Coming out of nowhere for me, Hitcher in the Dark is not a movie I was familiar with over the years. A recommendation to pick up the recent Blu-ray brought a beautifully delivered slasher from Umberto Lenzi that demands a little more than your willingness to enjoy cheap thrills.
Hitcher in the Dark is a fairly nasty little tale of Mark, the son of a rich mogul who has little time for his him. Mark likes to spend his time cruising spots popular with the youth, picking up hitchhikers in his camper van, slaying them and keeping Polaroid’s as mementos. Picking up Daniela, who bears a resemblance to his mother, following a public spat with her boyfriend Kevin, we are treated to a somewhat barmy trip through Mark’s mind as he reveals his disturbing fetishes and his angry attitudes towards his family. Following Daniela’s disappearance Kevin tracks down the camper van feeling that she is in danger.
A couple of extra characters drop in to further the plot, the cops show up from time to time to bother Mark and generate a bit of tension as with frequent cuts to a bound Daniela in the back of the camper. Whilst there is a bit of luck here and there to aid Kevin in his rescue operation nothing feels like a leap too far to keep things moving.
Quite why the film is called Hitcher in the Dark is something of a mystery. Daniela was not hitchhiking and took a little coaxing to join Mark. Little of the movie occurs “in the dark” and I can really only think of one scene that occurs at night. However, The Hitcher was a hit a few years before and it wouldn’t be unlike an Italian film director to try to cash in on a popular release.
The film has more than enough to keep it interesting. In an attempt to escape, Daniela spends a good portion of the movie playing along with Mark digging deeper into his deranged mind and this keeps the film from sagging in the middle. Kills can be quite grizzly, made a little worse by Mark being pretty unsettling. There is a larger than average amount of nudity, possibly due to the uncredited producer Joe D’Amato, and one particularly intimate scene is made a lot more awkward and intense given Lenzi’s willingness to stay with the couple after other filmmakers would have cut away. Much like Almost Human, Lenzi dares the audience to stick with it.
The scene in which Daneila is introduced is worth the price of admission. A random selection of American teens circle around her as her boyfriend plays some music (horribly cheap 80’s pop garbage) on his Ghetto Blaster as Daneila dances around, cheered on by the onlookers. Later Lenzi shoots the shit out of a wet T-Shirt competition that cheapens the outing somewhat. Lenzi is trying to capture the youth culture of America in the 80’s and it’s a giggle to see it today.
The cast is a bit of a hodgepodge. Whilst the characters of Daniela and her boyfriend Kevin were adequately effective in their roles, the seminal (pun intended) character of Mark can be a bit of a let-down. Whilst Joe Barlough works when the crazy is needed as the film progresses, his early scenes feel ropey and some crazy moments feel a little too forced due to some loose editing. Barlough stopped working as an actor a few years following this and now appears to be an officer of the law, this must be a giggle for his colleagues.
As mentioned earlier, the film generally takes place during the day. My guess would be to save money, as there are little to no lighting effects. Everything looks like it was filmed under natural light to eliminate the crew and setup costs. Adding to this is the lack of makeup, skin can look sticky and faces are shiny, but that is not to say there wasn’t a makeup artist here, there are some good looking gore effects and mutations later in the film. This look adds to the effect of the film, whilst proving there is an ultra low budget, it helps focus on reality. Daniela is beautiful and would ordinarily look immaculate as the film moves on, however, as the Virginia heat ramps up around the tin can of an RV her face looks naturally hot and sweaty.
Hitcher in the Dark doesn’t really have too much going for it, however, it manages to stay entertaining with some bolder storytelling moments. This arrived in 1989, a long time after this could be considered fresh and likely met with a lot of dismissal and criticism, however, a nostalgic reissue today serves as a reminder that some older films can age well, and Hitcher in the Dark does. Sure, it’s cheap and a bit wobbly, however, it makes good use of its zero budget, and gets as much out of its cast as it can.
This Lenzi offering isn’t going to appeal to many, however, the hardcore horror lover should find something to enjoy. Anyone looking for a solid Paranoria experience will undoubtedly find a myriad of problems and despair as Lenzi’s decline in these later years. 1989 was a year that he put out five feature films and only five years before his final film. I have always found something to love about Lenzi’s movies and Hitcher in the Dark is no different.
There isn’t a huge amount of poster art out there for Hitcher in the Dark, most are for the recent releases on home media.
A deluxe collectors edition was released by 88 Films recently and it’s a lovely package with an interesting booklet to read. The release isn’t dripping with extras, however, there is enough to satisfy the curious.