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Hitch-Hike
(1977)

Director: Pasquale Festa Campanile
Cast:
Franco Nero, Corinne Cléry, David Hess


By now, it should have become clear as to how I usually like to start one of my reviews. I take the central topic that the movie concerns itself with, and I discuss it for a couple of paragraph, often saying how my experiences with the topic have been over the years. With the movie I am reviewing here - Hitch-Hike - I am going to do things a little differently. I am going to discuss two topics that concern the movie. I'm making this change of pace with this particular review because right now I am in an uncharacteristic lazy mood and I don't want to go through the stress of trying to stretch out one topic for two paragraphs. The first topic I'll start discussing is the most obvious, the subject of hitchhikers. When it comes to the horror and thriller genres, hitchhikers aren't among the very top subjects for horror and thriller filmmakers... which is kind of surprising when you think about it for a while. Hitchhikers have great potential to be scary figures in movies, as movies like The Hitcher and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have managed to prove. For one thing, many hitchhikers are poor - they wouldn't be hitchhiking if they had means of transport like their own vehicle or as a passenger on a bus or a train. Poverty often makes people desperate, and desperate people sometimes do desperate things. Another aspect to the potential creepiness of hitchhikers is that they are usually alone and are complete strangers to the people that pick them up. With those attributes, it is pretty easy to make them creepy or even darker with their behavior. One additional creep factor that can be found in cinematic hitchhiking situations is that the roles can be reversed - the person who picks up the hitchhiker can be the psycho, as movies like the original Friday The 13th proved in one sequence.

Hitchhikers (and hitchhiking) was the first topic. Now it's time for me to start discussing the second topic that the movie Hitch-Hike concerns itself with. And it's completely different than hitchhikers. What I would like to discuss are movies from countries outside of the United States of America that like to disguise their movies. Specifically, they like to disguise their movies as being "American". The number one country that does this, as I have pointed out many times before in other reviews on this web site, is no doubt Canada. Just about every Canadian film is set in America or in some generic North American location that could be America. The runner-up to Canada in this filmmaking technique has to be Italy. Certainly, there are many Italian movies that are set in Italy, but if you explore Italian cinema, you'll see that there are a significant number of Italian movies that try to Americanize their origins. Of course, spaghetti westerns are where the Italians more than ever tried to make their movies American, with their American settings and American movie stars. But it seems that there are examples of this disguising by the Italians with every possible genre, from comedies (like Crime Busters) to horror movies (like some of Lucio Fulci's works, such as The Beyond). Sometimes the Italians would not only set their movies' stories in America and hire American stars, they would also travel across the Atlantic and actually shoot their movies in America (as Crime Busters and The Beyond did.) The Italians who did all this disguising certainly gave it a good try, but occasionally the seams would show and reveal their movies were not make by Americans, such as the notorious "DO NOT ENTRY" sign that was spotted in one moment of The Beyond.

Why did the Italians, unlike other European filmmakers, try more often to make their movies so American? I think there are several reasons. Italians seemed to have a bigger love for America than other European countries. Second, Italians seemed able to raise more private Hitch-Hikeinvestment than government investment, and the private sector would be more willing for a movie to be made into something American than government film funders. Also, Italian filmmakers seemed to realize that Americanization would increase their chances of selling their movie to American distributors, as well as other foreign countries. Indeed, when the American market was more or less cut off by the 1990s because American B studios were now providing plenty of product to video stores, the Italian film industry was dealt a big blow it never really recovered from. I should mention that the Italians' Americanization of their movies was not always successful; Hitch-Hike, while it did get sold to an American distributor, was barely released to American theaters. I didn't even know of it until it got released on DVD in 2002. I got a copy when it first got out, and for years I had been meaning to review it for this web site, in part because it not only was interesting in its Americanization, it dealt with the not often used topic of psychotic hitchhikers. At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a couple by the name of Mancini, which consists of burned out journalist Walter (Nero, Compañeros) and his wife Eve (Cléry, Moonraker). The two have been on a road trip in the American southwest, possibly in an attempt to salvage their relationship, but when we meet them it's clear there is still a lot of hostility between the two. On the journey home, they come across a young man named Adam (Hess, The Last House On The Left) hitchhiking after his car has broken down. After picking him up, it soon becomes clear to Walter and Eve that something's not quite right with their passenger. And not long after that, they realize that Adam is one of the members of a gang they heard on the radio that had just pulled off a multi-million dollar robbery. But it's too late for them to do anything about it - Adam pulls out a gun, and demands that the Mancinis drive him to Mexico. Their journey to the border starts soon afterwards, and the Mancinis try desperately to think of a way to escape their captor, though there are signs that Eve is starting to build some sort of perverse attraction to Adam.

I have a strong feeling that you have seen a number of cinematic examples of unlikable couples with a rocky or crumbling relationship suddenly being kidnapped or held hostage by one or more people. For example, there was the terrible 1990 remake of Desperate Hours. As you no doubt recall from these films, the man and the woman start out as flawed and unlikable, but at the end of the movie they have redeemed themselves to the audience and their significant other. Probably you are thinking that Hitch-Hike goes down that familiar path. But it doesn't. In fact, there is not one character in the movie, at least with significant screen presence, that manages in the end to win over another significant character or the audience. Certainly that applies to the official "bad guy" of the movie, the character of Adam. He exhibits numerous examples of despicable behavior during the movie. He asks Eve right in front of Walter for oral sex just minutes after being picked up, he is seen killing people on more than one occasion, and he puts Eve and Walter through much abuse (and more than one kind of abuse) during their journey. Yet at the same time, we in the audience are kept interested in this bastard. Though we learn he escaped from a lunatic asylum, we see he is far from stupid; it doesn't take him long to find the right buttons to push to aggravate and manipulate the couple. He quickly identifies Walter as a two-bit reporter, and sees that Eve has some attraction to him despite her protests. With those facts and others he manages to drag out, Adam simultaneously keeps the couple under control and inflicts a sadistic streak to satisfy his twisted mind. Oddly, he also has a moral side to him that comes out from time to time, like when he apologizes to Walter when he has to tie him up, or when he insists on "ladies first" when Walter is about to drink some alcohol. As you can see, Adam is written to be not your standard psychotic hitchhiker, and David Hess in the role wisely gives a performance that doesn't go all out and make the character a cartoon. He certainly portrays Adam as a real bad guy, but he also many times puts a slight playful twist in his performance that you almost laugh at Adam at times. He's intense, yet not totally predictable, so as I said, we in the audience look on curiously.

As it turns out, the character of Adam, with Hess' eccentric performance in the role, is entertaining and interesting enough that you almost wish that he prevail over the two so-called protagonists of the movie. As I implied in the previous paragraph, the characters of Walter and Eve aren't terribly likable. But like Adam, they are interesting to observe as well. Walter is repulsive from the opening scene, when he is seen aiming his rifle on his unsuspecting wife. He seems to view his wife as some kind of shrew who is only good for a sexual release. Yet as the movie progresses, we see clues that Walter is a man uneasy about his masculinity and power, especially when it comes to driving. He is too drunk to drive in the opening sequence, and he subsequently injures his hand so through most of the movie Eve has to drive for him. During one escape attempt he tries to drive away but the car won't start. And when he tries to drive later in the movie, the car gets stuck in the mud. Near the end of the movie he does manage to drive, but... I won't spoil what happens, except to say it's not good. During all this, the character of Walter frequently shows rage, a rage that could have turned off the audience, but actor Franco Nero gives his character's rage an undercurrent of feeling helpless and frustrated. You almost feel sorry for Walter, and like Adam, you look on with interest. As for the character of Walter's wife Eve, while her character isn't as written to be as complex as Walter or Adam, she occasionally shows some interesting character quirks. She is the one who decides to pick up Adam, and it's implied that she does so to irritate her bothersome husband. And later she has the chance to kill Adam, but chooses not to do so at the time; we can see from her face what's going on in her mind that stops her from ending the hostage situation. That last scene is one of several that allow actress Corinne Cléry to do some subtle yet effective acting. In those scenes, she says little to nothing, but her face tells the audience exactly what is going on in her character's mind. We may not like or approve of what this character is thinking, or doing for that matter, but this woman is so substantially unlike women you usually find in hostage movies that you watch her just as closely as the two male leads.

I have the feeling that some readers of this review may be at this point a little dismayed about my long examination of the characters of Hitch-Hike, feeling that the movie eschews blatant entertainment. To them I say don't worry - the movie does indeed have plenty of entertainment. One thing I failed to mention about Cléry's performance is that it involves a number of sequences where the character is naked and/or in sexual situations, and these scenes add some welcome heat. As for the violence portion of the movie, I will admit that while there isn't a terrible amount of bona fide violence, what there is does mostly pack a significant punch; you can feel each punch as well as every gunshot. For the majority of the running time, however, director Pasquale Festa Campanile (When Women Had Tails) focuses on maintaining a great deal of tension. The tension explodes into bursts of action and/or violence on a fairly regular basis, and these sequences do let off some steam and give the audience enough jolts so they won't think that essentially nothing is happening. Audiences won't be bored at any moment. Campanile also manages to capture the countryside in the background in a way that does make you feel the characters are far from civilization and help. However, there is a problem with it. While the events of the movie are taking place in the southwestern portion of the United States, the movie was actually shot in northern Italy. The Italian countryside may look beautiful and haunting, but it simply doesn't look like the United States. And I won't get into the phony-looking highway signs and the roadside cafe slash gas station the characters come across during their journey. But if you are used to Italian movies that disguise themselves as American, like I am, you know that such seams come with the territory and you'll probably forgive the movie for those things. Especially since the rest of Hitch-Hike works very well.

(Posted September 17, 2019)

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See also: Curfew, Rabid Dogs, To All A Good Night

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