The Hitchhiker – Dead Heat (03/03/87)

Although the score is immediately dreadful, I was quickly hooked by the artwork of Luthor Redmond (Fred Ward).  Most of it is macabre, but some of it is just strange.  Sadly, my favorite is only seen for a split-second — a toaster with a piece of toast coming out of one slot, and a hand coming out of the other.

Luthor has regrets about his girlfriend Arielle walking out.  He jumps in his red Mustang and goes after her.  She has literally walked out , so he quickly catches up to her on the road hoofing her way to the bus station.  His “Need a ride?” and charming “Going my way, little girl?” strangely do not entice her back into the car.  His next approach is, “You know what you look like?  An Eskimo igloo during the thaw” which I don’t understand at all.  Finally, he takes the pragmatic approach, telling her she’ll never make it to the bus station in time on foot.  She gets in the car after he promises to take her straight to the bus station.

He slow-drives her a little way toward the bus station, then turns the car around to take her back to his farmhouse studio.  She demands that he stop the car.  Mr. Literal slams on the brakes which strangely throws her forward, but not him.  He calls her a whore and throws her out of the car.  As she resumes her journey on foot, he guns the engine and drives toward her.  Like Charlize Theron, she has not mastered turning as she runs mostly straight along the road.  Luthor pins her against a wooden gate.  She is only a little banged up and Luthor carries her back to his studio.

3-D, comin’ at ya!

That night, while Luthor is working on a welding project, a drifter sneaks into an old beat up car just a few feet from him.  It is impossible that he did not see Luthor — if not him, then at least the blinding welding flame. When Luthor confronts him, he swings a log at the camera like it is a 3-D movie.  Luthor reacts by offering him a modeling job.

The next morning, Arielle uses her head and sneaks out the back-door, escaping from this abusive lunatic.  This time, wisely avoiding the road, she runs through the woods finding freedom and regaining the spirit that Luther’s oppression had crushed.  No, wait, she goes to the kitchen for breakfast.  She sees Cal the drifter at the table and is immediately hot for him.  He is filthy, wearing a wife-beater, sporting the mustache of a 13-year old, stuffing his face like he hasn’t eaten in a week, chugging milk, barely raising his eyes to acknowledge her — what gal wouldn’t be?

After Cal gets cleaned up, Luthor puts him to work washing his car.  Through the window, Luthor sees Arielle dressed like June Cleaver bringing them lemonade.  He makes an excuse to leave so they will be alone.  Later, he poses them as the couple recently found in a murder / suicide scene.  After a few hours shooting, they take a break.  Luthor recalls how he got his start:

I was 5 years old.  I was playing on the front porch.  I heard this tremendous crash.  Two cars had collided.  I ran down to the curb, something rolled from one of the over-turned cars.  It was the head of a little girl.  When I was about 15, I became interested in photography.  I bought a camera.  I spent hours, days looking through the lens.  Then a miracle happened.  I realized I wasn’t holding a camera.  It was the little girl’s face.

What does that even mean?  I get that witnessing that horrific event led to the macabre nature of his work.  The girl’s face as a metaphor for a camera just makes no sense, though.  Maybe if he said the image he was searching for was the little girl’s face . . . but, the camera?

Arielle amazingly tears herself away from this yarn and goes out to sit under a tree.  Luthor orders Cal to “go out and entertain her for me.” They have an awkward conver-sation.  It isn’t awkward because of what they are saying.  It is awkward because Cal just isn’t much of an actor.  Here, as in previous scenes, he just isn’t there. There are awkward silences.  OK, if the lines aren’t in the script, then there is going to be silence.  However, I never get the sense that he is listening.  He just seems to be lurking, hovering, an interloper in the scene, like a crew-member who got caught in the shot.  You can have no lines and still be a presence.  He does not come off as stoic, taciturn, laconic, contemplative, scheming . . . I see no wheels turning.  He is just vacant.

They go into the barn.  She takes off her top and says, “Let’s go south.”  However, they skip the foreplay.  Even during this, he hardly reacts.  Arielle throws her leg around him and he just stands there.  She kisses him and he just rubs his face along her shoulder like he’s checking for a melanoma.

Luthor calls for Cal to come back to the studio.  Cal walks into the studio and says nothing.  Luthor says, “Where have you been?”  Cal says nothing.  Luthor says, “I’ve been calling and calling.”  Cal says nothing.  Luthor says, “The girl.  No telling where that little harlot has been.”  Cal says nothing.

From here on, I am completely lost.  This seems to be happening a lot.  I would think I was getting dumber, but people seem to think that isn’t possible.

Luthor tells Cal he knows what is going on; he knows about their plan to drive south.  He starts in with Bible verses and Cal puts his hands over his ears like a child.  Shouting “The wages of sin are death!” he shows Cal a woman (or maybe a dummy of Arielle, who the hell knows) in a casket with a burned face.  We saw it earlier in the episode, but that ain’t helping.  Was this a previous Arielle? Luthor says, “Do you believe me now?”  He slides Cal the car keys and says, “Put this evil woman to rest.”

Cal goes to the garage.  Arielle walks into the dark garage.  Cal says nothing.  She calls his name.  He says nothing.  He gets in the car.  She calls for him again.  He says nothing.  He starts the car, turns on the lights, and guns the engine.  Having been in this situation before, she knows just what to do — she stands directly in front of the car.

She does finally jump in the car, but certainly not because Cal said, “Hey, get in the car!”  She says, “Kiss me” and he barely makes a move.  Than he floors it, puts it in gear and busts through the closed garage door.  Luthor cries “Noooo” as they drive off.  They go a little way, then suddenly stop.  It kind of looks like there is a cable restraining the car, but I think that is just a poorly composed shot.  Or maybe it was part of the stunt rig and they were too addle to shoot around it — I certainly wouldn’t doubt that.  It kind of sounded like he ran into a pile of junk and there is a pile of garbage nearby, but the next shot is of the front of the car and there is no obstruction.  So, I have no idea what happened.  Mostly it gave Luthor time to go inside and get a goddamn flame-thrower!

Suddenly free of whatever mysteriously stopped them, Cal & Arielle drive off, leaving Luther behind.  Despite the car speeding in a straight line, seconds later, Luther jumps out in front on them on the road.  Cal runs him down, then crashes into a tree and all three die in a fiery explosion.  The end.  Seriously.

At a few points during the episode I thought Luther must have killed Arielle in the opening scene and this was a flashback to explain why.  Actually I’m still not positive that there were no flashbacks.  But I have no idea of the motivations:

  • Luther chases after Arielle, then throws her out of the car.
  • He orchestrates an affair between Cal and Arielle, then gets angry when they take the bait.
  • He gives Cal the key to his car then seems surprised when he drives off.

The three performances are perfectly distributed on the spectrum from pretty poor to pretty good (hint: Fred Ward is pretty good).  The script desperately needed another pass, especially by the producers when it was submitted.  And, not to bash our European friends, but we have another episode directed by someone with no prior directing credits in English.  Add an overly melodramatic score and you get a pretty bad episode.

Some Other Stuff:

  • Title Analysis:  Lazy random crap.  If you are calling an episode Dead Heat, you better have some racing in it.  Or some heat — Arielle wore a heavy coat when she ran away, and you can see their breath at night, so it ain’t hot.  The heat was the raw lust and animal passion between Cal and Arielle, you say?  No.  No, it was not.
  • Cal is played by the same actor who told Uhura she was old in Star Trek III.  Where the hell was he when she started fan dancing in Star Trek V?
  • In Oh, God! Book 2, Denise Galik (Arielle) is credited as “Joan, Don’s Big-Boobed Girlfriend”.  If her character has a name, why further identify her that way?  And in a G-rated family movie?  Forget it Jake; it’s Hollywood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.