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Film / The Hitcher


Once you pick up The Hitcher, you'll never pick up another!
The original 1986 trailer's slogan

The Hitcher is a 1986 road thriller.

The story is about a young man named Jim Halsey, played by none other than C. Thomas Howell, who's driving a car through the US of A. He decides to go against his mother's warnings and pick up a hitchhiker, John Ryder played by Rutger Hauer, who will then turn his next few days into a wide awake nightmare.

It got a sequel in 2003, The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting, with C. Thomas Howell reprising his role as Jim, and this time featuring Jake Busey as the murderer. It was remade in 2007 by Platinum Dunes, with Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton and Sean Bean. See also Highwaymen, its Spiritual Successor by the same director.

The Hitcher contains examples of:

  • Antagonist Title: Jim is the protagonist.
  • Artistic License Biology: It is not possible to rip a human apart in the way shown in the 2007 movie. The joints - whether in the elbow, arm, knee, pelvis or feet - would give way earlier, and Jim would get arms or legs ripped off instead of being ripped in half - still, a messy way to die.
  • Asshole Victim: Downplayed, but Trooper Jack Donner and Trooper Dodge would count, due to them abrasively mishandling Jim when arresting him (to a point Donner calls Jim a "sack of shit") and Donner not giving a chance for Jim to have his brother to call him by not letting the phone ring a little longer.
  • Ax-Crazy: John Ryder is a serial killer who butchers whole families for kicks.
  • Big Bad: John Ryder, our hitchhiking Serial Killer.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: John Ryder, who's also a sadist and psychopath.
  • Book Ends: The original begins and ends with Jim lighting a match, although photographed in different ways.
  • Car Fu: In the remake, coupled with an odd variant of Improbable Aiming Skills.
  • Cellphones Are Useless: Used shamelessly in the remake.
  • Badass Longcoat: In a villanous example, John Ryder wears one.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Although the film has a living hitchhiker, John Ryder has no social security number, driver's license, or any other indication that he exists. Oh, and he's a psychopathic killer that beats down anybody he pleases.
  • Big Damn Villains: Ryder, who actually saves Jim and Nash's lives (but only so he can try and kill them later) from the vengeful cops.
  • Break the Cutie: In the original. John succeeds.
  • Central Theme: The thrill of the hunt.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Nash's horrific death by being tied between a Mack truck and its trailer and then ripped in half by the completely psycho title character.
  • Daylight Horror: Much of the blood and gore happens during the day.
  • Deadly Road Trip: In the remake, Jim Halsey and Grace Andrews are a young couple driving across New Mexico on Spring Break. Unfortunately, things don't go very well for them...
  • Death by Adaptation: Jim and Lt. Esteridge are BOTH killed in the remake.
  • Death Seeker: John Ryder. As the plot uncovers, he repeatedly asks Jim Halsey to kill him in cold blood (after their first encounter when Jim picked up Ryder as an unsuspecting hitchhiker). When Jim fails to do so, John proceeds to go on a path of carnage.
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: When the police arrest John Ryder, they can't match his finger prints to any existing criminals, nobody knows anything about him, and even his name is undoubtedly an alias. It's as if the desert just spat out Death in human form.
  • Dissonant Serenity: John Ryder, who never loses his calm as he continues killing people in gruesome ways.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Subverted. John does get up at the end of the original, but Jim shoots him dead on the spot.
  • Fatal Family Photo: It happens in the ending of the remake; one of the cops on the cop bus that's carrying John Ryder takes out a photo of his daughter.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ryder.
  • Film Noir: The original 1986 film can mostly play out as this, the original screenplay was even more noir-ish then the actual film.
  • The Film of the Song: The movie was inspired by "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors: "There's a killer on the road/His brain is squirming like a toad... If you give this man a ride/Sweet memory will die..." Just to drive the point home, the movie opens on the road in a storm, and the Hitcher gives his name as John Ryder.
  • Final Girl: Jim Halsey (to an extent) and Grace in the remake.
  • Finger in the Mail: The protagonist stops at a roadside diner to call the cops on the serial killer who's been pursuing him. The killer slips a human finger into a plate of fries the waitress brings him.
  • Fingore: One of the most infamous scenes involves Jim finding a severed finger in his french fries.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Deliberately implied in the original The Hitcher, to the point where it creeps out the cops to watch the lead characters interact in the interrogation room.
  • For the Evulz: Seems like Ryder's only reason d'etre.
  • Gorn: The remake. The scene of a German Shepherd licking blood off a slit neck in the original can also count.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: What happens to Nash. Subverted but badly done (the body BOUNCES after being cut in half) in the remake. Also, the fate of the family in the station wagon.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Nash in the original, Jim in the remake.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Jim Halsey, thanks to Ryder framing him for the murders. Jim and Grace in the remake as well.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: John Ryder in both the original and the remake, stalking and manipulating the protagonists after failing to kill them outright.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Ryder repeatedly gives Jim the opportunity to kill him, goading him to do so. Possibly a subversion, as it's unclear if Ryder truly wants to end his own rampage, or if he wants to turn Jim into a killer who'll carry on after him.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Ryder takes out several squad cars and a frickin' helicopter with no more than a handgun while driving...all to the strains of Nine Inch Nails (in the remake). See also the Car Fu entry above.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted.
  • Inspector Javert: The police pursuing Jim Halsey with Captain Esteridge as an exception.
  • Love Interest: Nash in the original, Jim in the remake.
  • My Car Hates Me: Used in both versions:
    • In the original, Esteridge's Dodge truck stalls out in the climax for no readily apparent reason preventing Jim from escaping for a few suspenseful moments.
    • In the remake, Jim's Oldsmobile stalls out at the beginning at a crucial moment.
  • Not So Different: The movie seems to imply a psuedo-sadomasochistic relationship between Jim and Ryder, and that this relation ship is more father/son or between lovers than hunter/prey.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted when counting both the original film and its sequel. In the original film, one of the arresting officers, Donner, is addressed by Sergeant Starr as Jack, while in the sequel, the new hitcher's name is Jack too.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size:
    • The original film is a textbook example of this. After young teenager Jim Halsey manages to thwart serial killer John Ryder's attempt to add him to one of his list of victims, Ryder becomes completely obsessed with stalking Halsey and killing or being killed by him. Ryder himself looks to be around 40 - 50 years old.
    • The 2007 remake turns this into an intergender example by adding Jim's girlfriend Grace Andrews to the mix. Ryder eventually murders Jim and puts all his focus on Grace.
  • Police Brutality: Jim Halsey ends up on the receiving end of this due to being Wrongly Accused, whether it's either being abrasively mishandled while in incarceration, having an interrogator act coldly towards him despite Jim telling him about himself (though after sending Jim away, he privately expressed to one of the arresting officers, Trooper Jack Donner, that Jim is not a killer which "any fool can see that") or being a target of a vengeful vigilante Rabid Cop with a personal agenda to summarily execute the one responsible for the murders before finally getting shot at during a car chase by officers who are following martial law to shoot-to-kill Jim and Nash rather then just to arrest them alive, forcing them to shoot back in self defense. So does Jim and Grace in the remake.
  • Police Are Useless: At least in the remake. Not only the cops inflict Police Brutality on the main protagonists like in the original, the police officers act idiotically and unmethodical.
  • Rabid Cop: The Inspector Javert policemen who are after Jim Halsey, especially the abrasive Donner and Dodge and the corruptly vengeful Hancock. Also see Police Brutality above.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Esteridge, who is probably the nicest cop in the film in contrast to the Inspector Javert Rabid Cops, even when Jim's got a gun on him.
  • Senseless Phagia: There's a scene which features a severed finger in a man's fries. He doesn't notice until he directly looks at it.
  • Sound-Only Death: The murders in the police station, when you only hear two gunshots.
  • The Spook: The villain is called a ghost because there is nothing that identifies him.
  • Stalker with a Crush: John Ryder. After Jim Halsey manages to thwart his attempt at murdering him, Ryder becomes obsessed with either killing Halsey or being killed by Halsey. He stalks him throughout the entire movie, framing Jim for crimes he committed (but rescuing him when the police are about to kill him) and killing Jim's only female love interest violently. In one very disturbing scene, he holds Jim's hands, and Jim spits in his face. After Jim leaves, he is seen rubbing the spit onto his lips, smiling.
  • Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred: There are occasional hints in the original film that the title character is trying to get Jim to kill him in order to fulfill this trope.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Jim and Lt. Esteridge in both the sequel and the remake.
  • The "The" Title
  • Unflinching Walk: Ryder walking away from the burning transport van in the remake.
  • Vigilante Man:
  • Villainous Valour: Exagerrated to the fact that Ryder can take down an helicopter with just one single gun.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Lots of these in the original.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Ryder massacres an entire family. Children included.