By JUDITH SONNET
Starring Joe Balogh, Josie Bissett, Jason Saucier
Directed by Umberto Lenzi (as Humphrey Humbert)
Written by Olga Pehar
If you’re not familiar with Umberto Lenzi, his 1989 effort, HITCHER IN THE DARK may be a bad place to start. But Vinegar Syndrome has made their name providing niche entertainment to niche audiences, and if you’re game for a scuzzy, brightly-colored, psychopathic, sex and psychological torment fueled b-movie, then HITCHER IN THE DARK should already be in your online cart.
The story is simple. Mark Glazer (played by Joe Balogh, who also stars in Lenzi’s Black Demons) is a rich kid that drives around the coast in his father’s camper. He’s rich, privileged, and about as spoiled as a twenty-something white kid gets. He’d blend into the crowd if it wasn’t for his mirrored sunglasses, which he wears at all times. No one is aware that his camping trip is an excuse to take his anger toward the mother who abandoned him out on hitchhiking women. He picks them up, tortures them, assaults them, and kills them. But his newest acquisition (played by Josie Bissett) is willing to play his game in an attempt to survive long enough for her beefy boyfriend (Jason Saucher) to catch up to them. What follows is a road trip movie that runs on premium insanity and refuses to brake for slow drivers.
It may come as no surprise that the title is a bit misleading. For one, the hitchhiking woman isn’t in the dark. It’s broad daylight when she gets picked up. Also, the title makes one think of Rutger Haur’s cult classic, The Hitcher. This film wasn’t just sold as a similar feature, it was titled Hitcher 2 in Italy, and marketed as a sequel to a movie that it has nothing to do with. Yes, there is overacting. Yes, there are a lot of triggering sequences. No, this isn’t a disturbing movie. It’s too absurd for that. There is no real gravity to the bad behavior on display here. It’s just so cartoonish and over-the-top that I can’t say I was ever shocked or offended by this movie’s supposedly shocking and offensive content. The highlights include a scene where the killer throws a body into a swamp for the alligators to feast on, a moment where he carves the word “pig” into a dude’s chest (like a wannabe Manson family member), and the multiple scenes where our distressed hero tries – and fails – to outsmart the creep. I won’t spoil much of the plot beyond that, but there are a lot of surprises and dark turns to come!
This may sound out of left field, but fans of Troll 2 should enjoy this one. The musical score is crafted by Carlo Maria Cordio. Cordio also composed the scores to Pieces, Aenigma, Killing Birds, and Beyond the Door III; the last two of which were also given gorgeous releases from Vinegar Syndrome. Cordio’s style may be summed up as as ethereal, cheap, and familiar. If you’ve heard the trembling and wispy score to one of his movies, then you’ll recognize it anywhere, and the theme to HITCHER IN THE DARK is exceptionally close to that of Troll 2.
HITCHER IN THE DARK looks better than ever on this disc. The bright color pallete almost knowingly contrasts with its shadowy title. Of course, this is a brand new 4k transfer scanned directly from the original 35mm negatives. The film is displayed in an expansive 1.85:1 widescreen, which makes its sleazy visuals feel almost inescapable when shown on a large screen. In addition to the new transfer, the disc comes with an archival interview with Umberto Lenzi. Lenzi is an informative talker who digs into the characters’ psyches and the making of the film. There’s also a commentary by authors and film historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger of Diabolique Magazine. The inner sleeve comes with reversible art. One side is pretty leggy, but stays PG, while the other side features a screenshot of a very nude Josie Bissett being photographed by Joe Balogh. Of course, I prefer the nude side since I like my movies lewd but the artwork on the PG side is equally eye-grabbing. Fans can also grab a slick limited edition slipcover (designed by Earl Kessler Jr.) that menacingly showcases Balogh’s mirrored glasses.
If you’re already a fan of Vinegar Syndrome then HITCHER IN THE DARK is, no doubt, already on your radar. If you’re new to the label, or to Italian-made sleaze in general, then I can’t recommend this oddball roadtrip into psychotic hell enough. If you haven’t seen any Lenzi films yet, I’d maybe suggest Nightmare Beach to start… but why not go ahead and jump in the deep end and order yourself a copy of HITCHER IN THE DARK anyways? You know you want to.
HITCHER IN THE DARK is available now from Vinegar Syndrome.