It is the nature of hitch-hiking to be transient; a series of faces, of vehicles, of inconsequential conversations, the road passing by between stop-offs which more than likely are not the final destination, the only constant the songs on the radio, so it is perhaps not without irony that of all the performers associated with Hitch Hike to Hell that it is Nancy Adams who sings the opening title whose career is by far the most successful.
Not released until 1983 but filmed years before, the calendars visible in the background dating the shoot to the summer of 1976, Hitch Hike to Hell has been rescued from understandable obscurity by Arrow and given a 2K restoration from the original film elements, presented in both 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios, perhaps a more generous effort than the feature deserves.
A standalone release which might have been better suited to a volume of their American Horror Project where it would not have to stand on its own dubious merits, it was the last film credited to The Monster of Piedras Blancas director Irvin Berwick, his third collaboration with screenwriter John Buckley following Suddenly the Light and Malibu High.
Berwick’s career encompassing the adult film industry, religious films and educational films, Hitch Hike to Hell is representative of his default genre, a low-budget exploitation flick, here masquerading as a cautionary tale as a series of young women attempt to get out of Crescent City by any means they can.
Each of them accepting a lift from Howard Martin (Robert Gribbin), delivery driver for the dry-cleaning service run by Baldwin Cleaners, a trip in his red Ford Econoline is the end of the line, questioned about their reasons for wishing to escape and inevitably triggering the rage driven by Howard’s overbearing mother and his missing sister Judy, who, in mama’s words, “had it coming.”
“There’s danger on the road,” sings Adams, a collaborator with Les Paul, Benny Goodman and Neil Diamond whose voice also graced Disney animations, and in short order each of the girls is raped and murdered, strangled with a wire coat hanger while the police led by Captain Shaw (Russell Johnson of Gilligan’s Island) sit behind their desks, more concerned with moralising than following up on clues.
The dialogue unnatural and contrived and the acting uniformly terrible, Howard’s mommy issues and the hints he may be responsible for the disappearance of Judy are never explored, each of his killings following the same pattern, though it is not made clear which of Howard’s needs were met by his sole male victim, the only one not given a name and listed only as “gay boy” in the credits.
The film itself given little analysis on the disc, author Stephen Thrower offers an appraisal of Berwick and his diverse body of work, much of it lost while Adams is interviewed about her career, though the best of the special features is Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ video essay on the cinema of hitch-hiking from film noir to The Hitcher and Wolf Creek by way of Kalifornia, her insights and numerous examples more interesting than the main feature.