Day 15: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October

The Hitch-Hiker

Directed and Co-Written by Ida Lupino


1 hour, 10 minutes

I suspect this movie just hasn’t aged well, but I was bored. Like fell asleep on two separate occasions to get through it bored. Now, granted, I’m a mom and once that parent happens, sleep gets entirely more erratic. But even with that lens on this viewing experience, I can attest that I was bored. So okay, the movie is boring so I’m barely going to talk about the movie.


What really isn’t boring is the director, Ida Lupino. After you read this, you should absolutely go down an online rabbit hole and read all about her. She was already a movie star when she became a director. The acting thing was the family business that she just went into until she could make directing happen. Now the especially interesting point about all of that is this was all happening, starting in the late 1940s. People keep asking me if I’m having a hard time finding female directors making horror movies. (I am but mostly because I’ve sought them out for years before this project. But for sure, even then, it’s a much smaller bunch than the guys.) But when Lupino was directing, there were only a handful of women directing any movies anywhere, let alone anything with an all-male cast and such a dark subject matter.

With “The Hitch-Hiker,” Ida Lupino became the first woman to direct a film noir. She was working at a time where she felt like she still had to act quite feminine and motherly in order to make her cast and crew do what she wanted. God forbid, you could just give out, ya know, direction. At some point in her directing career, she was surprised with a director’s chair that read “Mother To Us All.” She had antiquated views on how women should behave with and treat men and yet, she was one of the founders of an early filmmaking collective called The Filmakers (an improperly spelled and on-the-nose name but revolutionary nevertheless). Her aim was to make movies about social issues, so she had made many “women’s pictures” (including an apparently stunning movie about rape called “Outrage”) before she took on “The Hitch-Hiker.”


The movie follows Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) and Emmett (William Talman), two buddies heading down to Mexico for a fishing trip. They stupidly take on a hitch-hiker named Roy Collins (a pretty damn creepy Edmond O’Brien), who turns out to be a psychopath serial killer who’s been working his way through drivers to get himself down to Mexico and then as far away as he can. He’s ruthless and loves to play with their minds. He makes them drive all over, shoot cans out of each other’s hands, walk with sprained ankles and so on. That all sounds really intense and scary, right? Yeah, nope. Super boring. It was apparently based on the true crime case of Billy Cook, who went on a similar crime spree.


There’s some tension to the story for the first twenty-ish minutes. But the longer these two are trapped with Collins, the more the tension just dissipates. We should have been seeing these guys try everything or see just how hardcore and good at this the bad guy is. But instead, chance after chance is wasted and the big, bad killer feels less and less scary. O’Brien/Collins gives some solidly creepy speeches throughout and he does have one eye that never closes, even when he’s sleeping (something Billy Cook really had), which means the guys can’t even trust they could attempt an escape when he catches a nap. So that’s a bit spooky but much more in the idea than the actual execution. The acting is histrionic and forced. Some of the photography is lovely and it’s fun to see a noir set out in the Mexican desert. And I was thrilled to find the Mexican police are mostly effectual in this movie, since they’re so typically depicted as corrupt and behind.


The only truly great point of the movie comes at the end, which I’m totally going to SPOIL because you aren’t missing anything otherwise.


So the Mexican police find them and arrest Collins. The police tell these two poor male victims that they’ll have to take their report now and then just walks off. So the guys are just left, standing there, amazed that their ordeal is over, that they actually lived after all. Not a trauma blanket in sight. One of them says to the other, “It’s all right now, buddy. It’s all right.” Said buddy nods, doubtful, but sucks in his feelings like a “real man” of this era would do. You get the distinct feeling that there will be no working out of this trauma. This is going to just sit with them for their whole lives. That’s fairly profound. Or maybe I was just looking for some redeeming moment and attached more meaning to this last one.