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Hitch Hike To Hell
Howard Martin (Robert Gribbin) makes his living as a delivery man for a dry-cleaning company in Crescent City, California. He lives at home with his unusually affectionate mother (Dorothy Bennett), who is clearly damaged ever since his sister Judy split some time ago. Howard's boss, Mr. Baldwin (John Harmon), has been coming down on the young man as of late, the reason being that he's chronically late. This causes Howard headaches and the headaches cause confusion. Howard has seen better days, that's for sure.
The truth behind Howard's lateness is a lot more unusual than just laziness or a matter of forgetting to set the alarm clock. See, he's got a side project going where he picks up runaway teenage girls and, after belittling them for the grief they must be causing their poor, poor mothers, assaulting them and then murdering them in cold blood. The local police, led by Captain J.W. Shaw (Russell Johnson) and Lieutenant Davis (Randy Echols), obviously catch wind of the killings, which seem to be increasing in frequency, and as the pressure mounts on them, do what they can to crack the case before the killer strikes again. Howard, however, is becoming increasingly more unraveled, and more dangerous, by the day…
There's definitely some cult appeal in a movie where The Professor from Gilligan's Island has to hunt down a maniacal serial killer, so it's easy to see how this one has garnered an audience over the years. Directed by Irvin Berwick (credited as simply ‘Irv Berwick'), the man who directed The Monster Of Piedras Blancas and Malibu High, and distributed by the mighty Harry Novak's Box Office International, Hitchhike To Hell is a scuzzy little low budget picture that benefits from some great location work and an effective concept. We've all heard the urban legends about hitchhikers getting murdered out there on lone, desolate stretches of highway around the country and this movie does a more than solid job of cashing in on that idea.
The film hits pretty much all of the drive-in/grindhouse arena prerequisites of its day, showcasing some nudity and some strong violence perpetuated against a cast of ‘teenaged' women (no one in this movie was a teenager!) but at the same time, it also appears to be at least trying to simultaneously server as a warning against the very real dangers of taking a ride in the middle of nowhere in a car belonging to someone you've never met. The naivety of Howard's victims is inevitably their downfall, but then, as the story progresses and his mind becoming more and more deranged, Howard takes things up a notch, offing a gay man and a young girl, muddying whatever Berwick might have been attempting to say here. But hey, if this isn't an educational film, it was clearly never meant to be and as a grimy slice of exploitative horror, it's pretty effective.
Robert Gribbin makes for a pretty interesting lead. He's squirrely and more than a little quirky, playing the weirdo with just enough enthusiasm to make it work. Dorothy Bennett is appropriately eerie as his overbearing mother, while Russell Johnson and Randy Echols are enjoyable enough as the two main cops in the picture. Production values are decent enough. The movie is pretty well shot and features an appropriately wonky theme song courtesy of chanteuse Nancy Adams (who also sang ‘Love' on the soundtrack to Disney's 1972 animated version of Robin Hood!).
Hitchhike To Hell arrives on Blu-ray in your choice of 1.33.1 fullframe and 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratios in an AVC encoded transfer in 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc. There's a bit of print damage on the 35mm source used for the transfer but nothing ruinous or even distracting. Colors look pretty good here, though there are some scenes where skin tones look a tad pinker than maybe they should, while black levels are pretty strong. There's considerably more detail here, and better depth, than there was on the DVD release that came out via Something Weird/Image Entertainment years ago. The transfer is film-like throughout, showing no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. As to the aspect ratio, both options look fine. There isn't really any important information missing in the widescreen version, though things can look a tad tight, while in the fullframe version we get a bit more headroom. Either way you slice it, it's always nice to have options!
The English language DTS-HD Mono track sounds just fine. Dialogue is clear, though occasionally the levels seem to jump a little bit here and there. The track doesn't have a whole lot of depth but overall it sounds pretty solid. There are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
The bulk of the extras on the disc are made up of featurettes, the first of which is Of Monsters and Morality: The Strange Cinema Of Irvin Berwick wherein we spend twenty-nine-minutes with Stephen Thrower. Here he speaks about how Irvin Berwick got his start in the film industry before then going on to discuss how he worked his way up from doing sound to directing films in various genres from horror to drama to sexploitation and even some XXX material. Thrower also explores what makes Hitchhike so entertaining and even ties Berwick's career into the Kennedy Assassination! Up next is Road To Nowhere: Hitchhiking Culture Goes To Hell, a twenty-one-minute video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that takes a look at the phenomena of hitch-hiking as it exists in the real world and as it is portrayed in the movies. She ties it into different film genres and to its odd place in history and explores the different themes and motifs that are used in this film and others that deal with the subject. Nancy Adams On The Road spends twenty-five-minutes with the actress talks about befriending the film's producer which led to her appearing in the picture. She then talks about how her husband talked her into using Lovin' On My Mind in the movie and finally seeing it years later when her husband got a copy of it and how she feels about the film overall.
Rounding out the extras are two theatrical trailers, a lyric video for Lovin' On My Mind, an alternate opening title sequence, menus and chapter selection. For the BD-Rom equipped, you can also access a PDF version of the film's original pressbook on your PC. Arrow packages the first edition of this release with a full color insert that includes, alongside credits for the feature and the disc, an essay from Heather Drain that is well-worth reading. We also get some nice reversible cover art with the newly created image on one side and the original poster art on the other side.
Hitchhike To Hell is an effectively scuzzy picture, a solid mix of horror and exploitation with some interesting characters and memorable set pieces. Arrow has done a great job bringing this to Blu-ray with a fine presentation and with a nice array of supplements too. Recommended.
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.