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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


1986’s The Hitcher wasn’t a very good movie, but it did capitalize on one very creepy thought: that the bedraggled, seemingly innocent hitchhiker who looks like he just needs a ride could, in fact, turn out to be a crazed psychotic looking for a victim to brutally murder. Admit it – when you see someone hitchhiking, you think about that. These days, every semi-successful horror movie from the 70’s and 80’s is being remade (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, When a Stranger Calls, The Hills Have Eyes…I could go on all day), and The Hitcher is no exception.

Whereas the original starred C. Thomas Howell, this new version stars “One Tree Hill” actress Sophia Bush as Grace, a college student taking a road trip to spring break with her boyfriend Jim (Zachary Knighton). As they make their way through New Mexico on a dark, rainy evening, they nearly hit a stranded hitchhiker standing in the middle of the road. Instead of going back to offer him a ride, they continue on.

At a convenience store several miles down the road, they encounter the guy they left behind, who has found another ride. His name is John Ryder (Sean Bean) and he guilt trips Jim into agreeing to give him a lift to a local motel. Grace is uncertain about the idea, with good reason. No sooner is John in the car than he’s pulling a knife and threatening to murder them both. Through some effective maneuvering, they kick him out of the car and flee. Ryder somehow manages to track them down wherever they go, killing anyone who gets in his way. Jim and Grace get framed for his other murders, but a New Mexico cop named Esteridge (Neal McDonough) thinks these crazy kids just might be innocent.

The Hitcher makes mistakes that are common to many horror/slasher films. For starters, it completely throws believability out the window. Picking up a crazed hitchhiker is conceivable. Picking up a crazed hitchhiker who knows every move you’re going to make before you make it is not. Even when Jim and Grace break into a motel room, Ryder is able to know not only which motel they’re at, but also which room they have entered. Apparently, Ryder is a psychic. He’s also an escape artist (handcuffs won’t hold him!) and invincible to boot. In one late scene, a van filled with people crashes horribly. Guess who the only survivor is? Slasher films lose their horror value when the villain is so unstoppable. A character such as this should seem realistically deranged, not superhuman.

I would like to have seen some more build-up as well. Ryder is psycho from minute one. The scene in the car should have gone on longer. It should have had Ryder lulling Jim and Grace in, earning their trust and making them think he’s a nice guy before going all kooky. That would have been scary. Given the fact that The Hitcher runs a scant 80 minutes (minus end credits), there was certainly time for some exposition.

The film also suffers from typical dumb horror movie dialogue. Consider the scene where Grace and Jim are being chased by the killer and a squadron of police cars. Grace looks out the rear window and remarks, ”This is bad!. Later, she and Ryder are on opposite sides of a door. He tries to push his way in. She warns, ”I’ve got a gun! Uh, don’t warn him, honey, just shoot him.

I’ve seen Sophia Bush in other movies and, after seeing this one, I looked her up on the Internet Movie Database. Bush’s other credits are John Tucker Must Die, Stay Alive, and Supercross. She needs a new agent. Here’s a young actress who has definite star potential. There is a real likeability about her, even in movies as bad as these. She also (understandably) has a very large following of adolescent and college-age guys. I think that in a better film, she could really shine. This one is not a good showcase for her.

Then there’s Sean Bean, who is the movie’s secret weapon, although no one involved seems to know that. Bean is a very skilled actor with a penchant for playing dead-in-the-eyes creeps. He generates some real menace in the role, but the screenplay doesn’t give him much to do. He basically stalks and kills people like some kind of automaton. I’m not saying that I wanted The Hitcher to give us some faux psychological explanation for his murderous ways; I’m merely saying that with a more fully-dimensional character, Bean could have rescued this story.

The only thing most people actually remember about the original Hitcher was a famous scene involving two tractor trailer trucks and the unlucky sap tied to both of them. That sickening moment is recreated here. In fairness, music video director Dave Meyers (making his feature film debut) doesn’t overload on the blood and gore as much as he could have. Make no mistake: the picture is quite bloody; it just doesn’t rub your nose in it, as is the current fashion in horror movies. When it’s all said and done, I think that truck scene is also the only part of the remade Hitcher that people will remember. But I feel about it the same way as I felt about it in the original: if the only memorable part of your horror movie is a cheap “money shot,” then you have not done your job properly.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Hitcher is rated R for strong bloody violence, terror and language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out The Hitcher

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