Written by Eric Red
Directed by Robert Harmon
Jim Halsey...C. Thomas Howell
John Ryder...Rutger Hauer
Nash...Jennifer Jason Leigh
Weary traveler Jim Halsey stops to pick up hitchhiker John Ryder on the proverbial dark and stormy night. When he turns out to be a raging psychopath, Halsey manages to overpower him and kick him out of the moving vehicle. But, the raging psychopath that he is, Ryder is not willing to admit defeat and let bygones be bygones. Instead, he stalks Jim cross-country, killing anyone and everyone who gets in his way--and framing Jim for the murders!
A well-paced road thriller, this is the movie that Joy Ride (which I admit I thoroughly enjoyed) wanted to grow up to be. C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh do a commendable job in their respective roles, but it's Rutger Hauer (not yet a hobo) who steals the show as the always calm and collected killer. His actions and demeanor put a human face on the slasher character typically hidden behind silence and Halloween masks.
There are plenty of great action scenes running rampant here, including a great one involving a helicopter in a full-on police chase. It's almost two films in one--an action movie and a psycho thriller--but they blend well together to make a badass little flick. Far, far superior to the mindless, testosterone-soaked remake.
While re-watching this, I couldn't help but think: If Alexandre Aja directed this, John Ryder would turn out to be a figment of Jim Halsey's imagination, and Jim would have been guilty the entire time. And you know what? With a few minor edits, it would actually make sense. More sense than it did in High Tension, anyway.
Definitely deserves a spot in your collection, right between Duel and the aforementioned Joy Ride.
"Because I cut off his legs. And his arms. And his head."