much better, however. It's been remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1, and it's surprisingly good, especially early on (listen to chapter 1, as Jim drives through the rainstorm). Some of the rear channel use is subtle - you'll hear the occasional panning effect, and plenty atmosphere fill, but you'll definitely want to turn it up to get the best experience. The front hemisphere of the soundfield is somewhat flat sounding from time to time, but the dialogue is good, and music is well-mixed. All things considered, this is a pretty good remix.

As for options and extras, a widescreen theatrical trailer is included, that's very soft and muddy looking, but what the hell - at least it's there. There's also cast and crew biographies, subtitles in English, French and Spanish, and a very nifty little animated main menu, done as if you're looking in the rear-view mirror, while driving at night. It adds a nice touch to the disc.

The Hitcher is one scary-ass little movie. If you're into psycho-killer on a rampage movies, and this one doesn't freak you out a little, I don't know what will. The flick was a definite sleeper when it was first released, but I saw it and never forgot it - it has a way of getting under your skin. The story is clever, the casting is perfect, and if the disc doesn't exactly thrill, at least it gets the job done. This is a great way to pass a couple of hours. I just wish the back cover of the Snapper case didn't give away one of the major plot twists of the film - do yourself a favor and DO NOT READ THE BACK COVER before you watch this flick. The film is MUCH more effective without that little plot point spoiled. Trust me, you'll thank me for it.

Bill Hunt
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