Hitch-Hike – original title: Autostop rosso sangue – also known as Hitchhike, Death Drive and The Naked Prey, is a 1977 Italian crime-exploitation film directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile.
The movie stars Franco Nero and Corinne Cléry as a couple in a troubled marriage, and David Hess as a fugitive who takes them hostage. The distinctive musical score was composed by Ennio Morricone.
The minimal plot is largely a three character work-out revolving around two of the most familiar faces in genre cinema, Hess and Nero, with Cléry having appeared in Just Jaeckin’s The Story of O and shortly to star in the hugely entertaining The Humanoid and go stellar in the James Bond film, Moonraker. The picking-up of an innocent-looking stranger leading to violence and death was nothing new and continues to inspire many filmmakers.
There are several factors which set Hitch-Hike apart from films of a similar ilk. Firstly, the stunning backdrop of the Gran Sasso mountains of central Italy, beautiful but unfamiliar and remote-looking enough to suggest attempts at escape are likely to be futile, all expertly shot by cinematographer, Franco Di Giacomo, a veteran of gialli Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Who Saw Her Die? It is reminiscent of the Spanish locations used for so many Italian-made westerns and the film has many similar qualities, with revenge, loot and a slightly cyclical plot involved.
Secondly, the remarkably strange dynamic between the characters. Though Hess (playing Adam Konitz) has no redeeming features, an act he had mastered in Wes Craven’s classic The Last House on the Left (1972) and would repeat in Ruggero Deodato’s House at the Edge of the Park, Nero (playing journalist Walter Mancini, often referred to mockingly as ‘Martini’ by Konitz) is similarly spiteful, an alcoholic wife-beater who frequently sexually assaults Cléry’s character, Eve, who for her part, puts up with the abuse and ultimately does little to discourage the two male suitors; it’s difficult to truly sympathise or root for any of them, not a negative simply an interesting conceit.
There are twists in the tale with the protagonists running into the two other fugitive members of Konitz’s gang (both engaging in a homosexual affair, causing Konitz to launch into a cliched rant but allowing Mancini to meditate that maybe the ideals of their lives are what they are all missing) and later into a group of hippy-ish motorcycle-riding teenagers, both questioning the viewer further as to who the most evil character is and indeed to question their own morals. Cléry gets obligingly undressed and the violence – regularly threatened – and when unleashed, especially in the case of two cops being shot, is shockingly succinct.
Nero sports one of his most luxurious moustaches and plays his role magnificently, as rotten in many ways as Konitz but with recognisable everyday issues. He had broken his hand (allegedly punching a cantankerous horse!) whilst filming one of the last great Westerns, Keoma, a fact which led to his sozzled character taking a drunken tumble over a tent peg in Hitch-Hike to explain the bandage.
He had recommended Hess to director, Campanile after they both worked together on the TV movie, 21 Hours at Munich. Hess plays his part with typical sleaze and an unrelenting menace, securing his place further as one of the screen’s greatest villains. Cléry too is well cast, alluring yet difficult to warm to, both victim and tormentor to the two vile male characters.
Campanile had come from a background of filming far lighter dramas and particularly specialised in the naughty comedies which were rife in European ‘sinema’ in the late 60’s and 70’s, of particular note, When Women Had Tails, which saw him working with Hitch-Hike‘s musical composer, the legendary Ennio Morricone.
Here, his score is a difficult one to enjoy as a stand-alone piece but works well in the film, offering sparse percussion and angular plucked guitar to draw out the tension in an agonising manner. It also features a recurring pop song, ‘Sunshine’. It’s always fun to hear Morricone tackle the mainstream, his dislike of pop music is well documented, though it’s clear he understands the necessary dynamics and always delivers something entertaining; what starts as annoying eventually becomes a real earworm.
Despite some disappointingly intrusive poor dubbing, Hitch-Hike has aged very well and is a rattlingly good film, as well as a showcase for two of cinema’s greatest character actors.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
Uncut trailer as Death Drive at DailyMotion
Hitch-Hike was released in the UK on Blu-ray on October 5, 2015, by 88 Films. Special features include:
- Brand new high-definition master
- Uncompressed LPCM English Soundtrack
- Uncompressed LPCM Italian Soundtrack with English Subtitles
- Reversible Sleeve with alternative art
- Collectible 300gsm Original Poster Postcard
- Booklet Notes by Calum Waddell