The Hitcher (1986)

R | 98 mins | Horror | 21 February 1986

Director:

Robert Harmon

Writer:

Eric Red

Producers:

David Bombyk, Kip Ohman

Cinematographer:

John Seale

Production Designer:

Dennis Gassner

Production Companies:

HBO Pictures, Silver Screen Partners
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HISTORY

       The Hitcher marked the feature film debut of both the screenwriter, Eric Red, and the director, Robert Harmon, according to an item in the 21 Feb 1985 Var.
       The backstory of the script was reported in production notes from AMPAS library files: In 1983, screenwriter Eric Red was moving from New York to Los Angeles. Stopping in Austin, TX, he picked up a hitchhiker but soon changed his mind and asked the stranger to get out of his car. Financial issues kept Red in Austin and he wrote the screenplay there over the next seven months. Red obtained a list of accredited producers from the California Motion Picture Council and mailed letters to 300 producers, pitching The Hitcher and promising to send a script if requested. According to production notes and an article in the 23 Feb 1986 LAT, the letter sent to producer Edward S. Feldman ended up on the desk of his script development executive, David Bombyk, who acquired the script. According to Bombyk, the original 190-page screenplay was “extremely brutal and extremely gory,” but he helped Red with rewrites via phone calls to Texas. Bombyk also brought the script to producer/personal manager, Kip Ohman, who spent six months writing with Red; however, Red is the sole writer credited onscreen. During the rewrites, Red moved to Los Angeles and attended AFI, where he made a short film, Trigger, about a man putting explosives in toy frogs before giving them away. When Bombyk gave The Hitcher to Feldman and his partner, Charles Meeker, the two ... More Less

       The Hitcher marked the feature film debut of both the screenwriter, Eric Red, and the director, Robert Harmon, according to an item in the 21 Feb 1985 Var.
       The backstory of the script was reported in production notes from AMPAS library files: In 1983, screenwriter Eric Red was moving from New York to Los Angeles. Stopping in Austin, TX, he picked up a hitchhiker but soon changed his mind and asked the stranger to get out of his car. Financial issues kept Red in Austin and he wrote the screenplay there over the next seven months. Red obtained a list of accredited producers from the California Motion Picture Council and mailed letters to 300 producers, pitching The Hitcher and promising to send a script if requested. According to production notes and an article in the 23 Feb 1986 LAT, the letter sent to producer Edward S. Feldman ended up on the desk of his script development executive, David Bombyk, who acquired the script. According to Bombyk, the original 190-page screenplay was “extremely brutal and extremely gory,” but he helped Red with rewrites via phone calls to Texas. Bombyk also brought the script to producer/personal manager, Kip Ohman, who spent six months writing with Red; however, Red is the sole writer credited onscreen. During the rewrites, Red moved to Los Angeles and attended AFI, where he made a short film, Trigger, about a man putting explosives in toy frogs before giving them away. When Bombyk gave The Hitcher to Feldman and his partner, Charles Meeker, the two agreed to executive produce the film and paid $150,000 for the script, according to an article in the 29 Apr 1985 Forbes.
       At that time, director Robert Harmon was a still photographer/cameraman whose thirty-minute short, China Lake, had landed him an agent, and, eventually, a meeting with the producers of The Hitcher in Feb 1984, as stated in production notes and the 23 Feb 1986 LAT. Harmon agreed to direct, but thought the script was too violent, and wanted to shift its focus to suspense. Harmon reportedly altered a scene in which an eyeball was hidden in a hamburger. Intending to add humor to the scene, he changed the eyeball to a finger hidden among French fries. In reference to the scene in which the female character, “Nash,” is dismembered, Harmon claimed “he never planned to show it on screen.”
       Twentieth Century Fox initially agreed to purchase the film as “a negative pick-up,” but ultimately declined the contract due to its cost. In response, Feldman and Meeker paid Red an additional $25,000 option to continue their search for a production company. The script’s violence made the movie a difficult sell: Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros., Columbia, Orion and New World passed. Fox reconsidered for a time, but did not move forward with the project. When producer Donna Dubrow was hired at Silver Screen/HBO, she pitched The Hitcher to her superiors and finally convinced Michael Fuchs, HBO chairman and COO, despite his initial reservations. Fuchs, however, wanted to reduce the violent scenes in the film, particularly the sequence in which Nash is dismembered. Nash’s death scene was ultimately included, although the violent action mainly occurred offscreen.
       According to the 23 Feb 1986 LAT, David Bowie, Sting, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton and Terence Stamp were considered for the part of “John Ryder.” An offer was made to Sam Elliot, but he did not agree to the salary. Production notes added that Rutger Hauer had previously decided not to play villains anymore, but “this part was too choice to pass up.” Actors considered for the role of “Jim Halsey” included Matthew Modine, Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez. C. Thomas Howell was not initially interested in making a thriller, but signed on after reading the script.
       Principal photography began 11 Feb 1985 in the Mojave desert, as listed in Var production charts on 5 Apr 1985. Production notes reported that shooting continued for nine weeks in locations including Barstow, Brawley, Death Valley, Twenty Nine Palms, the Chocolate Mountains near El Centro and Southern CA desert areas. There were additional locations near Las Vegas, NV.
       The 6 Feb 1986 HR announced the release date had been moved from 14 Mar 1986 to 21 Feb 1986. The Hitcher opened to mixed reviews and grossed $4 million in the first seventeen days, according to the May 1986 Box.
       A direct-to-video sequel, The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting, was released in 2003, as noted in the 18 Apr 2005 DV. At that time, Platinum Dunes planned to remake The Hitcher and release it through Focus Features’ genre label, Rogue Pictures. Platinum Dunes was formed by Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller in order to make low-budget genre films. The remake, The Hitcher (see entry), was released in 2007.

      In the opening credits, actor Jon Van Ness’s first name is incorrectly spelled as “John.” It is spelled correctly in the end credits.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
May 1986.
---
Daily Variety
18 Apr 2005.
---
Forbes
29 Apr 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 1986
p. 3, 16.
Los Angeles Times
23 Feb 1986
p. 18-20, 37-40.
New York Times
21 Feb 1986
p. 20.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
18 Jul 2003.
---
Variety
21 Feb 1985.
---
Variety
5 Apr 1985
p. 8.
Variety
12 Feb 1986
p. 24.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
HBO Pictures in association with
Silver Screen Partners presents
A Feldman/Meeker Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-prod
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Still photog
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Aerial photog, 2d unit
Aerial cam tech, 2d unit
Cam op, 2d unit
Cam op, 2d unit
1st asst cam, 2d unit
1st asst cam, 2d unit
1st asst cam, 2d unit
Panaglide® op, 2d unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept coord
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
2d asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
COSTUMES
Key cost
Cost
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus mixer
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Supv sd eff ed
Supv sd eff ed
ADR ed
ADR asst
Foley
ADR/Foley rec
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Titles and spec visual eff
Title des
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Post-prod supv
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Camera car op
Spec eff driver
Spec eff driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Catering
Casting asst
Unit pub
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
First aid
Post-prod coord
Prod consultant
Prod secy
MGM LAB customer service
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Helicopter pilot, 2d unit
Post-prod facility
Lion's Gate Studios
STAND INS
Stunt double (Halsey)
Stunt double (Ryder)
Stunt Sheriff #1
Stunt Sheriff #2
Stunt Sheriff #3
Stunt Sheriff #4
Stunt double (Nash)
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Don't Stop Lovin' Me," performed by Mickey Jones, written by Mickey Wayne Jones, published by Mickey Jones Music (ASCAP).
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 February 1986
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 February 1986
Production Date:
began 11 February 1985
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Prints
Prints in Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
98
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28029
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

It is 4:15 a.m. on a lonely Texas highway and Jim Halsey, taking a “drive-away” car from Chicago, IL to San Diego, CA, can barely stay awake at the wheel. As a storm descends, Jim sees a hitchhiker and offers the stranger a ride. The hitchhiker introduces himself as John Ryder but is not very talkative. Jim sees a Volkswagen on the side of the road and slows, but Ryder pushes on Jim’s leg to accelerate past the car. Jim is disturbed by this and asks Ryder to get out. Ryder starts to open the door, but then refuses to go. When Jim asks about the Volkswagen, Ryder claims he ran out of gas. Relieved, Jim agrees to take Ryder to a gas station, but when he starts driving again, Ryder laughs and announces he plans to kill Jim, just as he murdered the driver of the Volkswagen. Ryder puts a knife to Jim’s throat and says, “I want you to stop me.” Jim is terrified, but notices Ryder’s door is ajar. Jim pushes the hitchhiker out and speeds off. The next morning, Jim’s car is passed by a station wagon. Jim is horrified to see Ryder in the backseat with a little girl. Jim tries to warn them and does not see an oncoming bus until it is almost too late. Jim swerves, but hits the bus. The bus driver gets out to investigate, but Jim races after the station wagon. He sees the station wagon by the side of the road and discovers the murdered family. A dust ... +


It is 4:15 a.m. on a lonely Texas highway and Jim Halsey, taking a “drive-away” car from Chicago, IL to San Diego, CA, can barely stay awake at the wheel. As a storm descends, Jim sees a hitchhiker and offers the stranger a ride. The hitchhiker introduces himself as John Ryder but is not very talkative. Jim sees a Volkswagen on the side of the road and slows, but Ryder pushes on Jim’s leg to accelerate past the car. Jim is disturbed by this and asks Ryder to get out. Ryder starts to open the door, but then refuses to go. When Jim asks about the Volkswagen, Ryder claims he ran out of gas. Relieved, Jim agrees to take Ryder to a gas station, but when he starts driving again, Ryder laughs and announces he plans to kill Jim, just as he murdered the driver of the Volkswagen. Ryder puts a knife to Jim’s throat and says, “I want you to stop me.” Jim is terrified, but notices Ryder’s door is ajar. Jim pushes the hitchhiker out and speeds off. The next morning, Jim’s car is passed by a station wagon. Jim is horrified to see Ryder in the backseat with a little girl. Jim tries to warn them and does not see an oncoming bus until it is almost too late. Jim swerves, but hits the bus. The bus driver gets out to investigate, but Jim races after the station wagon. He sees the station wagon by the side of the road and discovers the murdered family. A dust storm comes up as Jim stops to call the police from a deserted gas station, but the pay phone does not work. Ryder steps inside, dangling Jim’s car keys. He tosses the keys at Jim’s feet, walks outside and hitches a ride with a truck driver. Jim runs to stop them but the truck disappears into the dust storm. Back on the highway, the dust storm has passed. Ryder drives the truck into the back of Jim’s car, then heads off-road. Jim pulls into another gas station to call for help but it is closed. Ryder’s truck suddenly crashes out of the garage. Jim dives out of the way and Ryder speeds through the gas pumps. Gas spews everywhere and Jim struggles to his feet as Ryder sets fire to the fuel. Jim runs for his car and speeds off in the flaming vehicle as the gas station explodes. Jim, covered in gas and soot, stops at a roadside diner just after Nash, an attractive waitress, arrives for her shift. They are not open yet, but Nash agrees to let Jim inside to call the police. Jim drops his jacket on a chair, then calls the police. While they wait, Jim cleans up in the bathroom and Nash makes him a cheeseburger and fries. Jim puts his jacket back on and is appreciative for the food, but seems distracted so Nash leaves him alone. Jim enjoys the food until he picks up a bloody finger instead of a French fry. He runs outside, throwing up, just as the sheriffs arrive. The officers search Jim’s jacket, find a bloody switchblade and arrest him. At the Sheriff’s station, Jim tries to explain the situation and says that Ryder took his wallet when he planted the knife. The officers call the Drive-away company but it is closed for the weekend, and there is no answer at Jim’s brother’s home. The lead Sheriff realizes Jim is not a killer, but holds him for questioning by authorities coming from Austin. Jim falls asleep in his cell, but soon awakens to find the cell door unlocked and the officers brutally murdered. As other cop cars swarm in, Jim grabs a dead Sheriff’s gun, rushes out the back door and escapes into the desert. He reaches another diner just as a police car pulls up. Jim pulls his gun, gets in the car and takes the two officers hostage. Jim wants to talk to someone in charge so they get Captain Esteridge on the radio. Jim explains his predicament and agrees to surrender, but Ryder suddenly drives up and shoots the officers. Alone and desperate, Jim tries to shoot himself, but cannot do it. He makes it to another lonely roadside café and orders coffee. When Ryder unexpectedly joins him, Jim pulls his gun under the table. Ryder insists the gun is empty and pretends to shoot Jim. Jim reacts and shoots back, but there are no bullets in the gun. Ryder puts the bullets on the table and leaves. When a bus pulls up, Jim pockets the bullets and sneaks onto the bus. He hides in back, but is spotted by Nash, now on her way home. Jim tells her that he is innocent, but he is holding her at gunpoint. When police stop the bus, however, Jim lets her go. He drops his gun outside and is willing to surrender, but the cops want revenge for the death of their fellow officers. They are about to shoot Jim when Nash gets off the bus, picks up the gun and stops them. Ryder watches from afar as Jim and Nash escape in the cops’ car and head for the Sheriff’s office in the next town. Jim wants to let Nash out but she feels he is safer with her. The police chasing them, however, do not care about Nash and shoot to kill. Nash aims for the cops’ tires but loses the gun. When the two cop cars sandwich them, Jim slams on his brakes, and the cop cars crash. A helicopter and more cop cars join the pursuit. Ryder speeds up on a parallel road and shoots at the helicopter. The helicopter goes down in a fireball and the cop cars crash into it. Ryder drives off into the desert as Nash realizes Jim was telling the truth. They walk to a truck-stop motel and get a room, but while Jim takes a shower, Ryder abducts Nash. Jim runs outside to find her, but police are everywhere. Jim is caught by Captain Esteridge, who knows Jim is innocent and needs his help. Ryder has tied Nash between a truck’s trailer and its cab, and Ryder is behind the wheel. Jim gets in the cab, and Ryder wants Jim to shoot him. For Jim, it is an impossible choice: If Ryder is killed, his foot will come off the clutch, the cab will roll and Nash will die. When Jim cannot shoot him, Ryder floors it and Nash is killed. As Ryder is transported to prison, Esteridge drives off in another direction with Jim. Jim is sure that Ryder will escape, but Esteridge disagrees. Jim grabs Esteridge’s gun, orders him out of the car and takes off after Ryder’s bus. Jim reaches the prison bus as Ryder kills the guards. Ryder, shotgun in hand, flies out the back door and through Jim’s windshield. Jim slams on the brakes, sending Ryder back out the windshield and onto the road. Ryder grabs his shotgun as Jim tries to start the car again. Jim ducks down, and keeps trying to start it while Ryder shoots up the vehicle. The engine finally catches and Jim speeds into Ryder, knocking him off the road. Jim gets out, picks up the shotgun and checks that Ryder is dead. As Jim walks away, Ryder staggers to his feet. He smiles as Jim turns and shoots him three times. Ryder dies, leaving Jim alone as the sun sets on a lonely Texas highway. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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