Culture Clash: The Hitcher and Wanted: Dead or Alive Reviews!
Originally published at the now defunct site Talkbacker.com 2014
In memory of Rutger Hauer, I have unearthed a joint article from my Culture Clash segments, spotlighting cult classic cinema and actors, which includes not one, but two cult films starring, none other than the late great Hauer!
He's menacing one moment, and sympathetic the next. From a notorious terrorist to a noble blind samurai, Rutger Hauer was one of the most underrated if not prolific thespians during the age of 80's cinema! His celebrity status should have risen just as high as Stallone and especially Schwarzenegger. But then again, that is what gives Mr. Hauer that cult following, he so deserves.
Hauer was born on January 23, 1944 and raised in Beetsterzwaag, Netherlands. His most notable works include Flesh & Blood, Blind Fury, The Hitcher, Nighthawks, Sin City, Ladyhawke, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Osterman Weekend, The Blood of Heroes, HBO's Fatherland and this little film, called Blade Runner!
And speaking of his Filmography, we at Talkbacker, will pick some of our favorite Hauer films, be it high prolific films or mere guilty pleasure B rated movies. Accompanying me with this segment are my fellow Culture Clashers; Detective Dee and I_AM_Better with their reviews of The Hitcher and Wanted: Dead or Alive. respectively.
Directed by Robert Harmon
Written by Eric Red
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Thomas C. Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
A car driving on a highway through a Texan desert in the middle of the night. Behind the wheel is a young man with the name Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), he is desperately trying to stay awake. Later on we learn that this is not his own vehicle, but he is merely transferring a rental car to the West Coast. He notices a dark tall silhouette on the side of the road, a hitchhiker standing in the rain. John spontaneously decides to give him a ride, as he sees the company of the hitcher as a welcome opportunity to fight the sleep.
He soon regrets his decision as the hitcher (Rutger Hauer), who identifies himself as “John Ryder” (sic) is revealed to be a slightly creepy guy who is quite impolite and laconic to boot. And really, after an extremely awkward verbal exchange, Jim stops and tells Ryder to get out of the car, but Ryder can convince him to let him stay in the car, suddenly showing a hitherto unknown charming side.
That was a bad decision though, as Ryder leisurely reveals himself to be a serial killer in the middle of a conversation. He puts a knife to Jim's eye and forces the terrified young man to say the words “I want to die”. Fortunately, Ryder did not close the car door properly and Jim manages to kick him out. Delirious with joy to have survived, Jim rides on, feeling more alive than ever. An ominous dolly shot moving towards Ryder standing up after his unexpected ejection with a slightly baffled yet curiously admiring expression on his face leaves us, the audience, suspecting that this ain't over yet. As Jim is overtaken by a family car, he can catch a glimpse through the rear window – and to his horror he looks into a face he will never forget...
A family slaughtered in their own car, slashed throats and countless people dying by being shot or through car accidents: “The Hitcher” is definitely a movie that does not pull any punches when it comes to the depiction of violence, though it only has a few moments of real gore. The introduction is just a setup for a cleverly constructed cat-and-mouse chase between Jim (who is later joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh for a while) and Ryder with a lot of unexpected twists and turns that at many times evokes the unhealthy urge to frantically bite one's nails in the viewer. It's a minimalist concept played out in a maximalist way, with lots of car chases, shootouts and explosions. This is actually one of the most masterful accomplishments of that movie, namely that the unlikely marriage of the more intimate genre of the psychological thriller and the rather broad and loud subgenre of the “vehicular mayhem” -driven action movie works that well.
The major part of this merit can be led back to the writer of the screenplay, Eric Red, who also penned demented classics like “Near Dark” and “Blue Steel”. The latter one plays a little like the urban version of “The Hitcher”, as both movies deal with a serial killer who becomes obsessed with an individual whom he deems as a worthy adversary. Unlike Ron Silver in the Jamie Lee Curtis thriller though, whose inner demon is released when he observes an act of gun violence, Ryder has been a killer for some while when we meet him, who knows for how long.
It seems like he is almost bored by his own pointless existence, as if he became so skilled at killing people and getting away with it that does no longer offer any excitement for him. And how skilled he is: He seems to know every shortcut in the local road system, can sneak into every building without being noticed and has an incredible aim with guns and rifles. His superhuman skills are nearly surreal, but the script and direction do a good job in tricking the audience to believe they are somewhat plausible in a way.
The “death wish theme” is underlined by several moments in the course of the movie that show Ryder attempting to get Jim to kill him, while simultaneously unearthing Jim's own inner demons, as if he wanted to pull him onto the “dark side”. Maybe this could be even understood as an attempt to pass the torch and make him his successor as highway killer? Is he assuming that Jim is potentially a kindred spirit underneath his harmless exterior? During the runtime of the movie, the character of Jim is indeed approaching that of Ryder, not least because Ryder effortlessly manages to frame him for his crimes and thereby putting Jim into the role of a wanted killer on the run. Thus, his fate and that of the real killer are inevitably connected, bringing them closer like in a twisted version of the Stockholm Syndrome, which produces some scenes bordering on homoeroticism. At one point toward the end of the film, Jim spits into Ryder's face, who does not wipe the saliva away but rubs it over his skin with a dreamy expression in his eyes. “The Hitcher” is surely giving when it comes to interpreting possible subtexts.
The movie is overall very well-rounded: The direction by Harmon is competent, the script by Red magnificent and the music by Mark Isham appropriately dark and pulsating. Everybody in front of the camera, including “Soul Man” Howell, is doing a great job but this is mainly a one-man show for Hauer. “The Hitcher” stands and falls with his portrayal of Ryder and he delivers with another mesmerizing performance.
Oddly enough, the character of Ryder shares a few resemblances with his “Roy Batty” character from “Blade Runner”. Both have a penchant for violent outbursts only to switch back to a weirdly tender attitude in an instant. Yet, Ryder is radically different from Roy in every other department. While Roy is a tragic character who futilely tries to grasp a tiny shred of life before it expires, a character who is more human than human, Ryder seems to be dead behind his eyes, a devilish intelligence without soul, solely bound to keep on killing. He comes out of nowhere and it remains unclear what is driving him. The way Hauer is able to breathe life into a character that is practically a non-entity, who defies any psychological reality and makes him still feel grounded and fear- inducing and very surreal, is nothing short of amazing and guarantees him a fixed place in the hall of fame of movie serial killer impersonations.
Fun Fact: Eric Red's inspiration for the screenplay was the haunting “The Doors” song “Riders on the Storm”.
Warning: Avoid the soul-, tooth- and Hauer-less sequel and remake.
No - this bit will NOT be about the country ballad by Bon Jovi, but instead: One of those perfect "guy's movie night"-flicks. An 80's gem. It was a big VHS hit back in the day, and ever since I got the DVD, I've given it a spin when I need some fun and a good dose of The Rutger. A continuation of the Steve McQueen-starring TV series from the late 50's, has Hauer playing a descendant for McQueen's bounty hunter Josh Randall, called NICK Randall; a former CIA-operative who works as an LA bounty hunter. Nick sports a blonde mullet waaaay before "Dog the Bounty Hunter" made it a household item.
Nick is what would be seen as the atypical action hero, who always gets his man (even while creating massive property damage, but that goes with the territory), shoves them in the trunk of his car and delivers to the authorities like your basic pizza delivery man. He has a giant Loft that you can drive your car into and is just about the Ultimate Man Cave Ever made. Enter Malak Al-Rahim, a nasty terrorist from Nick's past, played by Gene Simmons.
Simmons is on FIRE in this movie. He is a surprisingly good menacing villain, as he was in the little-known gem "Runaway". Anyways - Rahim comes to LA to unleash a wave of terror on America, and Nick's old CIA bosses hire him to take the nasty Terrorist down. If he gets him alive, there's a nice bonus reward on it for him. So: "one last job" for Nick. Unfortunately, Rahim finds out about Nick's involvement and makes things personal. There's a wonderful acting moment right after things hit too close to home for Nick, and he suffers some heavy personal losses, and breaks down afterwards while hiding inside a friend’s car. That is one of those genuine Hauer-moments, where he shows that he's definitely NOT your typical 80's action Macho, but a human being. That moment has ALWAYS stayed with me.
Things get dark and things collide in the final showdown, and Nick manages to capture Rahim, and puts a GODDAMN HAND GRENADE in the guy’s mouth, as he negotiates about the dividing of the reward monies. And finally, we get one of The Best 80's One-Liners EVER, as Nick decides: "Fuck the bonus..." - and pulls the pin. Ka-boom goes the Head of the Simmons. That's pure 80's Macho Fantasy for 'ya. Count on Hauer to deliver the goods. Like I stated in the beginning, its perfect "guy's movie night"-material. Preferably with some proper refreshments ;)
Special thanks to Kim and Dee who now calls himself “ Sexy Ewok”..um, okaayy.. for their amazing contributions!