I watched The Hitcher for the first time in over 20 years the other night, a film which I loved back in the day. I was a bit scared to return to it, fearing it wouldn’t hold up all that well and I would have to cross yet another film off my list of 80s classics. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rutger Hauer’s menacing, demon-like character was just as powerful as it once was, even if C. Thomas Howell was a bit lamer than I remember. Plus, this remains one of those great situation horrors that does an amazing job of using the barren landscape and isolated atmosphere to great advantage. Moreover, it’s wild to watch how so much of the suspense and horror has to do with Howell’s character being cut off from the world. I found myself thinking how much this film is as much a mediation on communication and identity (aren’t all horrors?), as it is an over-the-top exploitation film that forever scared me away from picking up strangers. Also, It’s kind of like No Country for Old Men without the hang over, for it doesn’t take itself half as seriously nor resort to glib nihilism.
One of the things I had forgotten entirely was that Jennifer Jason Leigh was in this one—she remains for me one of the icons of 80s film, and a truly great character actor in every sense of that word. So, seeing her made me feel all the more sure this film deserved the place I had reserved for it in my memory, too bad she had to pay for Howell’s sins.