Judge David Johnson hitches a ride with more old-school pay-channel terror and lots of tight jeans.
He takes you to some more places you don't want to go alone.
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.
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?
• "O.D. Feelin'"
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
• "True Believer"
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
• "Perfect Order"
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.
• "Cabin Fever"
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.
• "A Whole New You"
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?
• "Dead Heat"
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 Curse"
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
• "Out of the Night"
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.
• "Secret Ingredient"
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.
• "Man of Her Dreams"
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: 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.
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.
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
• Director and Actor Audio Commentaries
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