September 10, 2014

Movie Review: Hitch-Hike (1977)

The world of cult, exploitation, and horror cinema holds a wealth of treasures. These movies have no limits, know no bounds, well, except for budgetary ones, but so what? It is fascinating to watch what a writer and director do to try and make interesting, involving, and boundary pushing films. Now, I am not sure that this particular film exactly qualifies as boundary pushing, but it is one that reminded me that you never know where you are going to uncover a gem. It is a movie that peels the rug back on ugliness, it shows its grimy underbelly to the world, and it could care less if you approve.

The movie is called Hitch Hike, or Death Ride in some places. You can also look at it as the movie that pits Django against Krug, rather, you get to watch a mean drunken Franco Nero match wits with a manipulative hitchhiker played by David Hess. Those names are familiar, right? Franco Nero has had a long cinematic history, notably playing the original Django (and appearing in Tarantino's tale), as well as appearing in movies like Die Hard 2 and Letters to Juliet (opposite his wife, Vanessa Redgrave). David Hess is famous for his exploitation films, like Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park, plus being musician (he wrote the songs for Last House on the Left). The match up well in this road film. They pulled out all the stops for writer/director Pasquale Festa Campanile.

Hitch Hike, on the surface, is a fairly simple film. We follow married couple Walter (Nero) and Eve Mancini (Corinne Clery, Moonraker) as they travel through California (actually shot in Italy) on their way home from vacation. They argue, he drinks, and they just do not seem the happiest of couples. He is a newspaper reporter, although he seems happy enough to live off the money of his wife's rich father. Anyway, they come across a broken down car and it's owner, Adam (Hess), in need of a ride. They offer it to him. As he gets in the car, the camera reveals the true owner of the broken down car, slumped behind the wheel with a bullet hole in his head. Signs of things to come?

It does not take long for it to be revealed that Adam is a bank robber on the run from the cops and, apparently, his former partners. We get a battle of attitudes between Mancini and Adam, with Eve stuck in the middle. We watch them trade barbs, and as Adam offers Mancini some money to join him in Mexico. Things take a violent turn when Adam's partners catch up, and when Adam decides to take something away from Walter. It gets ugly, and there are a lot of scenes in this film that feature some not very nice actions, engaged in by a few characters.

While, it may seem like a bad guy on the run movie, if you peel that back a little bit, you will find a movie about a disintegrating relationship. As much as this is about Hess and Nero, it is about Nero and Clery. Right from the start, we see they are in some rocky territory. They yell at each other, he abuses her, and they argue some more. The injection of Hess into the mix just puts a point on the troubles, forces them to go a little further a little faster than expected. Watching this trio do the dance they are involved in is pretty fascinating.

Hitch Hike is a movie that sucks you in. It holds your attention as these performers completely inhabit their roles. It is believable, it is ugly, it is violent. It is a movie that pulls no punches and is not interested in being your friend. It takes unexpected turns and ultimately leaves a ghastly mark on the psyche. It is no horror movie, but there are horrific things in it. It is a wonderful movie that is not quite what it seems to be and is happy to prove that to you. It also features a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone.

Highly Recommended.

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