'The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting' Is The Kind Of Direct-To-Video Sequel That Can Really Ruin Your Day

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series where Rob Hunter explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrical released movies. In this edition: The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting.)

Not every movie that deserves a sequel actually gets one, and those that actually get a follow-up don't always deserve it. Hollywood's a mysterious place, a place where box-office dictates content more often than talent and creativity, and one of the unfortunate results of that formula is that sometimes a sequel can be greenlit strictly in the hopes of a quick cash-grab. In the most egregious of those cases, the follow-up doesn't even make it to theaters and is instead aimed squarely at the direct-to-video (DTV) market. The original filmmakers are rarely involved, the level of onscreen talent is typically several rungs down the ladder of fame, and the films themselves are usually forgotten immediately...if they're even noticed at all.

Well, that ends now.

And by "that," I mean the lack of attention these DTV sequels get, not their continued production. (I'm not that powerful.) Some are passable entertainment, most are wet garbage, and together we're going to explore every single one of them.

Let's start The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting. Because we have to start somewhere.

The Beginning

1986's The Hitcher remains one of that decade's most under-appreciated thrillers, as evidenced in part by my inability to buy it on Blu-ray. (Real talk: the unavailability of this gem as a restored Blu-ray release is one of the world's great injustices. One of the top five travesties in history, easy.) It's a smart, suspenseful, unrelenting ride across the desolate American West with one of cinema's most engaging and persistent killers in pursuit. The story is simple – a young man driving through a desert landscape crosses paths with s serial killer he picks up hitchhiking. John Ryder taunts and toys with his prey, and Rutger Hauer's performance is as perfect a blend of menace, pathos, and playfulness as you're likely to find. He's immensely sadistic, but Hauer gives him a touch of Roy Batty with an inner sadness and an intimate understanding of death. There's a wit to Eric Red's mean-spirited script, an atmospheric style and appreciation of landscape in Robert Harmon's direction, and a morbidly thrilling sense of terror that builds to a rip-roaring conclusion.

The less said about 2007's lame-as-hell remake the better – sorry Sean Bean – but odds are you didn't even know the original film got a DTV sequel in 2003...which means you definitely didn't know it's called The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting. Ugh.

The DTV Plot

17 years after escaping the maniacal grip of a madman roaming the arid highways of the American West, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is a broken man. A police officer with a pilot's license and impulse issues, he's let go from the force after shooting and killing an unarmed kidnapper. Flashbacks to his encounter with John Ryder still haunt his brain, and with the risk of losing his girlfriend Maggie (Kari Wuhrer) looming large – "You can't just go around shooting people because they're wacko!" she tells him – he takes the suggestion of an old friend and heads back to where his trauma began. Sounds logical. They fly in to a remote landing strip, hit the road in a borrowed car, and almost immediately run into trouble when Maggie insists they pick up a hitchhiker named Jack (Jake Busey).

As if anyone would intentionally pick up Jake Busey.

Jim immediately senses bad news, but is the threat real or are his memories from the past becoming hallucinations in the present? Spoiler...this ain't no hallucination.

Talent Shift

DTV sequels don't always come with a drop in talent both on and offscreen. Wait, scratch that. Yes they do. Howell is the only returning cast member here, but rather than be a plus, it's a reminder that acting ability needs to be exercised just like any other muscle. Sure, he's worked steadily since his career heyday in the '80s, but of the nearly fifty films he made between Hitcher movies (that's almost 50 in 17 years!) only a handful of them actually saw a wide release. Most appear to be DTV paycheck jobs, and unfortunately it shows. The original's female lead (its only female, actually) was played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and she brought emotional weight to a small role. Wuhrer has her charms with the right tone and material (Anaconda, Vivid), but they don't involve serious emoting or action choreography, leaving her something of an empty vessel here.

Which brings us to Jake Busey. In what world does someone think Jake Busey is a suitable follow-up to Rutger freaking Hauer? Busey's dad can play psycho killers just fine – see Hider In the House for a creepy example – as his maniacal grin and off-putting stare lend credibility to the threat of real craziness within, but Jake almost always comes across as a frat boy in an ill-fitting Gary Busey mask.

Off-camera talent falls noticeably too in the laughably-subtitled I've Been Waiting. Harmon and Red both made their feature debut with The Hitcher, and it quickly proved to be a solid calling card for them. By contrast, this was director Louis Morneau's ninth film in a career mostly built on forgettable DTV releases, and while he's capable of delivering a fun genre effort as evidenced by 1999's Bats (no joke, it's entertaining!) his direction here is flat and overly reliant on jump scares, shaky-cam flashbacks, and mundane visuals. And the three credited screenwriters (Molly Meeker, Charles R. Meeker, Leslie Scharf)? 15 years later and this movie is still the only writing credit for any of them. One of them did act in an episode of Quantum Leap, though, so that's a legitimate (albeit unrelated) plus.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

Howell's return as Jim is a rare kind of continuity for DTV sequels, and both the prospect of seeing where the character went with his life and the promise of seeing him face off against a new killer are exciting.

And that's the extent of the positives regarding this horrible, lazy, rage-inducing movie.

How the Sequel S***s on the Original

I've made a lot of bad calls in my life, but the worst decision I've ever made was to follow a re-watch of the genre brilliance that is The Hitcher with a first-time viewing of this abomination. Few movies have made me angrier. Spoilers follow.

The Hitcher was filmed in the vast deserts of California, and it feels every bit the desolate American West it's supposed to be, which lends it a feeling of isolation beneath a beating sun. The sequel? Filmed entirely in Canada. I have no beef with our neighbors to the North, but just as no one believed a single episode of The X-Files' first few seasons actually took place in the U.S., no one will mistake the landscape here for Texas, California, or anywhere in-between.

Another of the original's strengths rests in its eye for practical stunt work and action sequences. From car flips to a helicopter crash, there's a tangible feel to the carnage that reverberates and echoes across the landscape. To its credit, the stupidly-subtitled I've Been Waiting features some vehicular stunts too, but the film is bookended with sequences heavily laden with sketchy visual effects and CG which start and end the film on sloppy footing.

It's what's in-between those two points that shines, though. And by shines, I, of course, mean sucks the fecal matter from a dead dog's behind.

Jim's journey in the original film saw him move from awkward and inadequate young adult to confident and capable slightly older adult (The difference a couple days can make!). We see him in real anguish, both tragic (the moment he's kneeling in the dirt, pistol aimed at his head, ready to give up) and nervously comical (the diner bit where Ryder sits opposite him in the booth and shows real pity as Jim pulls the trigger on an unloaded gun). He's no action hero, but he's grown into someone with a respect for violent action, and when the film ends it leaves him hardened.

When we first meet him here, he seems to have fulfilled the laziest of interpretations of The Hitcher's ending – Jim kills Ryder, lights a cigarette, and essentially becomes a killer himself. It opens with Jim landing a plane on a desert road in a rain storm, stopping an approaching car to ask for help, and then shooting the driver point blank in the chest. It's played over-the-top, with Howell's grimace (see above), ominous camera moves, and music cues...before revealing he's actually a police officer rescuing a kidnapped child. This Jim is already different, but he quickly becomes a poorly-written cartoon who, despite having become a cop, learned to fly planes, and presumably maintained the ability to feed himself over the past 17 years, suddenly can't even drive a car without blinding flashbacks and visions of Jake Busey's teeth. He's wholly incompetent, and after letting Maggie pick up a hitchhiker – despite a cheeky road sign saying not to do so – he proceeds down the same damn path as the original in letting the killer dictate the rules of the game.

Well, until he's shot dead in the lamest way possible.

That's right. As if inspired by the brutal opening beauty of David Fincher's Alien 3 the insipidly-subtitled I've Been Waiting kills off its returning character. Maggie then becomes Jack's target and is subsequently and repeatedly framed for his actions.

The original accomplished this aspect with an appreciated subtlety – Ryder left Jim looking and feeling responsible, but it was all in the appearance of guilt. Jack, by contrast, hams it up by donning costumes (?), doing phone voices (!), and even chopping his own finger off just so he can claim Maggie did it. (He tosses it into the french fry grease in a nod to the first film.) She slips in blood at one point, and in a single move falls, opens a freezer door, and collapses atop a dead man with her hand reflexively grabbing the knife handle protruding from his chest. It's ludicrous but played straight, even as Busey comes out in a fry cook's hat asking if he can take her order. Hauer found power in silence and a soft tone, two degrees Busey lacks. Rather than be unnerving, terrifying, or ominous, his presence here is merely that of a rodeo clown.

The first film gave Ryder a minor omniscience that led some viewers to suggest he bore supernatural traits, but they're explained easily enough through his own unknown history and basic genre conventions. Here, though, the idea is teased more directly. "It's starting again!", screams Jim at one point. "He doesn't look the same, but I know it's him!" It's clearly his delusion talking, but Jack's given the same general appearance, from overcoat to hand bandage, and he repeatedly suggests he's pushing Maggie until she becomes capable of violence – again, something Ryder managed without having to literally say it.

Anyway. A whole mess of cops are shot dead and shop owners are stabbed before Maggie finally works up the gumption to focus and fight back. How you ask? If you guessed by climbing into a Cessna, chasing him down in his semi truck, and repeatedly buzzing him at high speeds then you're a winner! I kid, of course. No one associated with this movie is a winner. She keeps doing fly-bys until Jack shoots some holes in her fuselage and gas tank – another echo of the original – and with no other options, she crashes her plane into the front of the truck. Of course the crash doesn't kill Jack, but I'll leave the discovery of what does to those of you unwise enough to give the movie a watch on your own.

Quick aside for the only vaguely interesting thing to come out of the ridiculously-subtitled I've Been Waiting – they apparently filmed this plane crash scene the morning of September 11, 2001.


The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting is blandly bad on its own merits, but when viewed immediately after The Hitcher, its offenses are magnified for what it does to Jim's character and the themes found in Red's script. It's an odd choice for a DTV sequel anyway, as the original was no real financial success and instead only found value through word of mouth on its way to becoming a cult hit. So why was it made? To hurt me, obviously.

And I lied. I don't want you to watch this movie. Maggie kills Jack by shooting some gasoline which explodes, sending a CG propeller through his midsection that severs him in half. It's not as fun as it sounds.