The Hitcher is still considered one of the creepiest movies of the 1980’s and thankfully it is now available to own on DVD. To celebrate the 14th July region two release, we have an exclusive interview with three of the primary people behind the making of the DVD. Recently we were lucky enough to interview Robert Harmon (the Director of The Hitcher and the upcoming Highwaymen), Eric Red (the screenwriter) and Jörg Bauer (the DVD Producer). Robert Harmon and Eric Red are probably familiar to you as they have worked on movies such as Near Dark, Nowhere to Run, and of course The Hitcher. Jörg, however probably needs an introduction, he started working as a DVD Producer for Kinowelt Home Entertainment, an independent DVD production company based in Munich, and has worked on such great DVD's as Angel Heart, Prince Of Darkness and They Live. He has recently started up his own business and is now working as a freelancing DVD producer. You will see some of his work in the future on titles such as MGM's Escape From New York Special Edition and many more.
Do you feel The Hitcher has
aged since its original release?
Robert Harmon: Well, I'd like to think I'm a better director now, as "The Hitcher" was a first film for me. But we designed the movie to be somewhat 'lost in time,' without any clear references to dates -- and as the story takes place in a physical space that's also very hard to date, I think the film has aged pretty well.
Eric Red: I think it remains a textbook example of a taut, linear, convincing and efficient horror thriller. It's a well-oiled machine.
Jörg Bauer: I watched The Hitcher in 1988 when it came out. It instantly became one of my all time favourite movies. When I prepared the DVD I watched The Hitcher for the first time in over 15 years. And to my surprise it hasn't aged a bit. It is not an 80's movie like most of the other movies that were made at that time. It is an absolutely timeless classic.
I couldn't imagine anyone but Rutger playing the role of John Ryder. How did you go about choosing him for the role, and were you pleased with the end result?
Robert Harmon: The easiest question in the world. I agree: "The Hitcher" is unthinkable without Rutger Hauer. He brought a nobility and near "god-like" quality to the role which, considering who John Ryder is, was vitally important. And nobody can do that like Rutger!
Eric Red: I imagined other people playing the role, but he nailed it.
Nearly twenty years on I still
find the opening scene between Jim Halsey and John Ryder to be very creepy. What
do you think makes it so unnerving?
Robert Harmon : The silences, the ambiance, the combination of odd language causing some level of concern to the characters, followed by laughter and lightness. You don't really know which way it's going to go...
Eric Red: The fact that is just two guys in a car, the dialogue, looks and glances giving the slow reveal that one is a bloodthirsty psychopath and the other is going to get really really hurt. The claustrophobic confinement of the sequence and the visceral performances contributed to the effectiveness. There's no gore, just the potential of what can happen.
Jörg Bauer : I think it's a situation which really can happen to people like you and me. There's no spaceship with aliens or a bloodsucking monster who steals bodies. This is stuff which can happen everywhere, any time and to everybody for real. And, of course, Eric's clever writing and most of all Rutger as John Ryder are the reason you get hypnotized by this scene every time you watch it.
Have you had any input into The Hitcher 2?
Robert Harmon : None whatsoever. Didn't even know it was happening.
Eric Red: No, I passed on the project. I heard the film was lousy.
There is a worrying trend of remakes these days, do you think The Hitcher will ever get remade?
Robert Harmon : I have no idea. I'd guess that the mere existence of the above referenced "Hitcher II" wouldn't make this possibility any more likely.
Eric Red: There's no plans.
(Famous last words - lol)
The movie is said to be
inspired by the Doors song, "Riders on the Storm". Can you elaborate on that?
Robert Harmon : A question for Eric Red, I'd think.
Eric Red: I thought the elements of the song--a killer on the road in a storm plus the cinematic feel of the music--would make an terrific opening for a film. I started with that scene and went from there.
The DVD format has been around for a few years now, why has The Hitcher taken so long?
Jörg Bauer : Actually, it was released on DVD in Germany a couple of years ago, but it was from an old video master, in full screen presentation and with the German language track only. It was a really crappy DVD. Then, two years ago, Kinowelt made a big deal with Studio Canal who also owned the European rights for The Hitcher. I begged my boss to get these rights, too, but he didn't know the movie at that time. After watching it he immediately started to make phone calls to get these rights.
When putting together a DVD, how do you make decisions on what to include and what not to include, how hard do you work to get the best available features and commentaries?
Jörg Bauer : On the technical side it all depends on the budget. With The Hitcher it was maybe the largest amount of money a German company or even European company has spent to create exclusive special features for a European DVD release, but this doesn't mean it was really big bucks. Compared to US major companies we didn't even spend half of the money they would need for this DVD if they produced it in the States.
On the creative side it was an easy task. I am a big movie buff and I have watched and collected movies from a very early age. So I went from video tapes to laserdiscs to DVDs. As a fervent user of this format and a film fan I know exactly what I want to get from a DVD.
I wanted to do an audio commentary and a documentary from the very beginning. These are the most interesting features. Especially in the documentary you get the most interesting information and you also get to know the persons who created the movie. So I contacted Robert, Rutger, Eric and the others and when they told me they wanted to participate I was as happy as I can get. Then Rutger offered me the short movie he directed, Robert told me about his short movie and Eric sent me his script were I later found the different scenes.
From there. I went looking for what else could be interesting, what can I get and does it fit into my budget? Of course the budget never is as high as you need it to be, so I had to do almost everything myself. Editing the audio commentaries of the selected scenes on my own home computer or scanning all the screenplay pages on my scanner was only the beginning. This is one of my favourite movies and I had the chance to create the perfect DVD the Hitcher fans would enjoy. For me it wasn't just another DVD I was producing, this was a one time chance to honour this classic movie in the best way possible.
With the evolution of DVD, how
much consideration is given to the DVD release when filming a movie?
Robert Harmon : For me, none. I'm just happy that I can continue to use the 2:35 format, which I love, without worrying so much about the "TV" version.
Were you excited by the challenge of bringing The Hitcher onto the DVD medium?
Jörg Bauer : You have no idea. It was a dream come true!
Given the massive fan base The Hitcher has, did you feel under any added pressure?
Jörg Bauer : No, not really. As I said I am one of the biggest Hitcher fans and I am also my own hardest critic. I knew exactly what I wanted, but of course you have to compromise here and there.
What are your favourite extras on this disc?
Jörg Bauer : The short films! Rutger's movie was so interesting because it was so different from the stuff you would expect from him. As a fan of The Hitcher you want to know how the movie was made, but you also want to know about the people who made that movie and what else they did, and what they are doing right now. You want to know what has changed 17 years after making The Hitcher. Someone mentioned that Rutger's short film has no relation to The Hitcher and they don't understand why it is on the DVD. Just look at it! You have a short movie directed by "John Ryder" and you can see what a fantastic director he is. What else do you need for a reason? A different story with Robert Harmon's China Lake. It all started with Eric's script and Robert’s short movie. If you have watched the documentary you hear from every person that it was China Lake which convinced them to finally say yes to do this movie. Robert’s short movie is a big part of the reason why The Hitcher turned out the way it did, and only after watching this short movie do you really understand what everybody was saying about it in my documentary.
Were there any extras which were talked about/planned, yet didn't make the final DVD?
Jörg Bauer : Well, I wish I had been lucky enough to get Jennifer Jason Leigh. I would have loved to hear her thoughts after all these years.
Editorial by Richard Schuchardt