Horror review: The Hitcher

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JAN. 24, 2007

Back in 1986, when many Vancouverites were preoccupied with the pricey pomp of Expo, a nasty little horror flick called The Hitcher slithered into town. It quickly vanished off mainstream radar screens, but fright fanatics who happened to catch its split-second theatrical run knew they’d uncovered a gleaming cult treasure.

The first Hollywood script by former New York City cab driver Eric Red—who would dazzle genre fans a year later with Near Dark, a hugely entertaining vampire western—The Hitcher is the taut tale of a regular guy named Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is stalked by a hitchhiker on a barren New Mexico highway. Fresh from his swashbuckling role as a medieval mercenary in Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh+Blood, Rutger Hauer shone as John Ryder, a soft-spoken drifter with a switchblade, a mysterious death wish, and an uncanny ability to hunt, kill, and frame innocent travellers.

When music-video director Dave Meyers was slotted to direct the remake of Robert Harmon’s criminally overlooked chiller, the concerns of Hitcher freaks were many. Could Meyers, on his first feature, conjure the desolate, high-desert tone and haunting vibe of the original? Would Sean Bean, as the new John Ryder, be able to embody the casual, brooding menace of the character? Would anyone get tied between two trucks and torn apart?

The new Hitcher doesn’t look promising at first. Eschewing the spooky Mark Isham synth score of its predecessor, it kicks off with the routine pop-punk strains of the All- American Rejects, and the opening scenes employ cheap gross-out tactics, like a bunny churned into roadkill and a dragonfly splattered on a windshield. Shaggy-haired Zachary Knighton is okay as Halsey, but he never conveys the crucial vulnerability that Howell does. The remake’s biggest flaw lies in the casting of Sophia Bush from TV’s One Tree Hill as Halsey’s bodacious girlfriend, Grace. She’s way too much of a perfect-10 hottie to be taken seriously in this grimy showdown between good and evil.

The grizzled Bean is fairly effective as the titular terrorizer, though, and his twisted antics result in half a dozen genuinely shocking moments. Despite its Playboy Playmate heroine and corny-as-hell climax, The Hitcher is still more engrossing than most of the other horror redos unleashed on the youth market of late.

I’m talkin’ to you, Grudge 2.

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