There's a handful of movies from the 1980s that just had such fantastic premises they'll always be remembered. Robert Harmon's The Hitcher was one of those films. A lone guy is driving through the desert, picks up a creepy-looking hitch hiker played by Rutger Hauer who turns out to be a serial killer and rather than just kill the guy, the hitcher kills everyone around him and tries to pin the murders on him. Fantastic. Okay, I'll admit The Hitcher did really push the boundaries of reality in the supernatural way that Hauer always managed to be one step ahead of everyone but on the whole the film was very solid.
So fast forward 17 years and Harmon returns with another horror/thriller set on the open road Highwaymen. Sure it doesn't top The Hitcher but it's a very solid little flick. Jim Caviezel (best known for playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion) plays Rennie Cray a burnt out shell of a man out for revenge against the mysterious driver who ran down his wife years earlier. You see the hit and run with his wife wasn't an accident, this driver is a serial killer, who uses a car like Jason Voorhees uses a machete, who kills women for fun. Along for the ride is Molly, played by Rhona Mitra, an innocent woman who Cray saves from the killer only to try and use her as bait to lure him out later.
This film was at the cinema for like a week before going to video. It got a couple of good reviews but mostly torn to shreds by critics. I caught it on TV late one night and if you wanna check out this flick I recommend you do the same, put it on about 11pm. The whole movie sort of plays out like a dream/nightmare. There's a lot of dream-like scenes, not least the opening scene where Cray's wife gets run over that plays out in bleach bypass slow-mo. There's also a great bit involving a crash between a car and horse trailer in a tunnel, where Molly staggers out of the car only to see the surviving horse wander around confused. Horses should be in more horror movies, they just seem like perfect omens of evil.
I honestly don't know how Jim Caviezel got cast in this film. I mean the guy's worked with Terence Malick, Ang Lee, and played Jesus (where he spoke all his dialogue in Latin no less). And here he turns up in a grimy lurid low budget revenge thriller. It's weird, he seems quite humourless in interviews but I guess he must have a dark side to pick this film. He's also pretty great in Outlander, another fun glossy b-movie, which I'll get on to reviewing eventually. He's sort of fun b-movie hero, he's not beefy like Stallone and he doesn't do quips like Bruce Campbell, but he does give the character an above-average characterisation of barely suppressed rage.
Mark Isham does a great, great score – stripped back guitar full of repeating motives, not dissimilar from Neil Young's score for Dead Man. Sadly, it's not available in shops but you might find it floating around the net if you look hard enough. The whole film's wrapped up in 80 minutes so it's pretty short but also pretty tight. It never lags, which when you're making a film about cars should be a given. Like Harmon's earlier film there's some logic gaps and leaps of faith you've got to make, like Cray having a sixth sense for where the killer will turn up. All the stunts are very well done and as for the killer's identity, I won't spoil it... you'll either think, cool or wow, that's massively distasteful and pretty stupid. Obviously I'm in the former camp.
Anyway, if you've seen and like The Hitcher, check this film out. It's got a little bit of the same vibe and would make a great double bill.