Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Szurek Zone: HITCHHIKE TO HELL (1978)

HITCHHIKE TO HELL starts off with a sense of raw enthusiasm, but someone apparently ran out of steam long before they ran out of film. After a hilariously campy song called "Hitchhike to Hell" opens the credits, we are treated to sleaze assault after sleaze assault for about a half an hour, and then things get rather boring as a string of unsympathetic extras are constantly introduced for the sole purpose of undergoing uninteresting deaths at the hands of an apathetic, uninteresting protagonist.

Howard is the socially klutzy, overtly neurotic delivery boy for the town laundry. Played by an idiot named Robert Gribbens, who looks like Garrison Keillor, Howard lives with his obviously unstable mother and is traumatized by his sister having run away a couple of years before. As a result of the trauma, he has developed homicidal Jekyll-Hyde tendencies, having black-outs to overly-theatrical background music during which he drives down the nearby highway, giving a life to underage female hitchhikers (and in one case, which is evidently supposed to be funny but emerges just crude and tasteless, a homosexual). Howard finds out if they’re runaways (apparently a hell of a lot pass through this area) and if they are, he offs them, usually with a total absence of gore.

Before long, local cop Russell Johnson (best remembered for GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) concludes that a serial killer is at large. He and partner Randy Echols supposedly investigate, although no one is really sure what they’re doing other than walking around delivering lectures on the dangers of thumbing. Howard, meanwhile, has his memory refreshed a tad when he reads newspaper accounts of the murders, and undergoes the predictable anguish. Still, his alter-ego keeps taking over, and before we know it, he’s on the road again, being put through his paces by an unimaginative scriptwriter who’s reluctant to stop composing but seems to have writer’s block.

HITCHHIKE TO HELL is about ninety minutes, but feels like two hours wherein virtually nothing of any consequence happens. Final moments come across with such a lack of zest that one gets the impression the filmmakers are just as relieved that it’s over as the viewers.

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