Walter Mancini, (Franco Nero) and his wife Eve, (Corinne Clery, star of the erotica classic THE STORY OF O), tour the Californian countryside, trailer on tow, in an attempt to put their dysfunctional marriage back on tracks. However, it’s apparent from the outset that Mancini’s interest in his beautiful wife is purely sexual, and she is a constant target for his cruel jibes fuelled by his dependency on alcohol following a failed career as a crime journalist.
Following a boozy night on a hippy campsite Walter injures his hand and Eve finds herself at the wheel of their car – this sets off a series of masterful steps in which Eve slowly gains control over her husband. Eve hates to be dominated, yet puts up with her husband’s aggressive bouts of lovemaking and constant put-downs in the belief that ignoring them will bring them to an end quicker. It is often stated that in relationships of a sub/dom nature, it is the submissive who is really in control of the situation for on the whole they possess the ultimate key to controlling the behaviour patterns of their partner. This proves to be the case here, so when Eve spies a hitcher (David Hess) by his broken down car, she spuriously decides to pick him up knowing that her dominant husband abhors competition. The hitcher introduces himself as Adam Konitz (whom Walter immediately refers to as Kuntz) and returns to his broken down car to switch off the radio, in doing so the camera pans to the passenger seat where we see the slumped corpse of the former driver. The Mancini’s have unwittingly picked up a killer.
Adam it transpires is another control freak and recognises Walter’s antagonistic attitude towards his wife as something he can exploit for his own psycho-sexual kicks. But he doesn’t count on Walter’s violent temper and a crude pass at Eve earns him an elbow in the face. The car grinds to a halt and a fight breaks out between the chauvinists, before it is brought to a swift finish when Adam pulls a gun and orders them back into the car. The couple will provide him with a passage over the border along with his suitcase containing two million bucks, the booty from a bank heist in which Adam double-crossed his partners.
From here on in it’s a battle of wits between the three, as they make their way across the state pursued by cops and Adam’s former partners-in-crime (Gianni Loffredo and Carlo Puri) who are understandably miffed.
Director Pasquale Festa Campanile displays a good knack for character development and the building of tension, as a result both the violence and sexual assault scenes are realistic. Franco and Nero are excellent and it would be hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. Equally fascinating is Corinne Clery, her spellbinding performance, as the downtrodden wife, could easily have succumbed to absurdity as she puts of with a continual barrage of misogynistic remarks and sexual assault. Nowhere is this more evident than in a rape-scene in which Adam forces himself upon Eve whilst a bound Walter looks on helplessly. Clery brings to the scene a profound sense of suffering, tinged with anger and a frustrated sexual libido, as she submits to her rapist’s demands in order to bring the horrifying event to a close and at the same time humiliate her jealous husband by feigning orgasm.
The script by ldo Crudo, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Ottavio Jemma, based on Peter Kane’s novel “The Violence and the Fury” belongs to a long tradition of psycho-on-the highway thrillers that include Felix Feist’s 1947 crime-noir THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (the title of which is lifted to accompany an informative featurette on this DVD in which Hess, Nero, and Cleary discuss their roles and the film enthusiastically), Ida Lupino’s THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), Richard Franklin’s ROAD GAMES (1981), Robert Harmon’s THE HITCHER (1986), and Jonathan Mostow’s BREAKDOWN (1997). However, Campanile’s film is injected with a nihilistic undercurrent common to 70s psycho thrillers. The priceless banter between bad-boys Konitz and Mancini is a game of one-upmanship, and one in which murder and the conquest of women is crucial to the psychopath’s ego “Killing people is like building up dates”, says Konitz, “The more dates you have the more respect you have”. Women are undoubtedly seen as a threat, which is why the pair cling to their machismo throughout, later when discussing homosexuals, Kontiz observes that men and women are splitting into different camps, an interesting observation for a 70s thriller and one that the script would have undoubtedly developed further had the film been made today.
HITCH-HIKE ends with a sting in the tale, one that the original French Canadian release (edited down to just 82 minutes) replaced with a more upbeat ending in which the final reel encounter with teenage bikers in a diner was transposed to the start of the film and Walter and Eve are seen to ride off happily into the sunset. Several previous releases worldwide were also shorn of a graphic head shooting and some of the nudity in the rape scene mentioned above. Mercifully this Anchor Bay release is uncut, and is presented as a crisp transfer with a clear soundtrack making this unforgettable slice of B-Movie magic another “must buy” for all fans of euro-shock cinema.
Directed by Pasquale Festa Camanile
Italy / 1977 / 104 minutes.
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Anchor Bay UK Release
All region. Pal. Dolby Digital Mono.
HITCH-HIKE (aka Death Drive)