When a bus breaks down on somewhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest on its way to Spokane, the five passengers and the driver aren't sure what to do. One of the ladies on board, a young divorcee named Stacia (Fairuza Balk of Almost Famous) decides to head out on her own and hitch her way to the hotel up the highway, while a woman named Birdy (Laurene Landon of the first two Maniac Cop films) and a guy named Danny (Malcolm Kennard who was Abel in the last two Matrix sequels) accept a ride from a trucker named Jim (the instantly recognizable Michael Moriarty) who stops by to see if he can help. He takes the two of them to the trading post up the highway but Birdy doesn't make it back when Jim decides to hang her on a meat-hook in his trailer. He takes Danny back to the bus only to find that the young couple and the driver have been slaughtered by a young hitchhiker in a cowboy hat and a duster named Walker (Warren Kole). Jim kills Danny and then starts to get territorial, deciding that he doesn't like another killer sneaking in on his terrain.
Meanwhile, Stacia has made it to the hotel but unbeknownst to her and to one another, so have Walker and Jim. Both killers know that the other one will want a shot at finishing Stacia off and so a game of cat and mouse begins with her used as the bait. She clues into what is going on fairly quickly and she's sharp enough that she's not wandering around out in the middle of nowhere without a way to defend herself but will it be enough when the homicidal maniacs are closing in and she has no one else to turn to?
While there are a couple of grisly murders and one truly disturbing gore set piece in the feature, unfortunately Pick Me Up doesn't have much going for it in the way of suspense and it instead plays off as more of a quirky black comedy than a horror film. While this worked well for Landis' Deer Woman, sadly here it just isn't as interesting or as funny. The best part of the production is definitely Michael Moriarty's (best known for his work on Law & Order) performance as Jim Wheeler, the trucker with a penchant for killing. His New York accent and shuffly oddball mannerisms lend some believability to the character that suits the story very well and which brings some interesting characteristics to the role. You can see how people would come to trust him initially and you can also see how he might get a little intimidating once you got to know him a little better. Warren Kole is decent enough as the Southern gentleman maniac hitchhiker but his character doesn't really have much in the way of motivation and there's nothing about him that distinguishes him from other charming killers we've seen in other, better horror films. The other lead, Fairuza Balk, is also quite good as the perpetual victim in the film. She's an unusually attractive woman with interesting and distinct facial features and her performance is sufficiently realistic. It's also nice to see her use her head while she's being stalked in the later part of the production, something that a lot of horror movies don't let their female victims do too often.
Sadly, the comedy in the film isn't funny enough to make Pick Me Up a really good black comedy and the horror elements aren't strong enough to provide any scares. The script, from David Schow who wrote The Crow and Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: Leatherface can't seem to make up its mind which direction it wants to go in and while director Larry Cohen, the man behind It's Alive and God Told Me Too, does a good job with the material, the direction isn't strong enough to make this one of more than passing interest.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the image looks very good and the picture is quite sharp throughout though oddly enough if you look for it you might pick up on some really mild blurring during scenes of fast movement. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes as well as some shimmering and aliasing in spots (you'll really pick up on this when you see the grill of the truck) but there's very little to complain about otherwise. Black levels are strong and deep, there are no issues at all with print damage, dirt or debris on the picture and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds, particularly those used in the gore scenes, are well defined without bleeding through.
Anchor Bay presents Pick Me Up in your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Both mixes sound very good with plenty of lower end bass response and some very nice instances of channel separation throughout – particularly during finale and the murder scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There were a few spots on the 5.1 mix that could have been a little more aggressive in the rear channels but otherwise things sound really good here especially during the last few minutes of the production. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options.
First up in the extra features department is a full length audio commentary track with director Larry Cohen who covers how he came on board the series and what it was like working on Pick Me Up. He covers casting and shooting on a lower budget out in Vancouver under a deadline and he elaborates on a few interesting side notes and anecdotes along the way. If you've listened to one of his tracks before you'll know what to expect – a nice mix of genuinely good information and fun humor.
From there we move on to the first of two featurettes, Death On The Highway which is a pretty lengthy interview with Cohen that is primarily based around his work on this feature. He covers some of the same material here that he did in the commentary but there's enough new information in here to make it worth a look. Much more interesting to most fans will be the Working With A Master featurette which is roughly an hour's worth of biographical and retrospective information on Larry Cohen's career. Interviewed here are recent collaborators like the ones he worked with on this project but also people that Cohen has worked with in the past like Karen Black and Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson. It's interesting to hear about Cohen's start in the world of low budget exploitation and then his move towards horror in the seventies and eighties. His blaxploitation movies are covered as are his Alive films and this is a really interesting and well rounded look at the man and the films that he has made so far.
Up next are the interviews, starting with Michael Moriarty who has more to say then the other two as he had worked with Cohen before this project on Q The Winged Serpent, The Stuff and It's Alive III: Island Of The Alive. Moriarty does a good job of covering his working relationship with the director and explaining his involvement in Pick Me Up. The interviews with Fairuza Balk and Warren Kole don't turn out quite as well but they're still worth checking out if you happened to enjoy the feature as they elaborate on their characters a bit and give their side of the production story. Also included is another Fantasy Film Festival clip in which Mick Garris interviews Larry Cohen at around the time that It Lives Again was released in 1978. It's a fairly interesting piece and while it's dated and obviously not all that current it does have a fun sort of retro charm to it that makes it an enjoyable look back at where Cohen's career was at the time.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are the standard script to screen comparison and behind the scenes montages that seem to be standard on the Masters Of Horror discs, trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes, a still gallery, a Larry Cohen text biography, in DVD-Rom format, the original screenplay and a screensaver. An odd looking trading card featuring an illustrated picture of Cohen's head is also included as is an insert with the chapter listing on it.
Anchor Bay continues to do a really great job releasing these episodes and their work on Masters Of Horror - Pick Me Up is on par with the earlier releases in the series. Unfortunately, while this entry has its moments they're few and far between and the fact that the film is devoid of any suspense or terror makes it of questionable value to genre fans. Rent it as the extra features make this worth a look for fans of Larry Cohen.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.