Facts of the Case
One of HBO's first stabs at original programming, the early-'80s The
Hitchhiker pioneered the self-contained, stand-alone, episodic storytelling
that the pay-network found notoriety for in subsequent offerings (e.g., Tales
from the Crypt).
Well not nearly as playful—or gory—as its aforementioned
brethren, The Hitchhiker still gave its paying customers access to the
kind of content network television was unable to provide.
The Hitchhiker stories had no real common thread running through them
binding them in a motif; sure, there was the hitchhiker himself, but he acted
more as a narrator, making brief appearances before and after the tales. His
commentary was frequently flowery and opaque, leading me to believe his
ultra-tight jeans were having an adverse effect on his brainpower. But who am I
to criticize the hitchhiker?
Of course, the benefits of having an anything-goes approach to the series is
that, basically, anything goes. Writers can develop any story they wish. And,
though most of the tales involved reality-based circumstances (the series sports
a lot of noir-like atmosphere and plotting), the supernatural rears its head as
What you can always bet on when watching a Hitchhiker episode is some
blood, a boob or two, and some recognizable faces. Many actors cut their teeth
on this show; spotlighted in this collection are Helen Hunt, Gary Busey, Kirstie
Alley, Willem Dafoe, and Joe Pantoliano, plus a few others you'll recognize.
Here are the synopses of the 10 tales on this disc:
A director under pressure from the producers
and saddled with a below-average actress struggles to pull off the "last
scene," the pivotal sequence in a movie he's filming. Threatened with a
failed career if the movie flops, the director decides to employ an innovative
style of motivation, much to the chagrin of the actress.
Good: Sports Paul Verhoeven as director, and includes some effective scare
What's Not So Good: The rest of the scare scenes are pretty
lame, and the ending is anticlimactic.
Look For: The superfluous
opening soft-core porn scene. "We're HBO! Look at these breasts!"
Margot Kidder stars as a jerk of a nurse in
charge of an elderly hospital wing. Little do the oft-sedated patients know, but
she and her boyfriend have developed quite the racket; the two help themselves
to any valuables the patients possess and then hock them for cash. But when they
cross the wrong guy, there will be hell to pay.
What's Good: The
supernatural twist at the end.
What's Not So Good: The pacing. It
felt like the writers struggled to fill the 30 minutes.
Margot Kidder walking a straight line.
"The Miracle of Alice Ames"
A corrupt minister, played by
Joe Pantoliano, has taken advantage of the flock of impressionable young
homeless girls who seek shelter at his church. In exchange for a roof over their
heads, some soup, and an inspiring word or two, the girls must hit the streets.
His prostitution ring hits an unexpected snag when Alice, his newest recruit
starts to receive the stigmata. Always the entrepreneur, and with cartoon-like
dollar signs in his eyes, the irreverent reverend sees a big cash-in option, but
the Man Upstairs has other ideas.
What's Good: Two words: Joey
What's Not So Good: The convoluted finale.
For: A homeless girl with a pretty good make-up job.
The most noir of the bunch, and my personal
favorite. A mediocre writer's apparent suicide seems the like a godsend to his
cheating wife and her lover, his literary agent. But when it's obvious that the
husband's demise may not be what it appears, a web of deceit is spun. Willem
What's Good: The story is a refreshing, twisty little
yarn. And Dafoe is always cool.
What's Not So Good: The wardrobe.
It's hard to believe white high-tops were ever fashionable with a suit and
Look For: Poor observation techniques by a
detective—"Hmmm, it looks like a body wrapped in a tarp, but
"Man's Best Friend"
A man on the edge of sanity is tossed
out by his wife and seeks solace at a friend's house. There he befriends a
mysterious canine that does his bidding, namely violently wiping out his
enemies. But there may be more to the dog than simply a
murderous-servant-of-animal-fury. My second favorite.
That dog is one bad mother.
What's Not So Good: Why this guy goes
off the deep end so quickly is not really investigated. What, he dropped his
suitcase? Oh no, get his some anti-psychotic medication at once!
For: Hmmm…a certain Edward Norton/Brad Pitt flick anyone?
Gary Busey stars as a radio evangelist who has
risen to incomparable fame. His on-air antics have garnered serious cash and the
attention of news outlets. As he fends off the prying eyes of media, he is
blindsided by a voice from his past, and he soon must confront his personal
demons, at the cost of everything he's gained.
What's Good: Busey
is always a hoot, and things get weird at the end.
What's Not So
Good: There's no real resolution, especially following the penultimate
Look For: All that blood can't be good for the radio
"The Legendary Billy B."
A sleaze reporter (Kirstie Alley)
for a tabloid rag is desperate for accolades and the scoop. This drive to
succeed blinds her to obvious danger, as she stumbles upon the location
of a legendary rocker long thought dead. The zaniness that ensues will leave you
wishing pain upon the bumbling journalist.
What's Good: Brad Dourif
as the goofy rock singer.
What's Not So Good: Kirstie Alley as the
Look For: A reason that Alley's
character does any of the things she does at the end.
Two escaped convicts—an orphan with no
ties to the world and his surrogate brother, a dangerous psychopath (James
Remar)—seek shelter in a "model home," which I suppose is
'80s-speak for "house in a development." But, the house is occupied,
and things get wonky when gunfire is exchanged and junior feels torn between the
safety of the family and his loyalty to his crook-pal.
The out-of-nowhere finish to this thing, which culminates in a satisfying
What's Not So Good: Junior overacts something fierce,
until he's nothing but a ball of screaming weenie.
Look For: The
cool jump scene with the kid on the stairs.
"Why Are You Here?"
A TV tabloid reporter seeks the scoop on
trendy after-hours life. After a tour through the gnarliest dance club in town,
he hooks up with a privileged young woman (Helen Hunt). He follows her back home
where he finds himself embroiled in drug deal, general debauchery, and a
ridiculously contrived ending.
What's Good: Not much. This one
What's Not So Good: Lots. This one sucks.
For: A chance to flee.
"In the Name of Love"
A ruthless assassin (Lucy Gutteridge,
from Top Secret!) retreats to a resort
for some respite from her stabbing and killing. However, her vacation is thrown
for a loop when she meets a dashing fitness instructor (Greg "The Cool
Dad" Evigan). But only betrayal awaits her in his arms, not to mention a
little sumpin' sumpin'.
What's Good: Again, we have straight-up
noir, and the plot twists are cool.
What's Not So Good: The
assassin's lunacy is never really touched upon; her penchant for spontaneously
revealing her breasts, though, is in full effect.
Look For: Those
vicious stabbings with a pocket knife! Ouch!
My main complaint about the set is the selection of the tales. I think the
compilers put together this offering based on the famous folks who have starred
rather than choosing the best of the best. I mean, the show was on for seven
years. Weren't there better episodes out there than the lame "Why Are You
Here?" The answer is undoubtedly "yes," but Helen Hunt is in it,
so that's what's important. Aside from "Ghostwriter," the best of the
set star semi-unknowns.
I don't know if HBO plans on releasing more of the series on subsequent
DVDs, but my advice to them is go for "story-quality" and not
All the episodes are replicated from their original source, so the picture
quality is a cleaned-up version of early-'80s TV. As such, the picture (in full
frame) isn't terribly crisp, and some scenes, particularly dark sequences,
become tough to follow.
Sound is in stereo and is neither good nor bad. It's there and is what it
The only special features are three director's commentaries. One is of note,
Carl Schenkel's. That guy just had nothing to talk about. Intermingled
with his brief observations are long awkward silences. I could just sense the
wheels working overtime in his mind to drum up something to say.