I have written in the past about movies that deal with important issues in society. The other side of that coin are the films that say they are delivering a message when they are really just peddling exploitative garbage. This was especially prevalent in the 1970s when rape fantasies like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left tried to claim they were about female empowerment. It was similar to how critics in the 80s would claim slashers were made to scare oversexed teens.
Hitch Hike to Hell is a 1977 movie about a young man named Harold. He works at a dry cleaner where he uses the delivery van to pick up hitchhikers. Harold lives at home with his mom. He takes everything she says to heart and feels everyone should treat their mothers with the same respect he does his. Harold also has his own way of helping those who are having issues at home.
On the surfaces this seems like a very easy movie to review. Lonely man has mommy issues. He picks up unsuspecting hitchhiker, proceeds to beat and rape her, before killing the victim. Rinse and repeat a few times. What separates Hitch Hike to Hell from similar movies is it seems to have a genuine message. This is also not cobbled together after the fact. It is a story that is trying to say something.
Just because a movie has a message does not mean it is good, however. Much like a worn video shown in a third grade classroom, Hitch Hike to Hell is about the dangers of hitchhiking. It seems silly now, but hitchhiking was somewhat popular in the 70s. The film plays like a PSA, including ridiculous scenarios and exaggerated dialogue. It might be frightening if it was not so funny.
Hitch Hike to Hell does a better job of dealing with mental health issues. It is clear that Harold is struggling with something. The plot does a surprisingly good job of cataloging his descent. The first two killings will make the audience think, “am I really going to see an hour and half of this?” The next encounter gives Harold’s character backstory and motivation. By the end, viewers will be wondering “how are they going to do this?” before the movie ends with a shocking turn of events.
For all the good the movie does, it clearly wanted to objectify and titillate. Harold’s overbearing mother is actually no different than any other single mom. While there may be an argument that she worries too much about her adult son, her actions comes from a place of motherly love. She never oversteps her boundaries. Even more blatant is a scene in which a hitchhiker offers to have sex with Harold to pay for the ride. He declines and instead rapes the woman who just seconds before had propositioned him.
The score is also very strange. Hitch Hike to Hell starts with the sounds of a violent struggle. Everything is happening off camera, but it sounds horrible. Before long, a bloodied and topless women fills the screen. The movie begins proper at this point with a shockingly folksy song. It seems to be spinning a cautionary tale, but it sounds like something out of Winnie the Pooh. This happens throughout with some music even taken on a comedic tone.
Why does this film not have the same infamy as others of its ilk? Perhaps because it never feels as dirty. For example, the first rape scene is filled with poorly thrown punches and a victim who seems to decide to take a nap while being strangled. Contrast this with I Spit on Your Grave which makes the viewer want to turn the whole thing off constantly. Hitch Hike to Hell is a little more than a movie trying to capitalize on a disgusting genre.