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Real Horror: It’s What You Don’t See

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The Hitcher was by no means a classic of horror. It was well made and well acted and original for the most part, but it never grabbed the following of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th, which is a shame to be honest. It was one of my favorite horror movies of all time mainly because it is one of the few that actually got to me. It scared me; it kept me literally on the edge of my seat with no clue as to what will happen next. That is rare for me and movies.

The Hitcher stars C. Thomas Howell as a guy whose name is unimportant to me. He had a name, I guarantee, but I cannot remember it for the life of me and am too lazy to IMDb it. Anyway, he plays a guy who is being paid to drive a car across country. It is a long and boring drive and he was told not to take riders, but it is a long and boring drive and he notices a hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) out in the rain. He should have listened to his boss. The hitcher quickly reveals himself to be a psycho who has thus far murdered everyone who has picked him up and plans the same for poor C. Tommy, but C. Tommy has a will to live, kicks Rutger out of a moving car, and the chase is on.

While the plot of the movie is by no means deep, it does serve as the vehicle we are strapped into for the rest of the ride. This is not a movie made for the story, it was made for those moments that make up the story. What this movie does so well is take us back to an era where special effects were special and not constant. Never does a killing take place on screen, and that is where this movie gets its power. We never know exactly just how insane Rutger is until the famous truck scene near the end. The rest is told to us through the actors' faces and not on-screen gore.

I have not seen the new one and am basing every word of this on reviews of the remake. I have read numerous accounts of the “police station” scene and I can tell you that the original is done with much more style.

C. Thomas Howell is suspected of the murders that the hitcher has committed due to the latter’s very clever frame up. C. Tommy gets arrested and falls asleep in his jail cell. The scene is reassuring because the hitcher cannot get to Tommy while in police custody, right? Tommy wakes up and his cell door is open. He slowly leaves his cell and wanders through a police station filled with dead cops, but we do not see the cops. We see Tommy seeing the cops. We see blood on the walls and desks and phones, but no cops. The scene is amazing in its strength because somehow this psycho killed an entire station and C. Tommy is supposed to beat that.

The 2007 remake has this exact same scene, only done with that Michael Bay flair. The scene is shown from the hitcher’s perspective instead, set to the music of Nine Inch Nails, and every detail is shown. It apparently is shot like a music video and made to thrill the audience. This sort of changes the entire story and draw because now the audience is thrilled to see the hitcher instead of the fear they are supposed to feel. The makers missed the point of this movie. We are supposed to sympathize and side with C. Tommy and not Rutger.

Okay, to give them some slack, there are horror movies that are about the thrill of watching someone die. I will give them that. The Friday the 13th movies and Nightmare on Elm Street movies are all about the killer and the kills, but not all horror movies are about that. Some try to place you in the victim’s shoes instead and want the audience to feel horror when the killer is shown and not get excited because something cool is about to happen. What made Texas Chainsaw a masterpiece is that 99% of the gore is not shown. The bad things happen behind closed doors and the filmmakers force you to come up with what happens. It is really more effective that way because we will each come up with something different that scares us instead of the filmmaker showing us what scares them.

I understand this move towards showing gore in movies today and it actually has everything to do with the war in Iraq, to be honest. If one looks at the history of horror movies one cannot help but notice that it always reflects the political atmosphere. The '50s gave us stories of people being controlled by evil aliens at the same time we were afraid of people secretly being communists and invasions from outer space while we feared another global war. Movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob played perfectly on those fears.

The '60s saw a rise in the gore and torture films such as Bloodfeast just as Vietnam was getting more and more unpopular. In fact, the gore and torture only increased as the decade wore on. The '70s saw us no longer having faith in our government so naturally the Devil became a major villain with religion no longer being able to protect us in such classics as The Exorcist and The Omen and the '80s saw the birth of the personable killer because the '80s were all about style over substance.

It really is no surprise to me that in the days of Abu Ghraib we are seeing a return to the torture/gore movies. I just wish they would do original stories like Hostel and Saw and leave our classics alone — no matter how non-classic they may be.

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About Brad Schader

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I’m a huge fan of the original Hitcher as well, Brad. More than anything the film just works on a high level, telling a simple and engaging and scary story, and Howell’s and Hauer’s performances are outstanding.

    And the finger scene will stay with me always!

    Whatever happened to C. Thomas Howell by the way? He was a big star for a while there in the ’80s, great in movies like Soul Man.

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com Brad Schader

    Soulman killed his career I think. It was viewed as a racist movie. He never recovered.

  • Aaron Dorling

    Re: Brad re Eric re CTH. I second that. He was killed by a 98 minute racist joke. Soul Man was his rise and fall from fame. The unjustified box office of the movie itself came on the strength of one funny site gag in its much hyped trailer, the lynching of a cabbage patch doll.

    The disappointment. Once that gag was done with in the movie I started to wonder why I was still watching.

    Nowadays theres no shortage of movies that edit down all 3 minutes of humor into a trailer perpetuating to be 98 minutes of rolling-in-the-aisle hilarity.

    Nice blog though Brad. The first Alien movie also succeeded using a similar style (though not short on gore). One of the crew is killed in the air ducts while we, through the eyes of crew, are horrified watching two converging blips on a screen.

    I did take the IMDB challenge though, and saw this:

    The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting (2003)

    I am going to try really hard not to slow down at that car wreck.

  • http://www.deanmadonia.com Dean Madonia

    actually, the gore started out after the original version of the movie “The Omen.” came out. That was the first movie to show all of the gore including the rediculous severed head in slow motion, bouncing on a pane of glass. After that box-office smash, Hollywood decided to show all. This has been a mistake in my opinion. There is no suspense if you show it all. It’s like if everyone walked around naked all of the time. There is no mystery. no expectation.
    A ‘Blood and guts” or “Hack and slash” movie is not horror. it’s only gore and the audiences are mostly immune to the shock value at this point. the only way to reach someone and really scare them is psycologically – with suspense. There is no suspense when you know that a bunch of bad, teen actors are going to be slowly killed by an unstoppable force one by one.
    When will hollywood learn this? never. Now that pandora’s box of gore has been opened, I am afraid movies will never be made for mature audiences – ie: adults.