Event Report: FANGORIA Presents “THE HITCHER” (1986) at Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers!Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Truth be told, there’s few horror films that effectively scared this writer- as in legitimate goosebumps and fear- in his youth as much as Robert Harmon’s THE HITCHER. The way that the film almost immediately descended you into terror, as well as the epic scope of the production and the nuanced brutality of the piece, made it feel somewhat more real and dangerous. And say what you’d like about Roy Batty, but for my money, Rutger Hauer has never been outright scarier than in the role of the enigmatic (and demonically paternal) John Ryder.
So when this writer learned that my colleague Michael Gingold would be bringing THE HITCHER to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY, and on 35mm, my excitement level was at an all-time high. I don’t think I’d ever seen the movie theatrically, even during the days in college where I’d hijack the campus theater every Wednesday for my wicked array of double feature goodness, and it was also a film I had not revisited in quite some time since the film has yet to come to Blu-ray. So I marked the date on my calendar and set my expectations to high as I attempted to rally as many of my horror hound friends as possible.
However, it had appeared fate was not on FANGORIA’s side: despite a week straight of weather in the ’40s and ’50s, the day of THE HITCHER screening was hit by an unforeseen snowstorm, threatening 4 to 8 inches in total (and on the first day of spring, no less.) Hell, the incoming weather even gave this writer pause as to whether the roads would be safe enough to make the trek down. Yet I threw caution aside, hopped in my car and realized that the snow was much more bark than bite, with the roads barely covered and a brisk flow of traffic on my side.
Despite a meager turnout thanks to the snow, those who did show up for the film were ecstatic to see THE HITCHER on the big screen; they were the kinds of horror fans that put the word “cult” in cult classics. And with the variety of horror fare offered this weekend, between SPRING, BACKCOUNTRY, ZOMBEAVERS, THE WALKING DECEASED and GHOUL as well as the expansion of IT FOLLOWS, it was incredibly cool to see the few tried-and-true fright fans who braved the weather for a film that was almost 30 years old at this point. And, of course, it always helps that the screening is at the Alamo, a place that will keep you warm, fed and cozy, no matter how bad the storm is outside.
Before the film began, FANGORIA’s Michael Gingold took the stage, giving his trademark informed and enthusiastic introduction. Gingold offered some great trivia tidbits about the film, including that Terence Stamp, Sam Elliott and even co-star Jeffrey DeMunn were offered the role of THE HITCHER before the pitch-perfect Hauer and that Gingold himself was there for a NYC screening upon it’s initial release that was crashed by HITCHER scribe Eric Red and friends. And lastly, Gingold of course addressed the elephant in the room which was the ill-received Platinum Dunes remake of THE HITCHER, one which is weak even when compared to the rest of Dunes’ questionable remake slate.
After Gingold’s introduction, we were served two pre-show vintage trailers, courtesy of the good folks at the Alamo Drafthouse. The first was the Rutger Hauer action vehicle WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, a then-contemporary big screen adaptation of the ’58 Western TV series starring Steve McQueen that famously followed the first season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which pit Hauer against a terrorist played by none other than KISS bassist Gene Simmons; of course, ’80s action insanity ensues. The second was none other than Hauer’s possibly premiere cult classics: BLIND FURY, in which Hauer plays a blind samurai Vietnam veteran forced to save his old war buddy from a designer drug cartel. It’s a flick that truly needs to be seen to be believed, and the trailer shows exactly why.
Following the trailers, the precious few who did make it out to the Drafthouse were treated to the 35mm presentation, all with the beautiful yet organic flaws and perks of any film presentation. But it felt even more right for such a sweaty, freaky movie like THE HITCHER, whose print was still even in excellent condition despite pushing 30 years of storage and maintenance. And luckily, the film holds up in a big way: every set piece was incredibly thrilling and effective, and the performances are still equally as amazing as they were upon first viewing. In fact, this writer walked away from the screening with an even greater appreciation for the film’s cinematography from Oscar winner John Seale (who won the award a month prior to THE HITCHER’s release), especially in the moments leading up to the infamous truck scene.
All in all, while FANGORIA wishes the weather would have been better so that more could have made the screening, the night was ultimately an excellent time, with seriously dedicated horror fans showing their love to a seriously disturbing horror flick. THE HITCHER is definitely a film that deserves to be revisited, especially on the big screen in the way that it was meant to be seen. And thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers and my colleague Mr. Gingold, this writer had that opportunity, and I can honestly say I don’t know when I might get that opportunity again.