The Hitcher: Special Edition

Dom Robinson reviews

The Hitcher: Special Edition The terror starts the moment he stops.
Distributed by
Momentum Pictures


  • Cert:
  • MP157D
  • Running time: 93 minutes
  • Year: 1986
  • Pressing: 2003
  • Region(s): 2, PAL
  • Chapters: 24 plus extras
  • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Languages: 4 languages available
  • Subtitles: 8 languages available
  • Widescreen: 2.35:1
  • 16:9-Enhanced: Yes
  • Macrovision: Yes
  • Disc Format: DVD 9
  • Price: £19.99
  • Extras: Trailer, Teaser trailer, Filmographies, 7 screenplay samples (inc. 2 deleted scenes), documentary, Two short movies, 2 audio commentaries


      Robert Harmon

    (Eyes of an Angel, Highwayman, The Hitcher, Nowhere to Run, They, TV: The Crossing, Gotti, Homicide: Life on the Streets, Level 9)


    David Bombyk and Kip Ohman


    Eric Red


    Mark Isham


    The Hitcher: Rutger Hauer
    Jim Halsey: C. Thomas Howell
    Nash Galveston: Jennifer Jason Leigh
    Captain Esteridge: Jeffrey DeMunn

The Hitcher is a pure piece of brilliance from start to finish, so it makes you wonder how the same director managed to make the pitiful pile of tripe that was Van Damme’s Nowhere to Run seven years later.

This is a film that goes for basics at their best. There’s no fancy CGI and nothing to divert from the main plot. This is tension and terror at their best.

Young Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, and does the wrong thing when he stops to pick up an unnamed hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer), joking how his mum told him never to do that. Clearly he lives to regret that as the man starts behaving very oddly. Even though Jim stopped to pick him up, as they pass another car along the road – apparently in trouble – the man pushes Jim’s leg down on the accelerator. Shortly after that he produces a knife…

What follows is a road movie where the hitcher will turn up, scare the shit out of the kid and make you wonder how he’ll ever get away, but to go into detail about the film would rob it of its superb suspense. It’s a classic thriller that really delivers and includes top-notch performances from its two leads, with Jennifer Jason Leigh turning up along the way as waitress Nash as the potential love interest – that is if there’s time for one.

This is how a film should be made, and it also includes a spectacular scene of two cops cars turning over after one another and a petrol station exploding.

For a near-20-year-old film this new DVD has a brilliant transfer. It’s not perfect all the way through, but a damn sight better than most presentations of movies of this age. It’s also in the original anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen.

The English soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1, although not used exactly ambitiously here over what you’d expect from a standard surround sound offering, the latter being what you get in German, Italian and Spanish. The tension comes through perfectly though.

All of the extras, apart from the commentaries, are on disc 2. The second disc is necessary because of the seemingly-redundant surround-only language tracks. Those should’ve been ditched in favour of a DTS soundtrack.

  • Trailers: A 2½-minute Trailer and 70-second Teaser, both in anamorphic 16:9. Good to see back-catalogue footage given the anamorphic treatment. Both are also voiced that THAT trailer man, Don La Fontaine.

  • Documentary: The Hitcher – How Do These Movies Get Made? (38 mins): An intriguing chat from all the main people involved, cast and crew-wise, how it began with the director’s short film China Lake and also how Hauer wouldn’t have been there had Terence Stamp not ditched it. Harmon also enjoyed scouting for desert locations and employing the widescreen vista for small figures in a landscape. It was an early film for Howell, who looks so so knackered now. The stunts and the score are also discussed.

  • Short film: China Lake (35 mins): The precursor to The Hitcher, China Lake is a short film Robert Harmon made between 1981 and 1983 to prove to Hollywood execs that he could carry off a multi-million dollar budget. It’s another slow-burning tale of punishment being metered out as necessary, but with Charles Napier, who’s made scores of films but is usually best-known for the hard-nut military style, as a rogue cop on a mission to harrass and inflict injury on as many people as possible. A great little addition. The only downside is that the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is not anamorphic, although it is preceeded by a text-based introduction from the director.

    This was later remade in 1990 as the TV movie, The China Lake Murders.

  • Short film: The Room (9½ mins): Presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 5.1, starring Rutger Hauer in a soul-searching monologue that gets a bit boring.

  • Filmographies A few pages of information containing the movies featuring the principal cast and crew members.

  • Two audio commentaries: A feature-length commentary from director Robert Harmon and screenwriter Eric Red, with additional scene-specific commentaries from Harmon, Eric Red, C.Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer, composer Mark Isham and others.

The disc has a decent 24 chapters, with subtitles in 9 languages (English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish), while the main menu is the only non-static one with a looped piece of animation and sound from the film.


Review copyright © Dominic Robinson, 2003.