the hitcher II

(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.

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