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Film / The Hitcher

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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 starring C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jeffrey DeMunn.

The story is about a young man named Jim Halsey (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 (Hauer), who then turns his next few days into a waking 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, Neal McDonough and Sean Bean. See also Highwaymen, its Spiritual Successor by the same director.


The Hitcher contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The original leaves it unclear if Ryder has succeeded in turning Jim into a killer like him.
  • Ambiguously Evil: The police officers who first arrested Jim, while their persecution of him can be viewed as them being Inspector Javerts towards Jim, it's left unknown if they really started to think Jim could be innocent after interrogation and only still booked and jailed him as part of police protocol until further confirmation of his innocence or they don't really care and are borderline Dirty Cops who wants to imprison him anyway without giving him a chance to clear himself.
  • Ambiguously Human: John. See Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane below.
  • Antagonist Title: Jim is the protagonist; the Hitcher is Serial Killer John Ryder.
  • Arch-Enemy: Jim Halsey has John Ryder, a homicidal hitchhiker who makes a game out of stalking him.
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  • Artistic License – Biology: It is not possible to rip a human apart in the way shown in either version. The joints - whether in the elbow, arm, knee, pelvis or feet - would give way earlier, and the victim would get their 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.
    • Ryder himself at the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: John Ryder is a serial killer who butchers whole families for kicks.
  • Badass Longcoat: In a villainous 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 Bad:
    • Original film and remake: John Ryder is the hitchhiking Serial Killer who wants to make Jim a killer like him.
    • The Hitcher 2: I've Been Waiting: Jack is the hitchhiker Serial Killer who wants to kill Jim and Maggie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: With a heavy emphasis on the Bitter part. The first film ends with Jim finally killing John Ryder, ending his reign of madness. However, Jim is traumatized by all the hell John has put him through, and worst of all, Jim's love interest, Nash, has been killed by John.
  • Book-Ends: The original begins and ends with Jim lighting a match, although photographed in different ways.
  • Break the Cutie: In the original, John’s goal is to do this to Jim. John succeeds.
  • Bullying a Dragon: John Ryder does this to Jim for too long, and gets whats coming to him at the end.
  • Car Fu: In the remake, coupled with an odd variant of Improbable Aiming Skills.
    • Ryder is also briefly the target of this in the original.
  • Cellphones Are Useless: Used shamelessly in the remake.
  • Central Theme: The thrill of the hunt.
  • Cop Killer: Ryder kills a lot of police throughout the movie. In fact, most of his victims are cops.
  • Creator Cameo: Eric Red can be seen in a cameo role toward the end of the film as a sheriff's deputy escorting the prisoner to the transfer bus.
  • 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.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Jim and Lt. Esteridge are both Back for the Dead in the continuation to the original film. The true protagonist is Jim's new girlfriend, who is even framed for their deaths by the new hitcher. Same thing happens to them in The Remake.
  • Determinator: John Ryder, especially in the remake, where he mutilates his own hand to break out of his cuffs just to keep his killing streak going.
  • 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 also implied he killed the real Ryder). 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.
  • Evil Is Petty: Ryder spends the whole film harassing and trying to kill Jim, simply because he fought back.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The film begins around 5:00 AM on one day, and ends sometime before noon the next.
  • 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 mostly plays 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/Take a long holiday/Let your children play/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 may 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.
  • Happy Ending Override: In the second film both Jim Halsey and Captain Esteridge killed off early on by another crazy hitcher that hunts down the female protagonist (Halsey's girlfriend, even!). To add insult to injury, the man frames her for their deaths.
  • Hate Sink: John Ryder is a murderous, sadistic psychopath and an all-around creep with no redeeming qualities who kills others without any reason or provocation and spends the whole plot trying to ruin Jim's life.
    • The cops who mishandle Jim while arresting him also count as this. They even border on being Corrupt Cops, since they not only refuse to give Jim a chance to talk to his brother on the phone by deliberately hanging up the phone before his brother can even answer it, but they even outright say that "even a fool can tell Jim isn't a killer", heavily implying that they could care less whether Jim is innocent or not and that they just want an excuse to imprison him.
    • Jack from the sequel is every bit as depraved and sadistic as John Ryder. Some of his actions are almost more brutal than John's, since Jack is not above scalping his victims.
  • Hero of Another Story: Trooper Lyle Hancock and his quest for vengeance against the killer of his friends would have been given more depth and emphasis if he was a main character.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Jim Halsey, thanks to Ryder framing him for the murders. Jim and Grace in the remake as well.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Ryder takes it upon himself to make Jim into a hardened killer like himself, as Jim was his only victim to fight back.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: John Ryder in both the original and the remake, stalking and manipulating the protagonists after failing to kill them outright.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Ryder has these, which only emphasizes how inhuman he really is.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: To call Ryder this is putting it very mildly.
  • Lack of Empathy: Ryder never once feels any guilt for any of the murders he commits, or for any of the suffering he inflicts on Jim.
  • Love Interest: Nash in the original, Jim in the remake.
  • Made of Iron: John Ryder in the remake manages to dislocate his thumb with an extremely audible "CRACK", skin his hand in bloody/painful-looking detail to free himself from handcuffs, but still is able to use that hand without any problem.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: John Ryder is portrayed as almost supernaturally dangerous and elusive. The man slaughters roomfuls of armed cops with ease, shoots down a helicopter with a revolver, and seems to vanish and reappear whenever he chooses. Rutger Hauer has even speculated that Ryder is actually a ghost haunting the desert highways.
  • Meta Twist:
    • For roughly the first half of the movie we only see Ryder from Jim's point of view and a lot of the killings he makes happen to come right out of the blue in front of Jim. The experienced viewer would think that maybe Ryder is some sort of split personality he has and he's really the killer. Nope. We later see other characters specifically see him in person aside from Jim, meaning he actually is real.
    • It's arguable as we see everything from Jim's point of view throughout the film so other people's reactions to Ryder existing may not be real, notice that Ryder never kills anyone late in the movie without Jim being there so it's still possible Jim could be the killer.
    • Ryder is first seen after Jim's near miss with an oncoming truck, provoking some speculation that Jim was in fact killed, and the film is some sort of purgatory, with John Ryder as a Devil figure who finally tips Jim in the direction of Hell with his murder.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Ryder has shades of this. If the fact he kills anyone who gets in his way wasn't obvious enough.
  • 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.
  • Nice Guy: Jim starts out as this, though all the torment he goes through quickly changes that.
  • Not So Different: The movie seems to imply a pseudo-sadomasochistic relationship between Jim and Ryder, a relationship closer to 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 to 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: Downplayed, but 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 seemingly coldly towards him despite Jim telling him about himself (though after sending Jim away, this is subverted when 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.
    • Donner and Dodge count as well, arresting Jim for being the killer with little evidence and are excessively brutal with him. It gets to the point that their superior flat out calls them idiots for arresting Jim, though it’s left ambiguous as to whether he would have let Jim be arrested or not.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: The Cruel and Unusual Death mentioned above is what most people know about the original.
  • 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. The interrogator Sergeant Starr, following Jim being initially arrested by his Rabid Cop colleagues Donner and Dodge, also qualify too, as despite seemingly act cold towards Jim during the interrogation, he thinks there is no way he can be a killer.
  • Revised Ending: The film originally ended with Jim Halsey shooting John Ryder as Ryder lay prone on the highway. However, to avoid an X rating, the filmmakers shot the ending that was ultimately used (with Ryder getting to his feet, showing he is still a threat, and giving Jim at least partial justification for shooting him).
  • Sadist: Ryder gets a kick out of not only killing people, but also terrorizing them and messing with them, all for his own pleasure.
  • Sadistic Choice: Later in the film, Ryder gives Jim the choice of shooting Ryder, or else he will tear his lover interest, Nash, in half with the truck he's driving. Unfortunately, even if Jim shoots Ryder, his foot will come off the break, causing the truck to roll and tear Nash in half anyway, forcing Jim not to kill Ryder, resulting in Ryder killing Nash.
  • 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.
  • Slasher Smile: Ryder pulls a very creepy one when he's inside a car with a family in it. Take a good guess what he's going to do to them.
  • The Sociopath: Ryder has nothing resembling empathy or a conscience. As far as he is concerned, he can hurt and maim whoever he wants like it's a game.
  • Sound-Only Death: The murders in the police station, when you only hear two gunshots.
  • The Spook: Ryder 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.
  • Stealth Pun: The film is not called The Hitchhiker, but The Hitcher, which is a Foreshadowing of the film's most famous murder.
  • The Stoic: Despite smiling and laughing in a few scenes, Ryder is very robotic in emotions for the most part, which makes him all the more creepy.
  • Straw Nihilist: It's made more or less clear that Ryder is this.
  • 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.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Nash.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Jim and Lt. Esteridge in both the sequel and the remake.
  • The "The" Title
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: As the film goes on, Jim goes from a Nice Guy to a cold, callous Jerk with a Heart of Gold. By the end, he may or may not have become just as bad as Ryder.
  • Unflinching Walk: Ryder walking away from the burning transport van in the remake.
  • Vigilante Man:
  • Villainous Rescue: Ryder, who actually saves Jim and Nash's lives (but only so he can try and kill them later) from the vengeful cops.
  • Villainous Valour: Exaggerated to the point that Ryder can take down an helicopter with just one single gun.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Lots of these in the original.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Ryder doesn't care if his victims are male or female.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Ryder massacres an entire family. Children included.


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