31 Days of Slashers: The Hitcher (1986)

The seventh entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986). Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego. On the way, he picks up hitchhiker John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). The pair soon drives by a stopped car when Ryder says that he murdered the driver. Filled with fear, Jim is quickly able to kick Ryder from the car. Continuing on his journey, Jim keeps running into Ryder and becomes involved in a series of violent murders. Will Jim be able to stop Ryder’s reign of terror?

While considered a bit of a flop at the time, after only making $6 million back from its $7.9 million budget, The Hitcher serves as a great example of a thrilling slasher film that is worth a closer look. Its narrative is relatively simple and relies on the tension between the two lead characters. Keeping so much of the anxiety trapped within the small space of Jim’s car allows for close character beats that allow the viewer to really identify with Jim. This also allows for a great growth in intensity when the action is finally moved outside of the car.

The strongest element of the film is the antagonist relationship between Howell’s Jim and Hauer’s Ryder. The actors have excellent chemistry and the intense power dynamic between the two really drives the entire narrative. C. Thomas Howell’s performance perfectly captures Jim’s arc from innocence to traumatized protagonist. Rutger Hauer, on the other hand, is clearly reveling in the absolute insanity of his villainous character. Howell and Hauer play off each other in a really engaging and exciting way.

The film features another early performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Nash, a waitress at a roadside diner that is thrust into Ryder’s deadly game. Harmon also utilizes the broad location of the open road as an additional threat to Jim. The film is full of striking shots of desert landscapes and mountain ranges.

Through its great performances, shockingly violent moments, and excellent use of small spaces to build tension, The Hitcher proves to be a highly effective slasher that is sure to thrill you this October.

The Hitcher can be streamed on the Cinemax app.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another exciting entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!


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