Franco February: HITCH-HIKE (1977) Review

Franco February carries on, and this time, we’re heading back to Italy for some sleazy exploitation fare that features not one, but two cult film stars! Nero co-stars in this flick with the late David Hess, who’s probably most notable for playing Krug in the original The Last House on the Left a ton of other sleazy rapists in the seventies and early eighties (though I love him as the camp owner in 1987’s Bodycount). Hitch-Hike is an interesting film, but not for Hess (he plays the character you expect him to play); for Nero. Just why is that? Based on the plot, you’d think this role would be right up his alley, but no.

HITCH-HIKE (1977) Review

Walter (Nero) and Eve (Corinne Clery) are a married Italian couple on the outs who are vacationing in America in Nevada. The two come across a hitchhiker named Adam (Hess) and they stop to pick him up. Unfortunately, they discover that Adam is one of three people who robbed a bank and he’s heading to Mexico with all the loot. What follows is a non-stop terror ride filled with violence and humiliation as the three head to Mexico, but Adam has severely underestimated his captives…

I had a clear idea of what I was expecting when I watched Hitch-Hike, and it definitely wasn’t this. After reading the plot, you probably think you know exactly what road this movie will go down, and trust me; it’s not what you think. Actually, for good eighty-odd minutes, it plays out exactly the way you expect it to until it veers completely in the opposite direction. I’ll attempt to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but this is definitely one odd duck in the Nero catalogue. This is probably his most involved performance that I’ve seen, even if his character is nigh identical to the one in The Fifth Cord (an alcoholic reporter, only much more so). David Hess is, well, David Hess and Corinne Clery is great alongside the two. Aside from a few incidental characters that come and go, those three take up all of the runtime and do a great job (even with some iffy dubbing, but that is to be expected).

Now, Hitch-Hike is an Italian movie that’s almost completely dialogue-driven. Most of the writing is pretty good and the character dynamics are great, but there are definitely some corny lines (mostly from Hess, as the writer seemed to go out of his way to make him an over-the-top bad guy). It’s based on a novel called The Violence and the Fury, which I haven’t read, so I can’t really vouch for the movie’s faithfulness. They did do a good job adapting it, since it doesn’t all feel like several plot points compressed into 100-minutes the way The Fifth Cord did. When action and violence does occur, it’s fantastic. The shootings are bloody, the car crashes are extravagant, and the fistfights are amazing (the first one between Nero and Hess actually got my adrenaline pumping due to its feeling of raw realism and the way it was shot). The score by Ennio Morricone is effective in its simplicity and bodes well with a thriller like this.

However, I really don’t know whether to praise the movie for its change in direction at the end or to hate it for it. I had a clear image of where the movie was going in my head and I liked where it was going, then something happened and that image was shattered. After the movie ended, I was bitterly disappointed it hadn’t gone the way I thought it would, but after thinking about it a while, I’m unsure. I might have preferred to go the stereotypical route, but the movie has almost a perfect ending this way. Some of the heavy dialogue scenes can be a major bore, and a lot of the movie isn’t terribly eventful. Things do perk up with the introduction of the two scorned robbers Adam ditched and Adam wanting Walter to write a book about him, but aside from a few chases and fights, it’s all just build-up to a climax that’s actually kind of disappointing (the twist was really good, though). There’s also an obligatory uncomfortable rape scene while Walter watches that cements Hess’s character as just a terrible person.

I’m not a big fan of Hitch-Hike, but I can say that this is one exploitation movie that will stick with you. It’s not horrifically violent or sleazy, but the twist at the end is incredible. It’s also a role one wouldn’t commonly associate Nero with. While in The Fifth Cord he’s an alcoholic but still likable at the end of the day, here, he’s an unlikable clod who does nothing but instigate fights between himself and his wife. Nero looks like he had fun acting like a drunken buffoon, and Hess is Hess. The car chases are good, the stunts are good, the character interactions are surprisingly good, and the twist is memorable. Blue Underground gave it a nice DVD release with the trailer and interviews with the three stars. Usually with something like Enter the Ninja or even Django, you know before you watch whether or not you’ll enjoy it. With this one, I’d say find some way of previewing it before blindly buying.

The Verdict: Hitch-Hike is a sleazy, sometimes-violent exploitation thriller that’s a lot smarter than it has any right to be; maybe a little too smart. Certainly worth a viewing, but I can’t guarantee you’ll love it.

Score: 6/10

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