By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“John Ryder? That’s a rental company,” says Hauer on the same DVD. “To me he doesn’t exist; he’s just a ghost that comes out of the desert.”
To me, at least, the most persistent explanation is that Howell and Hauer are actually the same person, two sides of a split personality, and the film is an allegory for schizophrenia — with one side goading the other into suicide. Moments after Howell has picked him up, Hauer’s hitcher holds a knife to his throat and commands, “Say four words: ‘I-want-to-die.’” Unable to do so, Howell screams, “I don’t want to die!” and pushes his assailant out the open passenger door. Later, overcome by his circumstances, Howell holds a police revolver under his chin, but is unable to pull the trigger. As a policeman says to him, not quite able to articulate the rather squeamish strain of homoeroticism running throughout the film, or the pronounced father-son relationship that bonds them, “There’s something strange going on between the two of you; I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to know what it is.”
Red resolutely maintains his films are not autobiographical. The closest he has come to discussing his own background is in a 2001 online interview at Buried.com: “It’s hard to point to any other specific autobiographical references, but I came from a problematic family background, and on Body Parts [a serial killer’s limbs are donated to various accident victims, which he then controls from beyond the grave] and Bad Moon [an anemic-werewolf rehash], I was drawn to material where a stable family is threatened by a trusted loved one undergoing increasing psychosis or a supernatural variation on a violent mental illness or schizophrenia. That to me is true horror.” Addressing the plight of a young boy kidnapped by hit men in Cohen and Tate, the film Red leveraged his early success into directing in 1989 at age 28, he says, “I had a great feel for that character, a kid who has to survive by his wits in a dangerous world where he is never safe. Sometimes it is less the specifics of your life than the place that you are at in your life emotionally that shows up autobiographically in the writing.”
But according to Hitcher director Robert Harmon, “At the risk of inspiring Eric’s wrath, I remember Rutger [Hauer] once said — and I agreed with him completely — ‘Eric has no idea what he wrote.’ . . . I think that might be particularly true of someone like Eric, because Eric’s great talent is that — at least in my experience of him — he has this very laserlike worldview that’s very unusual, and most people don’t share it, but it’s very consistent and it’s very skewed. So if Eric is writing from his gut and not his head, which is a fair assessment, all kinds of stuff is going to find its way into these pages, far beyond whatever the plot may be.”
Whatever the explanation, there are a number of similarities between elements in Red’s films and unproduced screenplays and the incident on Wilshire. Characters get run down by cars or trucks at the end of The Hitcher, Near Dark, Blue Steel and Undertow. (The last three are a trilogy of scripts Red wrote with director Kathryn Bigelow; she refused to comment for this article, as did many of those contacted.)
Both Body Parts and Undertow feature traffic accidents early on, and The Hitcher opens with a near head-on with a semi, and famously pulls a woman in half with an 18-wheeler. In Body Parts, when a basketball player sporting a serial killer’s transplanted legs is stopped at a traffic light, the autonomous leg stomps down on the accelerator, careening him into traffic, just as Hauer pushes Howell’s foot down on the gas at the start of The Hitcher to bypass one of his roadside victims. In Red’s draft of Alien 3, a character climbs into a tractor-trailer and plows through rows and rows of aliens. And in an unproduced script titled Highway to Hell, written in early 1999, a year before the fatal traffic incident, a Kenworth W900L tractor-trailer truck possessed by the spirit of a serial killer wreaks havoc on the Texas freeways. “It’s my truck that’s killing people, and I can’t walk away and say it ain’t my responsibility,” says truck driver Sonny Ray Slaughter.
Nor is there any dearth of slit throats or broken-glass-brandished-as-weapon — especially in bars. In his opening monologue in The Hitcher, Hauer’s character asks, “You got any idea how much blood jets out of a guy’s neck when his throat’s been slit?” Later, a German shepherd laps at a policeman’s sliced neck. In a memorable set piece from Near Dark, a literate horror film that presents vampires as the drifters out of In Cold Blood or a latter-day Manson family, the creatures terrorize a roadhouse, slicing bartenders’ and waitresses’ throats and filling their beer mugs like beer from a tap. And in Body Parts, a transplant recipient (or rather, the killer’s arm, which has been grafted onto him) grabs a beer bottle and breaks it over a fellow patron’s head.