The Hitcher [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (1st April 2024).
The Film

"The Hitcher" (1986)

Jim Halsey (played by C. Thomas Howell) is hired to deliver a car from Chicago to San Diego. During the desolate drive through the desert at night, he encounters a hitchhiker named John Ryder (played by Rutger Hauer) and gives him a ride. But Ryder is not an ordinary man looking for ride. He is a serial killer looking for his next victim. After a tense drive, Jim is able to push the hitcher out of the car and drive off, but the nightmare hasn't ended yet, as the Ryder is out to hitch other rides to catch up to Jim...

"The Hitcher" was screenwriter Eric Red's first feature length script and was partially inspired by The Doors' song "Riders on the Storm" as well as Steven Spielberg's influential terror film "Duel" (1971) and the slew of slasher horror films that were rampant at the time. It took the element of the terrorized motorist as seen in "Duel" and the psychological tension, but Spielberg's film made sure to hide the identity of the mad truck driver, never revealing the identity to the audience. A common trope for slasher films was to hide the true identity until later or through a twist. "The Hitcher" on the other hand introduces the killer near the start of the film, almost becoming the true main character of the story. But instead of giving John Ryder a backstory with his reasons to kill and his true intentions, this is essentially left up to the imagination as there was no reason to give further depth to him. He was cruel and brutal, torturous and insane, an almost super-villian with how he is able to elude the authorities for so long and be able to terrorize one person for so long.

While the killer may be the main draw to the story, it is the story of the young Jim wanting a new chance at life, and the opportunity to start afresh in San Diego, California by driving a car as part of a one time job is as good as can be. There are some instances of his backstory being presented, such as that he has a brother and that he is looking forward to moving, but much of his story is laid in mystery as well. What he is leaving behind and why he is looking to start a new life are never explained in detail, but in this case it gives his character a relatable edge for many.

The dueling forces between the two characters throughout are what make things stand out from the standard slasher, though at times there are questionable actions. t times Ryder mysteriously appears and catches up to Jim in almost impossible logic. There are a number of opportunities in which Ryder could have easily killed Jim in their multiple confrontations. Some might even conclude that this is a "Fight Club" situation of multiple personalities conflicting and it would seem to fit some of the circumstances. But by the second half of the film, it is certain that Ryder is an actual entity that is terrorizing more than just Jim but others in the surrounding, including the young waitress Nash (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who helps Jim and becomes basically the love interest for the character. Her character proves to be useful in a number of situations and also a tragic character as well in one of the most infamous scenes in the film that is far less graphically gory than most people remember it to be as it takes place offscreen.

For director Robert Harmon, this was also his feature length first as a director, and he was quite excited by the script's unique takes and the tension it presented. In addition there were instances of the terror to include high octane chase sequences in the desert, and the visuals by cinematographer John Seale do not disappoint. From the pickup scene in the pouring rain, the chase between the police cars and the helicopter, the desert is a place with striking visuals depending on the weather and time. In addition, the stunt sequences are quite insanely produced and falls in line with audience expectations for a car chase terror feature.

There are a number of strong points for "The Hitcher" in the technical craft and the performances of the characters. The major negative issue is the logic and logistics, as it puts too much emphasis on the maddening changes to the character of Jim and the superhuman nature of Ryder being a seemingly unstoppable force which makes little sense. It would certainly work for a Freddy or a Jason, but somehow it doesn't sit right in this story. Throwing all logic out for the plausible impossible, "The Hitcher" is a lot of fun and for ones who remember it being gory and violent, it is actually quite tame as much of the bloody sequences are off camera or done in quick montages through creative editing.

The film was produced by HBO Films which had their films released theatrically by fairly new distributor TriStar Pictures. Although HBO had some reservations about changes to be made to the film, the production team refused to tone down the violence or have any reshoots, believing in their work as it was filmed. The film was released theatrically in the United States on February 21st, 1986, and grossed $2.1 million, eventually making $5.8 million, which was much lower than the $7.9 million budget, making it a box office flop. The film received many negative notices from critics, slamming it for its horrific nature of the Ryder character as well as the homoerotic and homophobic tones that they found (which the filmmakers never intended). While the film didn't have much of an impact theatrically, it proved to be find an audience through cable via HBO with their own cable channel as well as through home video rentals and sales. Over the years the reception proved to be much better and gaining a cult following as well as critical notices from filmmakers and critics for its unique take on the slasher genre. The film would get a direct to video sequel in 2003 with "The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting" which had Howell reprise his role though it was received very negatively. The original film was given a remake in 2007 with the same title as "The Hitcher", which proved to be financially more successful though it was also bashed with negative reviews. The original "The Hitcher" may be imperfect, though its impact as a cult film can still be felt today and stands as being an enjoyable psychological road trip horror.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The opening credits display the German title "The Hitcher: Der Highway Killer" so this seemingly ports the transfer from the German Blu-ray release from a few years back, which came from a German release print. Aside from the title screen, the rest of the credits at the start and the end are in English. As the transfer comes from a source a few generations removed from the original negative, it certainly has its weaknesses. The image is quite thick and lacking depth and detail, colors are sometimes washed out in brighter daytime scenes while darker portions can look extremely dark, and so vibrancy is is not to be found with the color space. On more positive notes, the image has been cleaned so there are no instances of major damage marks to be found such as scratches or speckles. The color space has an old grindhouse print feel, yet without the damage marks for a suitable looking, yet slightly disappointing image. Second Sight in the UK are wrapping up a 4K restoration of the film from original elements, so it will be interesting to see how it will compare to the existing HD transfer found here.

The film's runtime is 97:21


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

The original stereo audio and a 5.1 remix are offered in lossless form. The original stereo track sounds very good throughout, using the stereo separation effectively for the synthesizer music cues by composer Mark Isham as well as the effects from the car engines to the crashes, while dialogue is center based. For the 5.1 track the stereo separation is spread out further, and thankfully there are no new obtrusive sound effects added for the remix. Both audio tracks sound very clear without any issues of hiss or dropout for a great aural experience with either choice presented.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the feature in a white font that is well timed and easy to read.


(1) Audio Commentary with director Robert Harmon and producer Eric Red
This commentary has Harmon and Red together recalling the making of the film. From the changes made from script to screen, behind the scenes information such as a camera getting crushed by a bus, the filming of the stunt sequences, about the performances and more. There is a lot of great information that they share, though there are a few moments of dead spots in between the conversation. Note this was originally released on the 2002 German Kinowelt DVD release.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

(2) Scene-specific Audio Commentary with director Robert Harmon, writer Eric Red, executive producer Edward S. Feldman, composer Mark Isham, cinematographer John Seale and actors Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell
This commentary is comprised of audio outtakes from the 2002 documentary listed below, with each participant interviewed separately and discuss specific topics in a similar vein to classic Criterion Laserdisc group commentaries, with the exception of having an announcer state the next speaker's name. As the cast and crew do no mention their names, it's better to watch the documentary first to become familiar with the voices of the participants. Discussed topics are Harmon's career prior to directing the film, Hauer and Howell o their careers at the time and the uinput they had on their roles, the visual cues, the stunt scenes, the creation of the score and more. There are a few dead spaces in between, including the first two minutes being blank altogether. There are some overlaps between the first commentary and the documentary, though it still has a lot of exclusive information included. Note this was originally released on the 2002 German Kinowelt DVD release.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Blonde, Blue Eyes: Rutger Hauer" 2006 documentary by Simone de Vries (63:13)
This in depth documentary portrait of Rutger Hauer has filmmaker Simone de Vries interviewing the actor in 2005 around his home in Hollywood, where he shares about his early career in The Netherlands, the risk of moving to Hollywood, watching his old rehearsal tapes and smiling, as well as explaining about his acting craft, choices of roles, and his life in general. From the ups and downs to behind the scenes of his current film shoots, there is a lot of fun to be seen and is a wonderful look at the sometimes misunderstood late actor.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.70:1, in Dutch/English Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles for the Dutch portions

"The Hitcher: How Do These Movies Get Made?" 2002 documentary (39:44)
This documentary includes the participants mentioned in the second commentary track with video interviews edited with clips of the film and stills. Discussed are the initial script by Red, Feldman and Harmon's reactions to the story, Seale's input as cinematographer, the actors on their roles and the relationships between the characters, other actors that were considered for the Ryder role, the dangerous stuntwork, the reception and reaction and much more. Note this was originally released on the 2002 German Kinowelt DVD release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.80:1 / 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Trailer with commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith from Trailers from Hell (3:50)
Filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith gives his thought on his positive reactions to the film as well as some key points and spoilers to the story with this introduction and commentary over the trailer.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Trailer (2:31)
The effective narrated original US trailer is presented here, in a cropped aspect ratio. There are a few damage marks to be spotted in the transfer, though it looks and sounds fairly good overall.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Teasers (2:41)
Two original US teaser trailers are included here. The first is a narrated teaser that is a cutdown version of the above trailer, while the second is a non-narrated action filled teaser that gives away little to the plot. Both transfers are from film sources, with the first looking similar to the above trailer, while the second teaser is overly blue in color.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

The film was released on DVD in various countries over the years, with some being fairly barebones. Kinowelt in Germany produced a lavish 2-disc special edition in 2002 (which was also ported and released in other countries such as the UK and Scandinavia). The film was first released on Blu-ray in Germany by Filmjuwelen / Nameless in 2019 which carried over most of the Kinowelt DVD extras with the two commentaries, documentary, and trailers. It was later issued by TC Entertainment in Japan which had the same extras as the German release. But not all extras were ported. Two short film with commentaries for each and screenplay excerpts including deleted scenes were unfortunate losses in transition to Blu-ray. For Australia's Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray, it has ported all the extras found on the German/Japanese Blu-rays and adds the Rutger Hauer documentary along with some vintage teasers and the "Trailers from Hell" trailer. It's easy to call the Australian Blu-ray the winner for the format, though the upcoming UK Blu-ray and 4K UltraHD release from Second Sight is something to watch out for.

Other notable clips:

Siskel & Ebert's extremely negative reactions to the film.

An interview with Eric Red by JoBlo

Locations of the film then and now by Scott on Tape


The Blu-ray is packaged in a clear keep case with a reversible inlay, which the opposite side has identical artwork except without the Australian R18+ rating logos. The packaging states region B only but is in fact region ALL.

The first pressing at the Umbrella Web Shop also includes a slipcase with new artwork by artist Colin Murdoch.

There is also a Collector's Edition at the Umbrella Web Shop which which also includes a rigid slipbox, the above slipcase, a 48 page book of behind-the-scenes, experiences and art, an A3 reversible poster, and 8 x artcards. This is limited to 500 copies. The book includes the essay "Old Blue Eyes: The Films of Rutger Hauer" by David Michael Brown on the actor's career, reprinted production notes, about the artwork by Colin Murdoch for this new release including conceptual art, as well as vintage poster art and stills. The double sided poster has two vintage artwork choices and is housed in the keep case. The keep case, book, and artcards all fit in the hard slipbox.

Umbrella's own unboxing video has been embedded below:


"The Hitcher" may lack in logical sense, though it still packs a memorable punch with terror and the performances. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray may not have a great transfer, and none of the extras are particularly exclusive to its release, though it is finely packaged and comes as recommended for fans of the film.

Standard edition link for the Umbrella Web Shop

Collector's Edition link for the Umbrella Web Shop

The Film: B- Video: C+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B


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