Director: Irvin Berwick
USA - 1968
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 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 belly-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 in 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
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 also 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 overprotective
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 Howards constant
tardiness in his deliveries. And the problems at home persist for Howard as well. 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, doesnt
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 mothers 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 cant recall where they could 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 Im 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 didnt want any potato soup. And having to act under the Professors 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 storys path. If someone isnt getting killed,
then someones getting naked, or if someone isnt getting naked, then Howard is
mugging for the camera, or if Howard isnt mugging for the camera, then someone must
be getting killed.
So, if youre in the mood for a homicidal hitchhiking film, but dont 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.
- 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,
"Youre not exactly Burt Reynolds.." And thats when Howard goes off
the deep end and strangles her. Now, Im not condoning Howards behavior, but
you cant blame a guy for getting a little edgy when unfavorably compared to a
celebrity superstar. Sure, he may be no Burt Reynolds, but lets be honest here --
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, hes listed as "Gay Boy." I guess being
politically-correct wasnt 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.
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 doesnt feel
right bringing a child into it. Then, as suddenly as this subplot was unraveled, its
unceremoniously dropped and we never hear about the Lieutenants wife or baby
- Finally, for your reading pleasure, Ive 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
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