The Hitcher (1986)

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Released 9-Nov-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action None
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 93:30
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Harmon
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring C. Thomas Howell
Rutger Hauer
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jeffrey DeMunn
John M. Jackson
Billy Green Bush
Jack Thibeau
Armin Shimerman
Gene Davis
Jon Van Ness
Henry Darrow
Tony Epper
Tom Spratley
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Mark Isham


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting may not be the worst film ever made. It is probably, however, the worst film I have ever seen.

    So started my review of The Hitcher II - the dire sequel to the marvellous thriller that is The Hitcher. As I mentioned in that earlier review, Robert Harmon's original is one of the very, very few films I ever bothered to buy on VHS. After what seems like a surprisingly long wait, I finally have the chance to revisit the original on DVD. I was delighted to find that age had not withered the impact of this great little movie starring the truly freaky Rutger Hauer and the perfectly cast C.Thomas Howell (Soul Man). You can almost forgive Howell for appearing in the sequel - it must surely have seemed like "a good idea at the time" given that The Hitcher is such a polished affair.

    The original flick takes place fifteen years before the atrocious sequel, and tells a tale that will have first-time viewers riveted throughout. Jim Halsey (Howell) is a young man, tasked with driving a car across country to save its relocated owner the hassle. What seems like a great way to get a free trip to California soon becomes tiresome, as Jim realises that the radio is not sufficient to keep him safely awake through the night on the dark highways of America. Fortunately, during a torrential rainstorm, Jim comes across a hitch-hiker, stranded in the middle of nowhere and - despite his mum's warnings - agrees to give him a ride.

    Unfortunately for Jim, it very quickly becomes apparent that this hitcher (Hauer) is not the full quid. After he has a knife held to his face and is asked "You wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured? Do you know how much blood jets out of a guy's neck, when his throat's been slit"?, young Jim decides it's time to bid farewell to the psychopathic John Ryder. After kicking the man out of his car, Jim is elated to make his getaway. All too soon however, the hitcher secures another ride, this time from a family-filled station wagon. Despite Jim's efforts to alert the family of the danger they are in, he later discovers their car at the side of the road...and the entire family slain.

    Jim realises he must alert the police and pulls into an isolated roadhouse to make use of the phone. There he befriends the young waitress Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but Jim's ordeal is far from being over. The hitcher is not content with a mere killing spree. His intentions are even more perverse. He makes it his mission to ruin Jim's life, by framing him for the ever increasing trail of corpses he leaves in his wake. Pursued by a psychotic killer and the massed ranks of the local law enforcers, Jim is caught between a rock and a hard place...

    The Hitcher is a genuine classic thriller. I have rarely watched a film which managed to generate such an overwhelming sense of dread and despair for its young hero. Jim's feverish attempts to evade the killer and prove his own innocence builds the tension to an almost unbearable level. The climax of the film will have you white-knuckled as you chew on your lip and wince at Jim's dire predicament. Howell gives a great performance, and Hauer is superb as the sociopathic hitchhiker. If you haven't seen this film before, and crave that edge-of-your-seat tension that has been lacking in too many recent thrillers, I implore you to pick up The Hitcher sometime soon. Highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This film is now approaching twenty years old, and unfortunately that is beginning to show a little.

    The film is presented in a 16x9 enhanced ratio of 2.39:1, which is identical to the original theatrical aspect ratio. Interestingly, the Region 1 release appears to be slightly cropped to 2.32:1. The transfer is acceptably sharp during brightly lit scenes, but does suffer from some noticeable grain during darker shots. This grain is never terribly annoying however, and will not distract you from the tension of the movie.

    The colour palette is somewhat subdued in places, with muddied tones commonplace. This is in keeping with the dusty ambience of the film however, and is not a major issue. Once again, the brighter lit outdoor scenes fare much better with some vivid blue skies and appropriately shocking blood red hues popping up. Black levels are reasonable, albeit with some low level noise quite evident at times. Shadow detail is satisfactory, but there is limited detail present in some of the darker shots.

    The transfer does not suffer from major MPEG compression artefacts, although there is some minor pixelisation evident from time to time. Edge enhancement puts in an appearance from time to time, but on smaller screens will be no cause for concern. Even on a large projected image it is not awful by any means. Aliasing is present, even on my progressive scan system. The usual culprits are to blame - car chrome, Venetian blinds, hat brims and the like.

    Unsurprisingly, given the vintage of the film, the transfer does suffer from film artefacts in the form of black and white flecks. They are frequent enough to be noticeable and are occasionally mildly distracting.

    Sadly there are no subtitles on offer.

    The disc is single layered and single sided (DVD 5) so there is no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The overall audio transfer is fairly good given the age of the film.

    There are two English audio tracks available. The first is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps, and is a reasonable stereo affair. The surround mix is offered as a Dolby Digital 5.1 affair, encoded at 448 kbps. This is the preferred option if your system sports surround speakers.

    Dialogue is always clear and there I noted no significant problems with the audio sync.

    Original music is credited to Mark Isham and is a reasonable mix of subtle, creepy wind instruments for the quieter parts and a more tense percussive affair for the more action-packed sections. It does a good job in both supporting and further building the tension. The overall mix of sound effects, dialogue and music is nicely balanced.

    The soundstage is mildly enveloping throughout, but tends to be generally weighted toward the main front speakers. There is a nice spread of sound across the front soundstage, with cross-soundstage pans from passing cars and trucks. The surround speakers deliver a reasonable level of ambience (including the obligatory rainstorm scenes), but are perhaps most noticeable when supporting the musical score. There are occasional directional effects - helicopter fly-overs being the most noticeable.

    The subwoofer sees some use during the film, mainly for supporting the musical score but also in lending a bottom end presence to the essential gunshots and explosions. Hardly a reference bass track, but it's nice to have nonetheless.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras on offer.

Menu

    The menu is a static and silent picture of a scene from the film that allows you to choose audio track, play the flick or select from a mere ten chapter stops.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is little to separate the Region 1 release from our own version.

As a kind reader informed me, the Region 2 release is now available as a two disc set, and is clearly the preferred option for fans of the movie.

     Compared to the Region 2 version, the Region 4 release misses out on:

    Given the PAL transfer on the Region 2 release, and the large number of available extras - Region 2 is a clear winner.

Summary

    When Jim Halsey picks up a hitchhiker during a rainstorm, little does he suspect what lies in store. The hitcher turns out to be a sociopath with a burning desire to not only kill his hosts, but in Jim's case, frame him for the multiple murders. Halsey soon finds himself in a feverish game of cat and mouse as he tries to escape the clutches of The Hitcher and prove his innocence to the massed ranks of local law enforcers. This movie is a true classic. Even though I have watched it a dozen times on VHS, it still managed to scare the hell out of me in this DVD incarnation. Highly recommended.

    The video quality is perfectly acceptable, but does suffer from significant grain at times.

    The audio transfer is generally quite good in its 5.1 incarnation, although by no means a reference quality mix.

    Sadly, there are no extras on offer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDMomitsu V880 upconverting DVI player, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Extras, extras, read all about 'em... - Wilson Bros, UK REPLY POSTED
Oh and the UK one is DTS, too. - Wilson Bros, UK
It want that one... - Wilson Bros, UK REPLY POSTED
Region 2 - Andrew500 (read my bio, at your leisure)
R2 UK has no DTS - Frank
R2 UK Version does have DTS - Mark X (read my bio)
R2 2-Disc SE does NOT have DTS - Jace
I checked too... - Andrew500 (read my bio, at your leisure)
I checked too... - Andrew500 (read my bio, at your leisure)