Like most people I hate walking along a dark country road at the dead of night. The eerie sense of calm mixed with the ominous sounds of woodland creatures; at least you hope it is some kind of animal. And there is something about it which gives me the creeps. But then there are times when it feels oddly freeing to be utterly alone, it feels almost surreal at times, almost like a strange nightmarish dream. Which brings me rather nicely, into this road movie double bill, The Hitcher and Repo Man. These two cult classics chart a surreal coming of age tale about the end of the teens transcending into adulthood via some rather strange back roads. Be it through either extreme circumstances of life and death or a satirical sense of humour mixed with the banality of adult life from a teen perspective. But in the end both factor in life lessons which are learnt through either excessively violent actions or life changing musings on the cosmos.
Released in 1986, the Robert Harmon directed thriller stars Rutger Hauer and C.Thomas Howell as a murderous hitcher and his unsuspecting prey. As a young man named Jim travels across the state to deliver a car, he picks up what he appears to be a harmless hitchhiker. It quickly becomes apparent that said hitchhiker is in fact a murdering psychopath hell bent on driving Jim to madness. When Jim finally does escape his enemies clutches he finds that he has been framed for all of the murders the hitcher has committed. Now with the help of a truck stop waitress, Jim must prove his innocence; but at what cost.
For this you will need: One DVD of The Hitcher, a slightly nervous friend and a slightly deranged friend in a black over coat, all of which help to heighten the tension depicted on screen.
The second choice I have gone with is Alex Cox’s seminal cult classic about life, the universe and everything. Released in 1984 it follows the misadventures of a disillusioned punk named Otto who gets offered a job to repossess cars for a local junk yard. After finding out his stoner parents have given away his college fund to a televangelist, he decides to take the job of a repo man. During his training he quickly gets drawn into a more chaotic and surreal world of paranoid drivers, UFO conspiracies, ex-friends who have turned to a life of crime and drug addiction, and gets lectured on the ways of the cosmic unconsciousness by the junk yard crazy. All of which centres around a stolen, 1964 Malibu Chevy, with something very bright and radio active in the boot.
For this you will need: One DVD of Repo Man, it is a cult classic and should be in every serious film fans collection. I would then opt for a possible selection of classic punk CDs which can be played at your leisure to get you into the punk mindset. I would go with ‘The Clash’ by The Clash mixed in with a bit of The Ramones,Stiff Little Fingers and finally The Sex Pistols. While last but not least, a 64’ Malibu Chevy, but this is optional as most do not come with a glowing trunk which when opened, disintegrate curious individuals.
“You wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured?”- John Ryder
Where The Hitcher really excels is in the performance delivered by Hauer, his characterisation of John Ryder is that of a deranged and unhinged menace who can not be reasoned with. Doing what he does out of pure unadulterated pleasure of the torment of Jim and those around him. With that Hauer encompasses everything a legendary movie psychopath should include and it is a rare occurrence that an actor can chill a viewer to their very core just through their every subtle mannerisms. He genuinely frightens you and even if the film has been watched numerous times it is still hard to imagine what is ticking over in the characters mindset. The cold look of death and depravity the only traits which emerge through those soulless eyes.
With The Hitcher we have themes of death and mistaken identity running through its narrative, Hauer’s character of the hitcher is almost a representation of ‘death’ with his long black over coat and almost supernatural like ability to keep on ticking once he gets a licking.
“It’s what I call the Repo Code, kid!” – Bud
Repo Man deals with its themes of mind altering consciousness, with the added bite of an ironic edge. Within the film all the everyday products are given simplistic descriptions with the same colour scheme, there is no individuality as all contain the same blue and white look. Cans are simply labelled ‘Food’ and drink is either ‘Beer’ or London Dry Gin’ it seems to be a post modern look at the more extreme end of where consumerism could well take society.
So if The Hitcher is about dealing with the possibility of impending death from an maniacal and unstoppable force with only the agenda of chaos to disrupt a peaceful equilibrium. Then Repo Man is about the loss of our idealistic freedom of expression by facing facts and becoming an adult with a job to survive in the real world. Only to find the real world/adult life is more wacked out and crazy then anything a young adult could ever comprehend.
But why do they make such a good double bill? Well besides the inclusion of the road movie theme and desert locales shown within the film. With such a heavy and violent film as The Hitcher lingering in air, there needs to be less bleak and more philosophical tone.
Each film also contains their fair share of standout moments. Barring Hauer’s chilling performance The Hitcher also has some expertly crafted action set pieces which are taut and suspenseful. To begin with the moment where Jim’s love interest (a young role for Jennifer Jason Leigh) is kidnapped by Ryder and tied one end to a trailer the other to a truck and slowly pulled apart. It is one of the more excruciating moments depicted in a mainstream film. It is also another one of those golden moments of what we do not see our imagination makes up for, all of which is done with sound effects, well placed tension and after the fact moments. The heart is truly racing because the tension is almost unbearable even if you know what the inventible conclusion is going to be as she gets stretched horrifyingly slowly. Then there is the final desperate man vs. crazed lunatic showdown on a deserted road a winner takes all scenario.
Quintessentially Repo Man is also a road movie, but not in the most conventional of senses. Even though there is no fixed narrative it does contain a subplot of the character Frank who owns the 64’ Malibu Chevy, who is driving across the state to reach his destination (which is never quite concluded) as he loses and gains back his car various times before Otto takes possession. Where the first film is more of a thriller in its genre depictions, Repo Man contains a veritable mishmash of genre elements such as sci-fi and action with satirical witticisms peppered throughout.
Several moments which really standout include the first instance of state trooper asking Frank ‘What’s in the truck?’ which is quickly followed by the trooper being vaporised in a flash of neon pink light. His still smoking boots the only remnants of what remains as the Chevy drives off, down the desert highway. Then the final showdown where everything comes to a very surreal conclusion as the car glows an unearthly luminous green, before Otto and the philosophising junk yard worker Miller take it for a supersonic spin through the cosmos. Lest I forget, there is a great punk soundtrack with title song by Iggy Pop and some of the most instantly quotable lines from such an appreciated cult classic.
After both films credits have rolled what have you gained from two very unique but very different road movies? Well with The Hitcher you have at its conclusion a character who appreciates his being that much more, but is then left wondering dazed and confused. Whereas Repo Man tries to answer the question what do you do when you are disenchanted with your job and societies rules? You make your own – in the true punk tradition.