Sunday, 8 October 2017

October Nightmares III #8: The Hitchhiker (1983 - 1991) - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Logical Fallacy

The problem with anthology shows is that they have are obsessed with the wrap around. For some reason, known only to the TV Elders, the audience isn't allowed to simply have a string of unrelated episodes shovelled down our throats like we're sat at the end of a conveyor belt of sausage meat. Á la Masters of Horror. Instead there has to be a sort of interwoven theme shoe-horned in to tie up the episodes. Everything must be welded together by the soldering iron of continuity. But not every anthology show can be the Twilight Zone and have its own Rod Serling. Some have to settle for...The Hitchhiker. 

The Hitchhiker exemplifies the ludicrous emphasis studios and creators place on the premise of the anthology show. It's your basic characters 'doomed-by-fate' anthology, but with each episode introduced by Page Fletcher's Hitchhiker. That's right: instead of an evil Crypt Keeper, our host is a guy who is too much of a badass to drive - but not so badass that letting others ferry him around is beneath him. Not that I'm entirely complaining: Fletcher plays the Hitchhiker completely straight - somewhere between Matthew McConaughey and Rambo from First Blood.

Unlike Serling's clean-cut G-Man, Fletcher's sleazy Hitchhiker is not interested in impressing you. Just watch the intro: this leather and jeans wearing Adonis struts across America's desert terrain as a synth track wails in the background. If anthology shows are meant to teach a lesson, all we're taking away from The Hitchhiker's opening is that this drifter figure is either going to fuck your mom, or make you call him Uncle Steve whilst he shows you his collection of knives.

Initial impressions are that The Hitchhiker is going to work this mysterious, slightly dangerous looking figure into the stories in a major way. Almost like Freddy's Nightmares meets The Hitcher (the Rutger Hauer one, not the Sean Bean version). But it turns out The Hitchhiker is a straight anthology show - an exercise in genre fiction from the purveyors of filth, HBO. Fletcher's big role essentially boils down to introducing/closing each episode, and strutting around in the opening credits looking like the type of sleazy drifter who'd say "age don't matter babe" to an underage girl at a carnival. 

Being on HBO, a cable channel, meant that The Hitchhiker didn't have to play by the same rules as its brethren and thus it's fairly edgy by anthology show standards. There's tits, crazy Willem Dafoe, foul language, hard bastard Michael Madsen (as a gritty cop, what else?), blood, Helen Hunt and her nice rack, and all the other transgressive material The Hitchhiker's contemporaries couldn't show. Placed in context, the doom-laden synth intro and rough-around-the-edges host make sense. They serve as a hint that something taboo is coming, a show that's a bit edgier than normal. This is the type of quasi-dangerous TV show that'd make me hide my face behind a cushion whilst my parents around, and then sneak downstairs to watch when they thought I was in bed.

Since the format allowed the writers to get away with a lot more, the vast majority of episodes (if not all) seemed to revolve around the type of callous arseholes who wouldn't be out of place in one of those Wall Street films. There are tales about murderers, adulterers, thieves, womanisers, criminally negligent professionals, stalkers, peado priests; all manner of unpleasant Reagan era people who always got a karmatic comeuppance in the end. It's as though karma was weaponised and given a laser scope so it couldn't miss.

Usually this would involve logical fallacy and faulty cause and effect reasoning. Such as don't let your parrot destroy your supposedly cursed figurine, or you'll be dashed to pieces. I should think that was obvious. What are you - the type of dolt who'd feed his Mogwai after midnight?

The Hitchhiker isn't strictly speaking a horror show; presented as more of a mystery-thriller series if anything. But I've put it on this list because it managed to stand out in the dark anthology series boom of the mid-Eighties for being absolutely brutal. One episode features a man who discovers his hot wife is having an affair, so he burns her and her lover alive; only for the man to be tormented by the sounds of them fucking blasting through his speakers. A sound which turns into a hellish cacophony that causes the man's face to bleed and the rest of him to, eventually, explode. Which is what I imagine would happen to David Cronenberg if his wife ever stepped out on him.

Most of the episodes follow this simple narrative with a low-key but (usually) evocative resolution. The best one is where a bloke thinks he has a killer dog, but it turns out it's just him running around on all fours and killing his enemies. I don't remember anything particularly outlandish horror-wise happening, and my research for this review didn't bring up anything either. Humans doing terrible things to other humans with minimal supernatural intervention is a hundred times more effective than Creepshow's trash-bag on a lake monster. 

I still maintain that The Hitchhiker is Satan, however. He knows more intimate details about these ill-fated individuals than any normal man possibly could. And wherever he goes, death and misfortune follow; he's like an American dentist touring Africa with a high-powered rifle.

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