In the darkness a matchstick strikes a cigarette as a young Jim Halsey is seen driving through the night, struggling to keep awake as he sips on his coffee.
The road is seemingly empty, the night looks cold and nothing but a beetle car drives past. After nearly falling asleep and having a near collision with a truck, Jim strikes up his attention at a passer by looking to hitch a ride.
It is perhaps one of the most intense and eerie openings to a road trip as Jim opens the door to a drenched ‘John Ryder’ standing in the rain.
In the car, Jim asks where the stranger is heading but he asks for a cigarette instead , avoiding his consistent questions. Alarm bells should be hitting Jim’s mind but he drives on through the lonely night as the man stares at him ” why are you looking at me like that”? John is simply ” looking..just looking”.
After seeing the very same beetle car stopped at the sidewalk of the road, the man puts his hand on Jims thigh making him drive a little faster. His odd character is already scary enough with his small smirks he gives Jim, turning sinister with each smile.
Jim: ” what do you want”? (John starts laughing) ” what’s so funny”?
John: “That’s what the other guy said..the guy who picked me up before you did.”
Jim: “That was him? “
John: “Sure it was. He couldn’t have walked very far”?
Jim: ” Why’s that”?..
John calmly says ” because I cut off his legs..and his arms..and his head and I’m going to do the same to you”.
It is a powerful scene for its subtle but direct approach at making Jim and the audience feel very uncomfortable from the beginning with his delicate manners of harsh but calm tone that would most likely make Jim pee his pants if he hasn’t already.
After some terrifying moment passes, driving through the darkness with a guy probing your balls and face with a sharp – edged knife, taunting you to want to die, he manages to eject the car door and John is thrown out of the vehicle, rolling out into the dirt. ” ha ha fuck you buddy”!
Getting back on his feet, John smirks as the car vanishes ahead of him as the sky becomes light. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of this stranger.
As daylight reaches the sky, Jim is a little at ease but focused on the road as he sees a little girl playing with her toy bear in their family car. He exchanges smiles which soon dies as a man pops up beside her. It is none other than John Ryder taking a ride in the backseat ready to continue his killing spree.
What began as a traumatic car ride turns into a road journey to hell for Jim when John Ryder appears every so often, hot on his trail. ” Hi kid” . Talk about a stalker (!)
Staggering with exhaustion from his getaway, Jim finds himself at a diner and whilst eating his burgers and fries, Jim picks up a bloody finger and gags outside to find himself greeting the police waiting outside for a serial killer. A phone call he had made, only to be arrested himself for being in possession of murder weapons the hitchhiker had planted at his given opportunity.
John Ryder serves his purpose somewhat as the human terminator who keeps coming after Jim Halsey no matter the cost. He goes as far as to attack the police officers at the station, framing him for the murders. That’s one way to mess up a guy (!)
There is no real motive behind targeting Jim Halsey, after all he is a psychopath at the very best, but we can assume the reason he outsmarted or rather out lived a serial killer to an extent with such determination has made John find a thrilling chase in something worth going after for the time he can pursue it. I mean even Psychopaths can get bored of the same old killing.
Throughout the movie we see John half heartedly toying with Jim not killing him at any given chances but mentally hitting the spot more than he can physically handle. He wants to mentally torture him.
John, the calm and collective killer whilst Jim is the innocent guy that became a naive bystander, caught as his messed up prey.
Even on a deserted highway, with armed officers, Jim can’t seem to get rid of this guy who makes it his priority to make the situation look as bad as it can get. A psychopath driven with such madness he can massacre with a single shotgun and a switchblade at hand without leaving his trace. Now that’s what i call killer instincts.
It is this sadistic mental approach that makes this movie stand out than just another ‘mad killer on the road to massacre’. It is far from grotesque, as you do not witness the bloodshed but you get that spine chilling feeling the moment you see the hitcher politely smirking his way to your death. Dexter Morgan knows this quite well.
There are so many great scenic moments that are delivered with great patience and visual directing which make even the mere silence terryfying. Some of the chase scenes and the ambience also loosely reminds me of Mad Max , where no cgi were needed to make the scenes look as exciting as they could get. In this movie the calm but scary conversation at the opening is really what captured my mind right to to the end.
It is the reason Rutger Hauer is the perfect psychopath who plays a charming yet scary persona that is likeable but difficult to comprehend. He has the striking features that sit in the great balance between switching from a good guy to the bad. This is also effective in the roles Christopher Walken plays which works in both his favours in a believable way. It works as ‘you either have that kind of face or you don’t’.
There are many great choices I wanted to pick at as the highlight of this era but I wanted to bring this movie into the limelight as not to get it brushed past the viewers and readers because it is a simple but great movie of its time which effectively worked without going overboard with the killing and deserves to be recognised.
Here John Ryder has no mercy to show for anyone he meets, he knows how to use a vehicle well but he knows his weapons even better. He isn’t afraid to face death but he certainly knows how to make yours happen because to him the rule of thumb has a very different meaning.
Credits: Movie poster artwork by Ollie Boyd.
Directed by : Robert Harmon.
Written by : Eric Red.
Starring : Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and others.
Music by : Mark Isham
Other honourable mentions from 1986 that I love:
Aliens- Directed by James Cameron.
The Fly- Directed by David Cronenberg.
Little Shop Of Horrors- Directed by Frank Oz.