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Rutger Hauer, now that’s a name from the past! Youngsters today probably haven’t heard of the veteran actor, but during the 80s he starred in classics such as Ladyhawke and Bladerunner. However, arguably one of his most renowned roles was in the 1986 thriller The Hitcher, which in my opinion is one of the creepiest movies from that decade. I can still remember certain scenes from the movie even though I haven’t watched it for over ten years. Now with this two disc special edition release I have the opportunity to judge whether the movie is still as scary, or whether it has become dated over time.

Hitcher, The
As mentioned above, The Hitcher was released in 1986 and follows the journey of Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), who has the laborious task of transporting a snazzy car to California. Whilst driving one evening, Jim finds himself falling asleep at the wheel and nearly crashes head-on with a truck driving in the opposite direction. Persuaded by the deteriorating weather and his increasing boredom, Jim decides to pick up a hitch hiker (Rutger Hauer) whom he notices sheltering on the side of the road. Jim presumes that the hitch hiker will keep him company for the journey, but within a matter of minutes it becomes apparent that Jim has picked up a mute passenger.

After a while the silence to turns to an uneasy atmosphere, but during this period Jim finds out that his passenger’s name is John Riley, and at the same time he learns that the man sat beside him is actually a psychotic serial killer. After having been threatened at knifepoint and having heard some gruesome stories, Jim seizes his opportunity to escape by booting his assailant out of the moving car. Understandably overjoyed by this, Jim relaxes for the rest of the journey in the comforting knowledge that he will live to see another day.

You didn’t think that was the end of the movie did you? Of course its not! Unfortunately for Jim, that’s not his final meeting with Mr Ryder. It soon becomes apparent that the killer is not happy with being outwitted and now has a new challenge. He is not content with killing random passers-by, but instead he targets Jim. However, as Jim painfully finds out his tormentor is not intent on killing him, but instead he would rather terrorise the youngster and frame him for the murders that he has committed. So, not only does Jim have a psychopath after him, but he also has the local police chasing him believing that he is the serial killer. Throw in a damsel in distress in the form of waitress Nash, (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and it is easy to see why I hold the film in such high esteem. What ensues is a cat and mouse chase, which becomes more intense and gruesome as the film progresses.

Hitcher, The
Let me start by getting the burning question out of the way first, which is whether the movie lives up to my expectations based on past memories. The answer is a resounding yes, The Hitcher is every bit as intense and chilling as I remember it to be, with the opening ten minutes setting the scene for what can only be classed as a stressful, but extremely riveting hour and a half of entertainment. I have no doubts that if the movie was released tomorrow it would probably be deemed unoriginal and the plot would be ripped to shreds by critics. However, the fact that many movies (Road Kill and Breakdown are two obvious examples) since its release have tried to emulate the storyline just goes to show what a classic and respected movie it is. I mentioned Rutger Hauer at the beginning of this review and he puts in a performance which I would list up there with the creepiest baddies of the era. The fact that you just never know when his character will turn up next is one the ingredients which makes the film so intense. It borders on being silly at times, but for the majority of the movie the fact that anything can happen makes the film extremely nerve-racking. The Hitcher is a timeless thriller, and if you have never seen this film I can thoroughly recommend watching it. Chances are if you have seen it you will already be eagerly anticipating this DVD release.    

Note: As I was reviewing this DVD I noticed that a sequel is due out on R1 DVD in July, so it will be interesting to see whether it adds anything to this story, or is just an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original

The Hitcher is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic widescreen, and is a prime example of how good old movies can look on DVD. It may not be up to the high standards of the recent release of The Italian Job, but it’s certainly not far off. For a movie which is over fifteen years old, the image has no right to look this sharp and defined. Colours levels also exceeded my expectations, with the bright colourful daytime scenes portrayed accurately, and the pitch black night scenes represented solidly. As mentioned the image looks crisp, but there were the occasional edge enhancements on show. Grain levels were also apparent, but not too obvious for most of the movie. There were no obvious signs of print damage and compression artefacts were also kept to a minimum, which probably has a lot to do with most of the extras being stored on a separate disc. Overall an exceptional transfer.

There are four soundtracks packaged together with this release. Our foreign readers will be glad to hear that you can listen to the movie in German (MONO), Italian(STEREO) and Spanish(MONO), but the soundtrack that most people will be interested in is the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The soundtrack has been specially upmixed for this DVD release and Momentum have done a pretty good job with it. Dialogue levels are perfect throughout and the haunting musical score plays out impressively. The rear channels were used more than I expected, with a few chase scenes and the final showdown being the particular highlights. Subwoofer usage was kept to a minimum, but even so this is a soundtrack which does its job well.

Hitcher, The
Now for the extras, which when announced seemed to be one of the disc’s selling points. Momentum Pictures have treated us to a special edition two disc release, which on paper looks to contain most extras you could think of. The first disc comprises the movie and a few audio commentaries, while the second disc is completely dedicated to extras.

So, onto disc one, and the first commentary is by director Robert Harmon and screenwriter Eric Red. It is obvious from the first few minutes that the two commentators hold this movie in high esteem and reminisce about the good times they had while making it. It is also interesting to listen to the pair talking about the tight budget involved and how that restricted them when making the movie. Another area I found particularly interesting was concerning the opening scenes and how they deliberately kept the dialogue abrupt, so as to create a chilling atmosphere. Both commentators know a great deal about the movie even though it has been a while since it was made. The timescale between the release and present day doesn’t seem to faze the pair, as they give a very detailed commentary, which should keep most fans listening attentively. The commentary does contain a lot of silent moments, so don’t expect the two commentators to keep talking relentlessly. The second item is a group of seven screen-specific commentaries bunched together. By selecting a particular commentator you are suddenly whisked away to a pre-chosen scene and the commentator talks about that scene. The commentators included are Robert Harmon, Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Mark Isham, Edward S. Felman, John Seale and Eric Red.  

The second disc is where most of the extras are housed and probably the best one is the thirty eight minute documentary called “The Hitcher - How Do These Movies Get Made?” The documentary starts off with the cast and crew of the movie talking about what genre it belongs to, and they then move onto recollecting how surprised they were by the success of the movie. A lot of the documentary covers the making of the movie and how it progressed onto the big screen. Several of the scenes from the movie are also talked about in-depth, and over the duration of the documentary there are very few stones left unturned. This documentary should be a dream come true for most fans of the movie and I would go as far as to say it is certainly one of the most detailed and informative documentaries that I have seen this year.

Next up are two short movies which relate to Robert Harmon and Rutger Hauer. The first movie is called China Lake and is Robert Harmon’s first film, based along the same theme as The Hitcher. The movie was shot over eleven days in 1981 and lasts for just over thirty minutes. Before it starts there is lots of information available to read, which tells you about the history of the movie. During the film you can also listen to an audio commentary by Robert Harmon. The second short movie stars Rutger Hauer and is shot in black and white. This runs for about ten minutes, isn’t very interesting and is also not very relevant to The Hitcher. Also accompanying this movie is an audio commentary from Rutger Hauer.

Hitcher, The
Screenplay samples are the next extra on offer and cover seven scenes from the movie. Included in the list are two deleted scenes. Each screenplay is displayed on the screen and navigated through by pressing the forward and backwards arrows. If you get bored or want to view a different screenplay you simply press the menu button to return to the previous screen. If you like reading about movies then you will be glad to hear that more information is available in the form of filmographies, which cover seven of the crew and cast of the movie. By clicking on a person you are given a history of the movies that they have been involved in.

The last section on the disc is called trailers and includes two trailers. The first one is simply labelled trailer, which presumably is the theatrical trailer. This is a very cheesy trailer, and includes lines such as “The moment Jim Halsey let the hitcher in, he opened the doors to hell” and “Once you have picked up the Hitcher you will never pick up another”. These are just two of humorous lines on offer and the whole trailer is cluttered with little gems like that. This is a prime example of a typical 80’s trailer and should definitely be watched, if only for a blast from the past. It has tacky lines and cringe-worthy music, but nevertheless it is still entertaining to watch, and actually does a good job of recreating the chilling atmosphere which characterises the movie  The second trailer is called the teaser and is very similar to the main trailer, apart from the fact that it runs for just over a minute.

The menus for this release deserve a special mention as well. The menus contained on the first disc are animated and convey the atmosphere of the movie admirably, while the menus on the second disc are static and less impressive.

Hitcher, The
The Hitcher is a classic action/thriller in so many ways. It has an engrossing storyline, a creepy bad guy and some good action scenes, which when bundled together produce a movie which I still find terrifying ten years after I originally saw it. Momentum Pictures have also produced a special edition package which they should be commended for. Many distributors would have simply offered us a bare-bones release and hoped that the movie would ensure brisk sales, particularly in the light of the up-and-coming sequel, but instead Momentum have taken the bull by the horns and produced a two disc release of noteworthy quality. The transfer included is impressive considering the age of the movie, the soundtrack is pretty action packed and the extras should keep fans happy for several hours as well. The Hitcher has attained cult status through the years, but deserves to be seen by many more people. Forget about all the new CG action movies out there, go back to basics and give The Hitcher a try. As the trailer says, “Once you have picked up the Hitcher you will never pick up another”.