Hitchhike to Hell

Director: Irvin Berwick

USA - 1968

Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! 


About three years back, I drove a 1979 powder-blue Dodge Monaco. It was huge, it was gaudy, but for the most part, it was reliable. My friend Shep and I were on leave from the Navy, and since Shep had never been down South, I thought I'd take him on a road trip back to my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Now, I'm the type who likes to travel at night -- you know, to avoid traffic and such. So, around nine"Say, you wouldn't happen to be heading towards Hell, wouldja?" o'clock Friday evening, Shep and I piled into the Lead Sled, and started making our way from Washington, D.C. to Country Music, U.S.A.

The trip from D.C. to Nashville was a good ten hours. About six hours in, I made the startling discovery that Shep, despite the fact that he's twenty-three years old, doesn't have a driver's license. So, even though I had no co-pilot, and sleep deprivation had me seeing Interstate Goblins running down the shoulders of the road, I pressed on like the trooper that I am, assuring myself that I could muscle my way through the last leg of our pilgrimage. (Being that we were both junior enlisted, and were paid exactly squat, getting a motel room was out of the question.) Finally, there appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Five in the morning, the sun was coming out, there were some good tunes on the radio, the cobwebs were beginning to lift from my brain, and there was merely an hour and a half of driving to go..

That was when one of my rear tires blew out.

Sure, so I just threw on the spare, right? Well, coincidentally, the spare was already on the car from last week, when the first tire went be"What do you mean you have nothing but Peter Frampton 8-Tracks?! This really is Hell!"lly-up. Heck, and even if there was a spare, I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm mechanically incompetent. Theoretically, I probably could've installed a replacement tire, but it would have taken a while. A long while. And don't ask about Shep -- the guy couldn't even drive, for cryin' out loud! (Shep is a different story altogether.) So, what does one do when stranded in the hills of Tennessee, on foot, at five in the morning, the nearest semblance of a town being several miles away?


No, we didn't panic. Shep and I rationalized that we were, in fact, two semi-strapping men, and it should be fairly safe for us to hitchhike into the next town. And just to be cautious, we'd only try to flag down the sixteen wheelers. I mean, they're just truck drivers doing their job, right? Sure, we took into account any murderers or perverts who might have picked us up -- but we had no idea of the absolute horror that lay ahead of us. We tucked in our shirts, in an attempt to look as clean-cut and presentable as possible, and started our trek down I-81.

About forty minutes and several cars later, a semi finally stopped to pick us up. I let Shep in first to make sure the coast was clear (bwahaha!), and warily followed Howardin behind him. Shep then snuck into the small backseat (bastard) and I was left on the passenger's side. As it turned out, the trucker wasn't a bad guy at all. Kinda country, kinda slow -- but there wasn't anything wrong with that. And not only was he cool, but he was heading into Nashville, and more-than-willing to take us the remainder of our trip! So, relieved and relaxed, I settled into my chair in an attempt to catch forty desperately-needed winks.

But then -- IT happened.

We had been driving for about an hour, talking and such, and I guess this guy felt comfortable around us -- like a few good buddies, a night out with the boys, or something -- for suddenly, he reached under his seat and produced a handful of Polaroids. As it turned out, they were of his wife, in various states of undress and several different poses. But they all had one thing in common -- the man's wife was heinous. Not ugly -- DAMN ugly. And not only that, but I was seeing a...umm..."side" of her only a privileged few had been made privy to. He had alsoMomma captioned the pictures (as I'm sure you know, Polaroids have that big white space at the bottom) in smeared, black marker: LOOKING SEXY.

The point being: I too have hitchhiked to Hell.

Our picture starts off with Howard, Belmont Dry-Cleaner's delivery man, pulling the company van over to the side of the road and picking up a young, female hitchhiker named Sharon. They drive along for a while, indulging in small talk and such, when suddenly, Howard discovers that Sharon is a runaway. Visibly shocked, Howard recalls a story of his own sister, Judy, running away many years ago, thus breaking his Mother's heart. Howard then asks if Sharon loves her Momma. But much to his dismay, Sharon explains, quite vehemently, that she doesn't. So Howard then pulls the van onto a deserted side road, and proceeds to rape and murder Sharon, at the same time calling her Judy, and berating her for not loving her Momma. After the deed, Howard returns to Belmont Cleaners late, putting him in hot water with his boss, Mr. Belmont.

That night, while having dinner with his Momma, Howard discovers that he has lost his appetite, and doesn't feel too well. Momma, as it turns out, is Howard and Mommaoverprotective of her son, and gives him two aspirins and sends him to bed immediately. Howard then has flashbacks to the murder of Sharon -- but he can't remember committing the crime.

Meanwhile, at the Crescent City police department, Captain Shaw (Russell Johnson!) and his right-hand man, Lt. Bill Davis, discuss the facts and their theories on the recent killing. The Professor professes (ha!) his worry that being this murder was so random, and seemingly without motive, he hopes they don't have some kind of serial murderer along the lines of the Zodiac Killer on their hands.

Ironically, around the same time his actions and motivations were being discussed at the police station, Howard stops and picks up yet another hitchhiker, Gail. Once again, they drive for a while, until the inevitable conversation rears its ugly head, and Howard discovers that not only is Gail a runaway like Sharon and Judy, but she also hates her Momma as well! Naturally, Howard finds yet another secluded spot in town, and orders Gail to get in the back of the van. Three minutes and one wire coat hanger later, the police have yet another strangled body on their hands.

Back at Belmont Cleaners, Mr. Belmont is getting fed up with Howard’s constant tardiness in his deliveries. And the problems at home persist for Howard as well.The Professor calls his agent No appetite, flashbacks to crimes he cannot remember, and his Momma's relentless prodding at what could possibly be wrong with her boy.

The next day, just as Howard closes in on a potential runaway, he is snubbed at the last second when another car beats him to the punch. Surprisingly, the other car turns out to be driven by Lt. Davis, who immediately takes his young passenger, Pam, straight to the police station. There, he and the Professor attempt to convince the young hitchhiker that the life of a runaway is, in fact, no life at all. But Pam, unfortunately, doesn’t heed their warning, and after a failed attempt by the Professor to reason with her parents, the police are forced to release her. Naturally, she is immediately picked up by Howard, and after a mere five minutes and a couple quips at her mother’s expense, Pam becomes another homicide statistic.

That evening, Howard returns home with his usual lack of appetite, but this time, his glasses are missing. And for the life of him, he can’t recall where they could I'm no expert on strangling, but shouldn't he be, at least, applying *some* pressure?!possibly be. Then, the following morning, what should turn up at the latest crime scene but a pair of spectacles…

This proves to be the beginning of the end for Howard's reign of terror, as he inadvertently begins to leave clues for the police -- the more he dives into insanity, the sloppier the crime scenes become. Finally, after discovering a laundry receipt in the clenched fist of a girl in a dumpster -- which, in turn, coincides with the two coat hangers previous victims had been strangled by -- the Professor rolls up his sleeves and prepares to deliver some justice -- island-style! (Whatever that means.)

Though it makes me feel dirty, I must admit, I enjoyed Hitchhike to Hell. Going in, I thought it would be nearly impossible for the film to live up to the lofty expectations exuded by having such a cool title, but I’m pleased to report -- it did.

Robert Gribbon turned in a fine performance as Howard. The wild eyes, the ranting and raving -- when he turned down the potato soup for dinner, I truly believed that he actually didn’t want any potato soup. And hYuck! Momma and Howard really are close!aving to act under the Professor’s shadow must have added a considerable degree of stress as well. Grace under pressure is the mark of a true thespian.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that the film is never boring. Having a hitchhike theme, one might expect a lesser filmmaker to pad out the movie with gratuitous shots of driving, or the lonesome highway, or some other traffic related material, but Hitchhike to Hell never strays from the story’s path. If someone isn’t getting killed, then someone’s getting naked, or if someone isn’t getting naked, then Howard is mugging for the camera, or if Howard isn’t mugging for the camera, then someone must be getting killed.

So, if you’re in the mood for a homicidal hitchhiking film, but don’t feel like tolerating Rutger Hauer or Pony-Boy, I highly recommend you check out Hitchhike to Hell -- which I'm giving the benefit of a Hoff, due to a kicking theme song, and an appearance by the Professor.

Good, kinetic, trashy fun.

The Family Ties lost episode: Skippy Gets Committed


These are the times of which to cherish...

- Before killing Gail, Howard demands that she gets in the back of the van, of which she misinterprets as a come on. As she begins to unbuckle her pants, Gail exclaims, "You’re not exactly Burt Reynolds.." And that’s when Howard goes off the deep end and strangles her. Now, I’m not condoning Howard’s behavior, but you can’t blame a guy for getting a little edgy when unfavorably compared to a celebrity superstar. Sure, he may be no Burt Reynolds, but let’s be honest here -- who is?

"I'm quite gay, you know!" A credit anybody would be proud to have on their resume

In one scene, Howard actually picks up a male hitchhiker, who turns out to be homosexual. And, of course, he's flamboyantly stereotypical as humanly possible. In the ending credits, he’s listed as "Gay Boy." I guess being politically-correct wasn’t an issue in 1968.

- After a lady comes to the Professor for help in finding her runaway daughter, the police receive a call that a girl matching the description given by the frantic mother was found dead in a dumpster. So, what does the police do to calm her frazzled nerves? Sure, they take her to the crime scene to identify the body for herself (still in the trash)! Tact must not be a prerequisite for the role of Crescent City police captain.

The moral convictions of Lt. Davis

In one odd scene, Lt. Davis returns home to his wife, who announces that she is pregnant. Instead of the joyful reaction his wife undoubtedly expected, Davis' countenance remains grim. When prodded to the reason behind his negative response, Davis goes into a long rant about how screwed up the world is, and why he doesn’t feel right bringing a child into it. Then, as suddenly as this subplot was unraveled, it’s unceremoniously dropped – and we never hear about the Lieutenant’s wife or baby again.

- Finally, for your reading pleasure, I’ve transcribed the Hitchhike to Hell theme song for you! No, no...there's no need to thank me!

"Hitchhike to Hell" by Nancy Adams

When I was a little girl

My Mom and Dad would fight

The things they said hurt me a lot

I just couldn't take it

So I packed my clothes and left

My home is the highway

It's the only home I got


But there's danger on the road

Danger on the road

When you go thumbing a ride

You can never tell

When you hitchhike to Hell


There's danger, on the road

(chorus end)

Travellin' the road of life

Is lonesome at best

And you need all the lovin'

You can get

So don't leave your family

The things who care for you

Think twice, girl, before you go

And try not to forget

(repeat chorus)


Back to the film page...