Thursday, August 6, 2009

In short: Hitch Hike (1977)

aka The Naked Prey

Walter (Franco Nero) and Eve (Corinne Clery) Mancini have a less than stellar marriage. He's an alcoholic low-life journalist and she is the disillusioned daughter of his boss and the only thing that keeps them together besides copious amounts of mutual hatred is sex.

Especially for Eve emotional disgust and sexual pleasure seem to be things that just go together.

The charming couple is just trying to get back to LA after an unpleasant camping trip somewhere in the American South-West (looking very much like the Italian country-side), when they pick up a hitch-hiker standing by the side of the road.

As this is a movie, this turns out to be not the brightest idea. Adam Konitz (David Hess) - the hitch-hiker - is on the run from the police and some dubious friends of his while carrying a suitcase full of dollars. Adam is also violently psychotic. At first, the thug wants to use the pair as a cover or - if necessary - hostages to get over the border, but when he learns that Walter is a journalist he gets it into his head that someone really should write a book about his life.

That's just the beginning of one of the many cat and mouse games that will go on between the characters.

Hitch Hike's director Pasquale Festa Campanile was mostly specialized in comedies, often sex comedies, and so his successes or failures usually fall outside of my fields of expertise. As a cynical thriller Hitch Hike is a highly interesting aberration in his body of work.

Campanile does "thriller" a little differently from the way the genre is usually handled. Films of the genre usually stand or fall with a tension based on tightness and density, while Hitch Hike is loosely structured liked a road movie. That the film still works excellently can be explained by a handful of things, the first among them Campanile's hand for great photography and editing, followed by some excellent acting jobs by all three main actors and a script that actually knows how to surprise while keeping its characters believable enough.

The characters are really what holds the film together, the various occurrences in the script slowly revealing different sides to them while keeping explanations for their acts at least to a degree ambiguous.

As a bonus, there's a mostly great, idiosyncratic Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Mostly, because someone found it fit to include something I can only call "the hateful song of hate" and believe me, you won't soon forget that one. Especially since its permanent, Tokyo Drifter-like repetition will really burn it into your brain. But hey, who said everything about a film has to be pleasant?

Hitch Hike does in fact have more unpleasant things going on than just the song. It is sleazy and its perspective on humanity is highly cynical. Yet Campanile treats these elements of the film as classy as you will see in a film featuring David Hess without making it look cowardly or prudish.

When it comes to loose but mean little exploitation thrillers, Hitch Hike is a hidden pearl.



Tower Farm said...

Ennio Morricone has had such a strange career. He like like the Lance Henricksen of music. He seems to make soundtracks to everything!

Great review. I am going to seek this one out soon. It sounds perfect.


houseinrlyeh said...


I agree, Morricone is just everywhere. What I find surprising is that he never (well, not that I know of anyway) seems to have done bad work.