A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are a number of vicious killings in this film, frequently by gunshot, and there's even a hint that a whole family with children has been massacred -- although viewers don't see it happen. In fact, a lot of the very worst gore (and, given the opportunities, it could have been much worse) is left off-screen and to viewers' jangled imagination. That said, a scene in which a character is chained to an 18-wheeler truck, ready to be torn apart when the vehicle moves, is infamous.
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What's the story?
In THE HITCHER, California-bound youth Jim Halsy (C. Thomas Howell) picks up rain-drenched stranger John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) on a lonely road. Almost at once, Ryder announces himself as a maniac who has just cut up the last motorist who gave him a ride; now he's going to do the same to Jim. After Jim summons the courage to eject Ryder from his car, he suddenly finds himself encountering the mad hitchhiker again on the road. Ryder is ambushing and killing other drivers, taking their vehicles and tracking Jim. He manages to frame Jim for the murders, and soon the long Texas highways are crisscrossed by gun-toting, menacing lawmen ready to take Jim -- dead or alive. The only person who believes in Jim's innocence is Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a waitress at the diner he stops at to call the police for help. Soon she and Jim are both fugitives -- with Ryder still on their tail.
Is it any good?
With its vicious, motivation-free violence, this elemental thriller isn't as bad as other exploitation movies trading on rampant sex and brutality. It gives scant background information about characters and relies on minimal dialogue; it doesn't even use background music to set the mood for most of the mayhem. The result is that your imagination fills in a lot of details, and the script turns out to be a lot more cunning than the many teen-oriented 1980s slasher-horror formula flicks that preceded this one.
The Hitcher maintains a disturbing theme: that the terrorized, guiltless Jim, in the course of his relationship with Ryder, learns bloodlust, too. Parents can relate that to the innumerable villains who have told heroes things like "We're very much the same, you and I," in their respective comic books.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cruel game the script plays, hinting at some kind of willing give-and-take in the hunter-prey relationship between psychopathic killer John Ryder and frightened, innocent young Jim - the only character who seems able to combat him. In that sense, this R-rated movie parallels the strange, almost father-son relationship in what is typically considered a wholesome family classic -- Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island -- in which another murderous John (Silver) is the mentor and benefactor (yet the deadly enemy) of a boy named Jim (Hawkins). Those names can't be just coincidental. Ask teens what they think of the two stories, and the parallels. If nothing else, you'll get them reading Treasure Island with fresh eyes. If you've seen the 2007 remake, you can also compare the two films. Which one is more effective? Why?
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