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Case Number 06721

Buy The Hitchhiker: Volume 2 at Amazon

The Hitchhiker: Volume 2

HBO // 1983 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 4th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson hitches a ride with more old-school pay-channel terror and lots of tight jeans.

The Charge

He takes you to some more places you don't want to go alone.

Opening Statement

The Hitchhiker returns in this second helping of embryonic HBO storytelling. The Hitchhiker helped launch the pay channel and defined itself with edgy material and recognizable guest stars. Now here's another batch of two-decade-old suspense narratives. Is this a ride you want to take, or is The Hitchhiker better left sitting on his thumb?

Facts of the Case

This offering, like the first two-disc set, sports ten episodes, five per disc. Each episode runs about 25 minutes or so in length. Also like the first set, it appears that the methodology for determining which episodes made the cut was based more on the number of famous faces contained within than on the quality of the material. But more on that later.

Episodes are bracketed with an introduction and a convoluted conclusion by the Hitchhiker himself (Page Fletcher). Beyond this common thread, anything goes with the series. Though most tales are of the suspense/mystery ilk, a few experimental episodes are included in this set. What they all have in common is a noir-like twist at the end—and the unbridled nudity and profanity that only HBO could offer on your early '80s TV set.

The Evidence

I'm a sucker for the "half-hour-and-you're-done" TV series. Tales from the Crypt is an all-time favorite show of mine, and The Hitchhiker was its forerunner.

Since the content of this collection, like that of the set before it, seems to have been dictated more by the famous faces than the quality of content, the result is a very mixed bag. Some episodes are pretty good, some downright suck, and a few fall in between. How about a closer look?

Disc One:

• "O.D. Feelin'"
Here we have one of the more, er, creative pieces of storytelling. A mysterious package of heroin leaps from owner to owner, bringing with it betrayal and death. Sandra Bernhard receives top billing, though she's in for like three minutes. Look for a young, mute, heavily made-up Ryan Stiles in a supportive goon role.

The synopsis characterizes this episode as a "futuristic thriller." Really, I think it was a half-assed attempt at some kind of deep morality play. The whole thing unfolds in really cheesy fashion, with MacGyver staple Michael Des Barres hamming it up as a Revlon outcast for most of the run time. Note the two perfectly untouched Chuck Taylors left standing on a subway rail after the owner has presumably been flattened by a train. Not even a cameo by Gene Simmons (?!) can save this pretentious episode.
The Hitchhiker says: "Keep driving, partner!"

• "True Believer"
Tom Skerritt (Alien) stars as a skeptical detective investigating the mysterious suicide of a priest in an abandoned convent. As he struggles to unravel the puzzle, he chooses to ignore the pleas of a priest who says the convent is haunted. But when he meets an enigmatic nun, his skepticism will be put to the ultimate test.

This is a fairly tense, atmospheric half hour. Religious horror is always kind of cool, and creepy nuns are especially great. Though the ending doesn't quite deliver, the buildup is solid, making for one of the better episodes of the set.
The Hitchhiker says: "How about a lift?"

• "Perfect Order"
Hello Virginia Madsen! Madsen (Sideways) is a wannabe fashion model yearning for fame. She convinces a master photographer to take her on as a subject. But little does she know that the masterpiece he wants may cost her her life.

This is a trippy episode marred by a seriously flawed transfer. The bountiful colors bleed together, and the visuals lack crispness. The story itself starts off promisingly but devolves into a convoluted mess with a sad payoff. Still, Madsen almost makes the episode worthwhile. Almost.
The Hitchhiker says: "Umm, pass."

• "Cabin Fever"
A conniving gigolo (where was that job on my career aptitude test?) hooks up with a seemingly unhappy married couple for a weekend getaway. It doesn't take long for him to put the moves on the wife, and the two concoct a scheme that will teach the husband a lesson. But things may not be as they seem. Jerry Orbach (Law and Order) stars.

A decent little piece of noir featuring some ham-fisted overacting by Orbach. It's derivative stuff—mysterious man seduces unhappy wife, plots to screw over husband—but it works well, and a decent, if reality-stretching, twist ties it up nicely.
The Hitchhiker says: "Mount up! Let's ride!"

• "A Whole New You"
A criminal in witness protection (Elliot Gould) develops intense paranoia. Feeling he's in constant danger and holding zero trust in the authorities, he looks to plastic surgery as an option. Cue "things going wrong."

Tied with O.D. Feelin' for worst episode on the disc, this installment was obviously chosen simply because of Gould. The story is lame and the ending is nonsensical. Let's not spend any more time on this, shall we?
The Hitchhiker says: "No thanks, I'll walk."

Disc Two:

• "Dead Heat"
Fred Ward (Tremors) stars as an eccentric sculptor willing to subject his models to psychological trauma and the occasional bludgeoning with a muscle car. When a young man breaks into his house one night, the sculptor recruits him to pose with his other model, a spunky blonde, for a re-creation of a car accident. The stranger and blonde predictably hook up and make whoopee in stacks of hay, and they craft a plan to escape—but the sculptor and his flamethrower may have something to say about it!

A solid episode, and a case study in HBO's screw-you-FCC-we're-a-pay-channel gratuitousness. Violence, soft-core sex, and profanity abound. Still, Ward is badass and the story is fun, if implausible (how did he mold that perfect replica of a head in fifteen minutes?).
The Hitchhiker says: "Buckle up and ride!"

• "The Curse"
A decent apartment owner (Harry Hamlin, Clash of the Titans) promises tenants in his dilapidated complex that repairs are soon on the way. But when he discovers the cost will relieve him of some of life's pleasures, he opts instead to unload the building. However, an encounter with a beautiful woman leads to some strange things happening to his body, leaving him one last chance to do the right thing.

This episode represents my favorite of all the shows I've seen on the two sets. Top to bottom, it's a tight piece of storytelling, from the creepy old lady with the snake in her apartment, to the moral dilemma facing Hamlin's surprisingly deep and interesting character, to the curse itself. Some innovative makeup effects and a dose of bodacious jungle fever don't hurt either.
The Hitchhiker says: "Let's take to the road, muchacho!"

• "Out of the Night"
A young man runs through a bizarre hotel in pursuit of an unseen quarry. Along the way he encounters a horny blonde bombshell, some weird doctors, and a strange magician (Kirstie Alley, Look Who's Talking) intent on making him part of her show. As events grow more and more insane, it's obvious something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

Another experimental episode. Don't want to ruin it for you, but it's not that great. It's certainly better than "O.D. Feelin'" and shovels on the requisite nudity (seriously, was there a clause in each screenwriter's contract that at least two sweaty bare breasts had to be shown in each episode?), but the episode tries too hard to be cute and quirky.
The Hitchhiker says: "Eh, why don't you drop me off here?"

• "Secret Ingredient"
A suave salesman named Chris (Dean Paul Martin) is a master at peddling some nutrition supplement crap. Doing whatever it takes to rake in the money and support his expensive Camaro habit, Chris eagerly swindles anyone with a nickel to their name, old ladies not excluded. He meets his match, however, when he runs into a beautiful woman oozing weirdness (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Fletch).

This sorta fun female-empowerment episode with a goofy twist is hampered by Martin's ludicrous acting. The guy is just all over the place.
The Hitchhiker says: "Thanks, but I'll catch the next ride."

• "Man of Her Dreams"
Jill (Marilyn Hassett) is a self-involved woman intent on finding Mr. Exactly Right. She rudely brushes off the advances of men she deems also-rans, finding solace in her bathtub and her fantasies. But her bubbly daydreams turn to grim premonitions about a serial killer, and she is soon enveloped in paranoia and surrounded by men she cannot trust.

A straight-up suspense tale that manages to throw enough potential villains in the half hour to provide for an engaging romp, this episode falls nicely in the middle. It's not as stupid as some of the lesser episodes, but the story isn't as tight and the characters aren't as compelling as the better entries.
The Hitchhiker says: "All right, I'll go with you, but only for a few miles."

The Hitchhiker: Volume 2 is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio. The picture is pretty lousy, with some episodes looking a little better than others, but none being pretty in the least. Details are fuzzy, and the colors are way too soft. Some scenes, specifically in "Perfect Order," are nigh indiscernible. In short, it looks like an early-'80s television series. Sound, a heavily front-loaded 2.0 stereo mix, is equally unimpressive. Audio commentaries by director Carl Schenkel ("True Believer") and director Phillip Noyce and actor Harry Hamlin ("The Curse") comprise the only extras.

Closing Statement

Count on some celebrity participation in this set, but like its preceding volume, The Hitchhiker: Volume 2 ends up as an uneven offering of suspense/terror tales ranging from pretty good to okay to half-baked. Fans of the series may be the only ones willing to pick this Hitchhiker up.

The Verdict

Too hit-and-miss to render an acquittal. The Hitchhiker: Volume 2 is sentenced to six months' probation at the nearest truck stop.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 60
Audio: 65
Extras: 70
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile

Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Television
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Director and Actor Audio Commentaries

Accomplices

• IMDb








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