CANNON MONTH 2: Something Wild (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Something Wild was not produced by Cannon but was sold on videotape by HBO/Cannon Video.

I’ll be perfectly honest: so much of what I find attractive in the opposite sex can best be summed up by a series of Melanie Griffith roles: the toughness of Edith Johnson in Cherry 2000, the smarts of Tess McGill in Working Girl, the unashamed sexuality of Holly Body in Body Double and the dangerous edge of Audrey Hankel in this film. Thanks, Melanie Griffith for if not always introducing me to the right women at least having me find the interesting ones.

Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) has no wife, a job he hates and no excitement in his life when Audrey (or Lulu) blows into his life like a hurricane. The problem is that she also has a violent husband Ray Sinclair (Ray Liotta) who tears their new relationship into pieces.

Directed by Jonathan Demme and written by E. Max Frye, I remember staring at the box art for this movie and wondering how nervous I’d be if I ever encountered an Audrey in my life, never mind Ray. Girls always seemed — they still do, who am I kidding? — like a mystery, a frightening thing that could destroy your life and make you do things you never dreamed of. This movie in no way dispelled my thoughts. In fact, it both excited and frightened me.

Demme has a great cast in those too, like Tracy Walter (Bob the Goon!), John Sayles, Charles Napier and John Waters as a used car salesman. I love that he went from movies like Caged Heat and Crazy Mama to Married to the MobThe Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. His death left behind a major hole in American cinema. He also wrote Angels Hard as They ComeThe Hot BoxFighting Mad and White Mama Black Mama, along with writing Stop Making Sense and directing videos for The Talking Heads. Speaking of them, when you see the older ladies running the re-sale shop, that’s Demme’s and David Byrne’s mothers.

CANNON MONTH 2: Night of the Creeps (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on October 8, 2019Night of the Creeps was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

“The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.”

Has any movie so perfectly been a synthesis of the gore aesthetic of the 1980’s and the science fiction angst of the 1950’s? I doubt it — Night of the Creeps takes on those genres and adds zombies to the mix, making for a crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn filmmaking.

Between writing the story for House and bringing The Monster Squad to the screen, Fred Dekker’s name generally signifies that you’re about to watch something pretty darn interesting. This was his directing debut, working from a script that took him only a week to write.

Back in 1959, a fight on board a UFO leads to a mysterious canister being shot out into space, crash landing on Earth. It looks like a falling star to a couple on lover’s lane. As they try to see where the star has landed, the girl is killed by an axe-wielding mental patient and a small slug jumps into the boy’s mouth.

Decades later, Chris Romero (Jason Lively, Rusty Griswold from National Lampoon’s European Vacation) is trying to get over being dumped. His friend J.C.  is trying to help him out. Luckily — or perhaps not — our hero falls for Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow, Twice Dead).

To try and win her heart, he decides to pledge a fraternity. Unfortunately, he decides to pick the Beta Epsilon house — the very one that Cynthia’s boyfriend is in charge of. He charges Chris and J.C. with stealing a corpse from the morgue as part of their initiation.

That’s when the plot kicks in. That corpse is still alive and they run from it after setting it free. That dead body — now very much alive — is the boy who ate the slug in the opening

now detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins, making this movie his own) is on the case.

The reanimated dead kid heads back to the sorority house where its head explodes, releasing more of the slugs. Soon, they’ve started to take over more bodies who then start killing everything in their path. Meanwhile, Cameron reveals his stake in all this — the girl killed in the beginning was the woman he never fell out of love with. He’d hunted down and killed her murderer way back in the late 50’s and buried the body near the sorority house. Now that axe killer is back among the living thanks to the alien slugs.

Things move even faster now, as the slugs infect a dog that causes a bus crash filled with frat boys that transform into zombies that come after our heroes. Can the suicidal and bitter Cameron, Chris and Cynthia survive?

I’ve always been struck by the relationship between J.C. and Chris in this film. It’s really obvious that J.C. is in love with his best friend and he pretty much says so in the message he leaves for him after the bugs infect him. It’s not presented as humorous, but as very much matter of fact.

There’s also an alternate ending that showed Cameron transformed into a zombie, causing more slugs to worm their way into more graves before the spaceship from the beginning of the film returns. That ending is somehow even darker than the one that made it into the released film.

Back when I was a teenager, this movie ran on Cinemax at 5 AM nearly every night. I remember that it would still be one when my dad and I ate breakfast together. It’s packed with so much head exploding gore that I was worried that I might not be able to keep my toast and cereal down.

Also — if you didn’t notice from the character names, Dekker named every character after famous horror directors — George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (J.C.’s full name is James Carpenter Hooper), John Landis (Detective Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Detective Ray Cameron) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner is the janitor’s name) And the college setting is named for Roger Corman.

This movie remains Tom Atkins’ favorite role. It’s obvious he’s loving every moment, stopping to smell the flowers and dreaming that he’s on a beach when he’s not saying. “Thrill me” and “It’s Miller Time” while shotgun blasting zombies to oblivion.

I pretty much consider this movie required viewing. It’s a roller coaster ride that must be experienced.

You can watch this on Shudder or grab it from Shout! Factory. Sadly, you can no longer get the deluxe version that came with a Tom Atkins action figure. I still can’t believe that they made that.

CANNON MONTH 2: Haunted Honeymoon (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haunted Honeymoon was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

Haunted Honeymoon was directed and written by star Gene Wilder, who joins his wife Gilda Radner to play Larry Abbot and Vickie Pearle, two radio actors who decide to get married in the castle that was Larry’s childhood home, one filled with the strange members of his family such as aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise), his uncles Dr. Paul (Paul Smith) and Francis (Peter Vaughan) and his cousins Charles (Sir Jonathan Pryce), Nora (Julann Griffin), Susan (Jo Ross) and the cross-dressing Francis Jr. (Roger Ashton-Griffiths).

Dr. Paul has the idea of solving Larry’s on-air panic attacks with shock therapy that will knock them out by basically frightening him to death. He clues everyone — including Susan’s husband Montego the Magnificent (Jim Carter), the butler Pfister (Bryan Pringle), Pfister’s wife Rachel (Ann Way) and even Larry’s ex-girlfriend Sylvia (Eve Ferett) who is now dating Charles.

Then there’s a werewolf!

Wilder wrote this movie the whole way back on the set of Silver Streak and was inspired by The Old Dark HouseThe Cat and the Canary, The Black Cat and the Inner Sanctum radio show. Shot in London at Elstree Studios, Wilder saw this as an attempt to “make a 1930s movie for 1986.”

It went over about as well as you’d think. As Radner struggled with the ovarian cancer that would take her life — she and Wilder would only be married for four years before her sad early end — she wrote “On July 26, Haunted Honeymoon opened nationwide. It was a bomb. One month of publicity and the movie was only in the theaters for a week — a box-office disaster.”

CANNON MONTH 2: Desperately Seeking Susan (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Desperately Seeing Susan was not produced by Cannon but was sold on videotape by HBO/Cannon Video. 

Inspired by Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Céline and Julie Go Boating), this movie once almost starred Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn as Roberta and Susan, but who could be in this other than Rosanna Arquette and Madonna?

Roberta is a housewife in New Jersey whose only romance is the personals messages between Susan and Jim Dandy (Robert Joy). Meanwhile, Susan has just hooked up with a gangster named Bruce Meeker (Richard Hell!) and stolen a pair of Egyptian earings. One of his soldiers, Wayne (Will Patton) notices her decorated jacket as she leaves. He kills Meeker and she goes on with her life, unaware, stashing one earing in a Port Authority locker and wearing the other.

Roberta then starts trying to see the couple in person; hijinks ensure, she hits her head and actually believes that she is Susan. This allows her to meet Jim’s friend Dez (Aidan Quinn), who she falls for, and everyone goes on the run from Wayne, who thinks that they can implicate him in Meeker’s death.

This movie has a great cast: Steven Wright, John Turturro, Annie Golden from the Shirts, comedian Rockets Redglare, John Lurie, Carol Leifer and Ann Magnuson. It also has a scene set at Danceteria, the nightclub where Madonna first performed.

Susan Seidelman would go on to direct the American version of She Devil and three episodes of Sex and the City. Writer Leora Barish wrote Basic Instinct 2 and yes, that is a fact that I will be using all of the time.

You can watch this on Tubi.

CANNON MONTH 2: Back to School (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on June 10, 2021Back to School was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

I always wondered if William Atherton and Billy Zapka had a support group. They’re great actors, but they seemed to excel at one role: being the absolute biggest jerks possible. I’d love to see a movie where they were in community service together, trying to right their wrongs, but slowly seething that society is throwing trash at them when they’re trying to clean a highway, knowing that they’re going to eventually become bullies again, but this time in the service of good. Their case worker? Ron Silver.

Anyways, Back to School was dedicated to Estelle Endler, Rodney Dangerfield’s longtime manager who guided him in his second time as a stand-up and got him into movies, where he’d find the kind of eternal life that he never could have dreamed of in his youth. To say Rodney had a hard life was life saying he told jokes. So many of them — “I was so ugly my parents had to hang a pork chop around my neck to get the dog to play with me.” — come from the pain he felt as an abandoned child.

Born Jacob Rodney Cohen, he claimed that his mother never kissed, hugged or showed any sign of affection toward him; he was also molested by a neighbor. He legally changed his name to Jack Roy at the age of 19, following the father who left him behind by taking his name and telling jokes and working as a singing waiter in the Catskills. After he was fired, he went into selling aluminum siding.

When he went back into comedy in the 60s, he was in deep debt and couldn’t get booked. That’s when he realized he’d need a hook. His new name Rodney Dangerfield came from a Jack Benny routine — indeed, Benny even visited him once backstage and complimented him on his act — and came from a place he understood very well: he got no respect.

In just a few years, he’d headline Vegas and own his own club, a place where young comedians came to get a break. Rodney never forgot what it was like to struggle and gave so many young performers their start. He also kept struggling mentally throughout his life, using marijuana to self-medicate.

Unlike his stand-up persona and maybe even the real Jacob/Jack/Rodney, his film characters in movies like Caddyshack and Easy Money were portrayed as successful, happy and popular men. However, they had gone from nothing to something all on their own, thereby becoming the enemy of the ruling rich. They may have money, but Rodney’s characters would never truly be part of the 1%.

Yet despite their success, the club of Hollywood kept him at arm’s length. Dangerfield was rejected for membership in the Motion Picture Academy in 1995 by the head of the Academy’s Actors Section, Roddy McDowall. His fans protested and the Academy reconsidered, but Dangerfield then refused their membership.

Actually, those fans were really important to him. He was the first celebrity to operate a website and he’d often directly e-mail the fans who visited the site, which had to be a huge surprise.

Rodney used to say, “I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, “There goes the neighborhood!”” That phrase is emblazoned on his tombstone. Man, I get teared up even thinking about Rodney, because while I never met the man, he meant so much to me and my family. I’d get the opportunity to stay up late if we knew he was on Carson and I can still recall a riotous screening of Easy Money where the film was barely audible from all the laughing from my father and uncle.

Anyways — Back to School is the big starring role from Rodney, the chance to shine on his own. He plays yet another of his regular guys made good, Thornton Melon. His plus-size clothing stores have made him rich, yet he can’t connect with his son Jason (Keith Gordon). After leaving his newest wife (Adrienne Barbeau), he goes, well, Back to School to be part of his son’s life. But he does it as only a rich man can, taking over most of the campus and living it up while his son pretty much is embarrassed.

This film completely understands the pure comic formula: set up a simple premise and allow hijinks to ensue. To wit: A rich regular guy goes back to school and hijinks ensue.

Those hijinks include Burt Young as Rodney’s tough butler and best friend, Robert Downey Jr. as his son’s punk roommate, Kurt Vonnegut as a guest speaker hired by Rodney, a romance with Sally Kellerman*, a memorable Sam Kinison cameo and the aforementioned Zapka being, well, Billy Zapka.

And oh yeah, the Triple Lindy.

This film is pretty autobiographical in parts, as Rodney was a diver and truck driver in his youth. I’ve always loved its message that he may have changed with wealth, but he’s remained a kind-hearted man throughout it all. Harold Ramis was one of the co-writers and his comedic sensibilities really help the picture.

For metal fans, you can hear Michael Bolton’s pre-crooner metal song “Everybody’s Crazy” during a party scene, and the Alice Cooper song “The Great American Success Story” was intended to be in this film. It appears on Constrictor and features the lyrics “Back to school, he’s gonna take that plunge.”

We all need more Rodney in our lives.

*She lives in Tommy Doyle’s house from Halloween. Seriously.

CANNON MONTH 2: Hollywood Harry (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hollywood Harry was not produced by Cannon but was sold on videotape by Cannon / Media Home Video.

Robert Forster is one of those actors who just makes me happy when he shows up in movies. The son of an elephant trainer for the Barnum and Bailey Circus, his first major starring role was in Medium Cool; he mostly shows up to be the best part of movies like AlligatorThe Black Hole and Vigilante.

Harry Petry (Forster, who also directed and produced this ode to detective movies) is down on his luck and not even speaking to his partner Max Caldwell (Joe Spinell, another actor whose small roles in films always seem to be a good portent of how much I’ll like a movie and how much better my day will be) and secretary Candy (Shannon Wilcox, Forster’s wife at the time). But then he has two changes in his life: a case where he has to find the adult film of Regina (Mallie Jackson), a rich man’s daughter as well as raise a surrogate daughter of his own, his niece Danielle (Forster’s daughter Kate).

Writer Curt Allen was also the man who wrote Walking the Edge (which also had Forster and Spinell in it and there’s a meta scene where they watch it on TV in this movie),  Deadly PassionBloodstoneBlind Vengeance and the Forster-missing Alligator II: The Mutation, which seems like a lost opportunity.

So yeah — a neo-noir that’s also about Forster being shirtless for most of the movie and dancing with his secretary for four sexy minutes that meanders and is way talky and really a hang-out movies and you know, I’m there for all of it. Forster was so happy that Cannon distributed this that he did The Delta Force for them, a movie where he improbably plays a Middle Eastern terrorist despite in our reality being born to an Italian mother and English/Irish father in Rochester, New York.

CANNON MONTH: Heat (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Heat was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Columbia-Cannon-Warner in the UK.

Burt Reynold read Heat by William Goldman and supposedly got this film moving. The first director was supposed to be Robert Altman- — Carol Burnett encouraged him to work with Reynolds — who hated how commerical Goldman’s script was. He met with Goldman and somehow got along with him, but Goldman wouldn’t change a word. So then Altman used a technicality to escape the film. His cinematographer Pierre Mignot could not get the necessary immigration permits to work on the film.

Altman was replaced by Dick Richards, who didn’t get along with Reynolds, who hit him causing the director to leave and be replaced by Jerry Jameson. Then Richards eturned, only to fall from a camera crane and need to be hospitalized.

A Directors Guild of America arbitration ruled that Richards was responsible for 41% of the finished film and Jerry Jameson 31%. There were four other directors and Richards, who never directed a major motion picture again, won a lasuit against Burt for punching him in the face.

Nick Escalante is a former soldier of fortune, deadly with his hands and an expert with sharp objects. At one point, someone refers to him as the most lethal man in the world. He’s a bodygyard but he really just wants to move back Venice, Italy.

Cyrus Kinnick (Peter MacNicol) wants Nick to teach him how to be tough. He soon learns what’s kept Nick in Vegas: as soon as he gets ahead, he blows all of his cash gambling.

After getting revenge for one of his friends, Holly (Karen Young), Nick becomes the target of Danny DeMarco (Neill Barry), the man who assaulted her. He defies the orders of mob boss Baby (Joseph Mascolo) and tries to kill Nick, who wipes out every single one of his men and then talks the young thug into killing himself.

I liked Heat. It has a fun relationship between Nick and Cyrus, as well as showing that even though Burt can easily speak the physical language of violence, he can barely interact with the world.

You can watch this on Tubi.

CANNON MONTH 2: Robotech: The Movie (1986)

Robotech is the opposite of most films on the site. Instead of an American property being remade overseas and remixed into something new, the TV series was three different Japanese cartoons: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, all with new dialogue, some minor added animation and connections between the three shows that never existed. This series was made this way because Macross didn’t have enough episodes for U.S. syndication. Ideally, 65 episodes were what most series had as that allowed a show to air five times a week for thirteen weeks.

Director/producer/co-writer Carl Macek — the man who put together all these shows — wanted Robotech: The Movie to be a redubbing of another unconnected cartoon, Megazone 23, with its hero renamed Mark Landry and connected to Macross hero Rick Hunter. The new dialogue would be about Mark trying to inform the world of the fate of the main ship in that series, the SDF-1.

According to Zimmerit, Macross creators director Noburo Ishiguro, character designer sHaruhiko Mikimoto and Toshihiro Hirano and animator Ichiro Itano worked on the OVA as well as Mospeda mechanical designers Shinji Aramaki and Hideki Kakinuma. That meant that this film would look quite close to Robotech.

It was a great idea.

But things didn’t work out that way.

First, Tatsunoko Productions, the creators of Macross, was releasing Macross: Do You Remember Love?  and wouldn’t allow Macek to use any Macross story elements.

And then Cannon Films got involved.

When Macek first showed the first to Cannon, Menahem Golan responded that he didn’t like it. It wasn’t Cannon. It had a downer ending, too many girls and not enough guns and robots. So in just days, Macek roughly re-edited the flm and was nearly embarrassed by how slapdash it all was.

Menahel Golan stood at the screening and shouted, “Now that’s a Cannon movie!”

Macek rewrote the story to take place between the first and second seasons of the television series — Macross and Robotech Masters — and had the Robotech Masters kidnapping and replicating B.D. Andrews to steal the memory core of the SDF-1.

One of the big problems was that you can totally see the difference between animation. Megazone 23 was shot on 35mm while Southern Cross was 16mm.

Throw in a disastrous screening in Texas — it was dumped there and any parents that did bring kids were shocked at the violence while Robotech fans were upset at how little it had to do with the show — and Cannon walked away from this movie. Macek and Harmony Gold went out of their way to block it from coming out on video, so the only way to see this was in bootleg form.

The Robotech: The Complete Series collection has a 29-minute version that only has footage from Southern Cross and a disclaimer stating the film “has been edited for licensing and content. That said — if you know where to look online, you can find this movie.

CANNON MONTH 2: Never Too Young to Die (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on November 13, 2017Never Too Young to Die was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Scotia/Cannon.

I grew up on James Bond. More than that, at a young age, I was obsessed with Bond. One magical Christmas, the only gifts I got were the James Bond role playing game from Victory Games and all of the expansions. I saw every single one one of the movies, even the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again, the bootleg Sean Connery film that came out of Kevin McClory’s legal battles with Eon Productions, the Fleming estate and United Artists. I’ve seen every Bond ripoff, from Flint to Matt Helm to Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (it helps that Mario Bava directed that one). Post Timothy Dalton, I grew bored with the more realistic Bond and never came back. I grew up with the ridiculous world of Roger Moore.

I get the feeling that plenty of other folks have had similar experiences, thanks to comics like Jimmy’s Bastards and Kingsmen (also a series of movies). And this movie — Never Too Young to Die guest stars the Bond from my favorite of the series, the only appearance of George Lazenby, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as Drew Stargrove, but we can just pretend he’s James Bond.

Stargrove has a son, Lance. He has a theme song. And he has a mission, to stop psychopathic hermaphroditic gang leader Velvet Von Ragner (Gene Simmons, sure he’s in KISS, but let’s celebrate his ridiculous IMDB page, where he’s either played himself or been in some amazingly insane films, like Trick or Treat and Runaway). But his luck has finally run out. He’s dead and his somewhat estranged son must leave behind his gymnastic days at college to take over his role as the best secret agent in the world.

Lance is played by John Stamos, mostly known for TV’s Full House. This is his star turn, all fresh faced and ready to break hearts. He’s joined on his mission by Vanity, who may have had a short and sweet film career, but got to be in some incredible stuff, like The Last DragonAction JacksonTanya’s Island52 Pick-Up and Terror Train.

Your ability to enjoy this film depends completely on your ability to enjoy ridiculousness. And facts like this — the nightclub outfit that costume Gene Simmons wears in the nightclub scene is the same one that Lynda Carter wore for her 1980 ENCORE! special, where she sang KISS’ “I Was Made for Loving You.”

Writer Steven Paul also created the Baby Geniuses series and had uncredited help from Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (TV’s BatmanFlash Gordon), which shows. Paul also wrote 1992’s The Double 0 Kid, where Corey Haim dreams of being a secret agent.

Director Gil Bettman produced and directed tons of 80’s TV, like The Fall GuyKnight Rider and Automan, a one season wonder that combined police drama with Tron. I may be the only human being to have watched the entire season. His other major movie in 1986 was Crystal Heart, where Tawny Kitaen plays a rock star who falls in love with a boy who lives inside a crystal room because he has an auto-immune deficiency.

This film has an incredibly uneven tone. At times, it’s a family movie. Other scenes, Road Warrior clones are tearing off Vanity’s clothes and threatening to rape her. Sometimes, everything is treated with wacky humor. And then, you see people fall to their deaths and smack into the ground. It’s also a much better movie the more mind enhancing substances you consume, I figure, as I watched it cold sober and it kind of dragged (no pun intended).

Oh yeah — Lance’s roommate, Cliff, is played by Peter Kwong, who was Rain in Big Trouble in Little China. And because this movie was made in the 1980’s, Robert Englund contractually has to be in it.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Hitcher (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on October 28, 2020The Hitcher was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Cannon France.

When I first saw The Hitcher, I was probably 14 years old and saw it as a straight-ahead story of violence on the highway. I probably cheered at the end when Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) blew a hole into John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). But age and the miles wear on every man and now when I watch it, it does more than make me raise my fist in the air and shout. It makes me ruminate on the journeys life has taken me and how I’d rather be launched through a window and blasted down a hillside than live a slow, tedious and quiet death.

Halsey starts the film with the kind of confidence that someone at the end of their teens has. He picks up Ryder, who immediately confides to him that he’s killed someone else. But he says something else. Something we don’t expect. “I want you to stop me.”

That’s the whole point of this film. Ryder will transform Halsey into the empty man he is, whether through attrition or forcing him to blast him into oblivion. This road only goes one way.

What does it take to get Halsey to realize this isn’t a nightmare, but reality? Of course, it’s easy to think that this could all be a dream, in the same way that long stretches of drives with no one speaking seem to be visions that last and last. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m still driving and every moment up until here, up until this realization, is just me imagining my life and any moment now, I’m going to wake up with my fiancee asleep next to me.

For our hero, it takes seeing trucks plow into truck stops, station wagons filled with the blood of all American families and the typical movie love interest torn in half by two semis.

Halsey is stripped of his identity, not just because his license and keys — let’s face, the manhood of most red-blooded boys — have been taken away. Everything he may have believed was true — the goodness of giving someone a ride when they need it, that love can conquer fear, even that the role models and lawmakers that society sets up can protect us against one lone man who isn’t just unafraid to die but willingly chases it — is a lie.

Not even suicide can save our hero.

So who is at fault for all the crimes that come out of this spree? If Halsey just shot Ryder in the truck, while Nash (Jennifer Jason Lee, looking like the gorgeous girl who surely will survive all of this madness, right?) is tied between it and another, life would be different.

Look, when a killer says, “I want you to stop me,” you listen.

Eric Red wrote this story while traveling across America, wondering about the lyrics to The Doors ditty “Riders On the Storm.” Pretty simple, really: “If ya give this man a ride, sweet memory will die. Killer on the road, yeah.”

Critics hated it. Both Siskel and Ebert gave it zero out of four stars, with Ebert even decrying the film by saying, “I could see that the film was meant as an allegory, not a documentary. But on its own terms, this movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”


The end of this film, as Halsey stands against the sunset and smokes as we process what has just happened just attacks the viewer. The credits just stand there as we feel no celebration or victory. Maybe not even relief, because while it seems like this is over, there’s no way it is over.

The fact that this movie spawned a sequel and a Michael Bay remake are two things that I have added to the many things that I have tried to forget so that I can keep on living my life*. Kind of like how director Robert Harmon makes the Jesse Stone TV movies for Tom Selleck now instead of getting to create more movies like this (that said, I’ve heard good things about They, a movie he did with Wes Craven and I kind of don’t mind his Van Damme film Nowhere to Run). Red would move on to write a few other films that break the mold and are on my list of favorite films: Near Dark and Blue Steel.

The last thing that this movie makes me feel is loss. Rutger Hauer is such an essential part of my film nerd stable of actors, someone who always makes a movie way better than it seems like it will be just by his presence. Nighthawks is so intense because of him. Films like Wanted Dead or AliveThe Blood of Heroesand Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with Hauer getting to finally play the vampire lord that Anne Rice, who always wanted him as Lestat, saw him in) are actually great because of Hauer. And Blade Runner means nothing without him as Roy Batty.

Hauer astounded the stunt people in this movie, pulling off the car stunts by himself. And he also intimidated Howell, scaring him even when they weren’t acting. He even knocked out a tooth when he flew through the windshield himself. There is no one who could have played this character quite so well and stayed with me so long after the film was over.**

*The fact that René Cardona III made a Mexican version of this called Sendero Mortal does give me the energy to keep on living.  I’d also like to recommend the absolutely insane Umberto Lenzi in America  Hitcher In the Dark, which makes me wish that more Italian directors made their own versions of The Hitcher.

**Hauer said in his autobiography, All Those Moments, that Elliott “was so scary when he came in to audition that Edward S. Feldman was afraid to go out to his car afterward.”

You can listen to more about The Hitcher on The Cannon Canon.