Hitcher in the Dark Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Umberto Lenzi (as Humphrey Humbert)
Written by Olga Pehar
1989, 95 minutes, Rated R
Released on March 30th, 2021
Joe Balogh as Mark Glazer
Josie Bissett as Daniela Foster
Jason Saucier as Kevin
Mark Glazer is young, handsome and heir to his father’s large real estate enterprise. He travels up the eastern seaboard in his Winnebago looking for a good time. Mark’s idea of a good time however is picking up attractive female hitchhikers and drugging and raping them before slitting their throats, photographing them and dumping their bodies into alligator-infested waters. Moving up from Florida, he makes his way to Virginia Beach in time for Spring Break, where the beaches are packed with college kids. It is here that he spots Daniela, a beautiful blonde dancing in a park surrounded by a bunch of enthusiastic teens who awkwardly clap their hands along to some synthesizer tunes on a boom box. Despite her smooth moves, Daniela is actually having a bad day, as she catches her boyfriend Kevin kissing another girl in a bar. Mark watches as she confronts Kevin and breaks up with him before storming out.
Mark follows Daniela in his RV and offers her a ride to the nearest bus station. She graciously accepts his offer and as they head out she notices Kevin’s jeep following close behind. She ducks down out of sight as he passes and thanks Mark for being so understanding. Daniela notices a framed photograph of an older woman and casually comments on it only to learn the woman is Mark’s dead mother, a very sensitive subject for him. He points out her resemblance to his mom and offers her a drink from his drugged thermos. When she wakes up, she is in handcuffs and Mark is taking pictures of her naked body. He slaps her around a bit and calls her a whore, but because she reminds him of mom he can’t bring himself to kill her immediately.
What follows is a nightmare scenario in which Mark keeps Daniela captive in the vehicle where he abuses her physically and likely sexually. She repeatedly tries to escape, but he is too overpowering. Kevin meanwhile learns that someone saw Daniela get inside an RV and gets a description of Mark. He continues his search for her and always seems to just miss them, but he remains determined. When he finally does catch up, the scenario with him emerging as a hero doesn’t play out exactly as he hoped. Now both Daniela and Kevin have to deal with Mark’s deadly games.
From director Umberto Lenzi (An Ideal Place to Kill) comes Hitcher in the Dark (aka Hitcher II, aka Fear in the Dark), a disturbing thriller that aims to make your skin crawl. Showing considerable restraint in depicting graphic violence, Lenzi instead focuses on psychological terror. The horror begins when Daniela first awakens in the RV to discover Mark has cut her hair to strengthen the family resemblance. He is verbally and physically abusive and also attempts to rape her. It is unclear if she is suffering Stockholm syndrome or simply pretending to enjoy his advances so he won’t hurt her further. We spend the majority of the picture rooting for Daniela to somehow slip her restraints and either escape right away or stick around long enough for some sweet revenge.
The script, written by Olga Pehar (Hunt for the Golden Scorpion), is pretty grim and plays out primarily between two characters in one location. The occasional cutaways to Kevin tracking them down keep things from getting too claustrophobic, but do tend to break the tension that has steadily built up to that point. As producer, the legendary Joe D’Amato (Emanuelle in America, Zombie 5: Killing Birds) made sure to include additional exploitation elements to keep viewers’ attention. The most egregious moment comes when Kevin happens upon a wet t-shirt contest on the beach. Gratuitous nudity abounds and provides an oddly light-hearted tone to the picture.
Joe Balogh (Black Demons) stars as Mark and Josie Bissett (Melrose Place) as Daniela, and both are convincing in their roles of captor and captive. Their characters are not particularly well-developed and remain in a heightened emotional state that sometimes exceeds the actors’ abilities. They do play well off each other and make the most of the material, but performances would have benefited from stronger direction. Hitcher in the Dark is a lesser effort from Lenzi, but remains watchable. The film as originally scripted ends on a very dark note, but the studio insisted on a more upbeat finale that robs it of its lasting impact. Lenzi and D’Amato completists will be happy to add this title to their collections, but newcomers may want to catch this one streaming before committing.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the original camera negative has received a 4K scan and restoration with impressive results. Picture clarity is sharp and richly detailed with strong colors and natural flesh tones throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original stereo recording with dialogue levels remaining clear and understandable. The quirky soundtrack is a lot of fun, especially the music cue near the beginning where Daniela is dancing for a crowd.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Film historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger provide an entertaining and informative audio commentary that covers a lot of ground. They discuss the films of Lenzi and D’Amato and provide an overview of Italian horror movies of the era. While fans of the material they do not shy away from knocking the numerous shortcomings and awkward moments.
The late Umberto Lenzi appears in an archival interview (10 minutes) and discusses his approach to the psychological horrors of the story. Other topics include casting, influences on the violence, conflict with his leading lady regarding nudity and the compromise with producers to give the film a happy ending. This interview is in Italian with English subtitles.
The theatrical trailer has been included.
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