From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
If there is anything horror fans have learned over the years (especially in light of the Scream franchise and a slew of other postmodern slashers) it's that many films oftentimes adhere to a set of tried-and-true conventions within the genre. Don't have sex, drink or do drugs, otherwise you'll be murdered by a machete-wielding madman. Ignore words of warning from local townsfolk and you're living on borrowed time. And if movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hitcher have taught us any valuable lessons, it's that nothing good ever, ever comes from picking up a mysterious hitchhiker. Hitch-Hike reinforces this rule with unrelenting authority.
Director Pasquale Festa Campanile quickly introduces us to newspaper reporter Walter Mancini (Franco Nero of Django) and his wife Eve (Corinne Clery, Moonraker). The opening scene shows the couple on an outdoor trip, with Eve walking around enjoying Mother Nature and Walter lining up her head directly in his hunting rifle's crosshairs. He doesn't shoot her, but explains that he didn't pull the trigger because she's a better lay than the animal he ends up killing instead. This exchange is then followed by a rough, impromptu screw session in the back of their car; to say their relationship is dysfunctional at best would be a severe understatement.
After more heated arguments at the hippie commune they are camped out at, Walter and Eve pack up and continue their cross-country trek towards California. Along the way, they stop to help out Adam Konitz (David Hess), a young man whose car has broken down along the roadside. The couple gets more than they bargained for, however, once they realize who their new passenger is and his true intentions.
Hitch-Hike often gets grouped in with two of Hess' other films (Wes Craven's The Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato's The House On The Edge of The Park) and perhaps rightly so, since Hess plays a similar brute in all three roles. Although it could loosely fall under the "rape revenge" genre, this entry is actually a very different animal. Yes, there is rape and revenge, but it's also a multi-layered movie that encourages careful analysis from its audience.
One can argue that there are no true protagonists in Hitch-Hike. While Adam is clearly the violent, mentally unstable villain, Walter and Eve are portrayed in a less than admirable fashion too. Walter is an alcoholic who verbally abuses his wife on a regular basis and basically uses her for sex. Eve alternates between playing the submissive female content to exist in a loveless marriage, with her part as the siren, using her allure and powers of seduction as a weapon against men. In a story filled with miserable, morally deprived human beings, who are you supposed to associate with and root for?
In the movie's most uncomfortable and thought-provoking scene (Adam's sexual assault of Eve, while Walter is forced to watch) the disturbing series of events evoke shades of Straw Dogs. Is Eve disgusted by Adam and his actions, or is she enjoying it by the end? Is she attracted to her would-be rapist? Or is she merely just pretending in an attempt to get back at Walter or lull Adam into a false sense of complacency? Earlier in the film, why does she continue dressing provocatively, even after they pick up Adam? These questions may lead to uneasy answers, and distinguishes Hitch-Hike from some of the more standard fare the genre has to offer.
Besides the deeper themes running throughout Hitch-Hike, the movie also relishes in its pure exploitative elements as well. Campanile does a wonderful job of balancing the character-driven interactions inside the car with scenes of brutal fistfights (according to Hess, Nero accidently broke his nose in one scuffle), bloody shootouts and even a high-speed chase. When she isn't behind the wheel, Clery spends a great deal of the film in various stages of undress, or completely naked. Top it off with some mean-spirited teenage bikers, fiery explosions and an amazing score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone and yes, Hitch-Hike has it all.
From an acting standpoint, Clery brings a fairly strong performance, but it is Hess and Nero who really shine here. The two men play off each other particularly well, and their back-and-forth barbs are a delight to behold. Both actors have the innate ability to be seedy yet charming, and you can't help but relish their commanding gravitas. Always the memorable sleazebag, Hess doesn't hold back here, spewing sexist, homophobic or just plain nasty remarks to anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, he's worth the price of admission alone.
Hitch-Hike is essential viewing for any fan of late 70s exploitation fare. Not only does it cater to the grindhouse crowd, but it also offers enough interesting social commentary on the institution of marriage, love and homosexuality to give people some enticing food for thought. The last half hour even manages to throw in a handful of shocking twists, resulting in an ending that genuinely knocks the wind out of the viewer. If you enjoy your sleaze with a little bit of substance, this title comes highly recommended.
Reviewed by Shaun Boutwell