Arrow Video: Hitch Hike to Hell (1977) - Reviewed

The checkered filmography of jack-of-all-trades exploitation filmmaker Irvin Berwick remains largely unavailable to the viewing public with several of his drive-in, softcore and few hardcore pictures lost to time.  First appearing on the exploitation cinematic map with his 1959 creature feature The Monster of Piedras Blancas, Berwick eventually became a seasoned veteran of churning out drive-in flicks for double bills when he wasn’t dabbling in skin flicks.  Around 1976 however, Berwick embarked on what would become known as one of the most notorious drive-in exploitation nasties of the late 1970s with his still effective sleazy shocker Hitch Hike to Hell, recently unearthed and restored by Arrow Video with the oversight of American Horror Project frontman Stephen Thrower.

Zeroing in on the story of goodie two-shoes Mama’s Boy Howard (Robert Gribbin), a dry-cleaning delivery man who spends a majority of his time on the road in his big red van, all seems well for what seems like a harmless nebbish hard at work.  However, when the mild-mannered Howard happens upon young nubile female hitchhikers running from home on his travels, the chance encounters transform him into a frothing psychotic rapist murderer who kills nearly every hitchhiker he comes into contact with.  With an ineffective homicide police division hot on his tail, Howard descends deeper into murderous psychosexual depravity as his own mercurial quasi-incestuous relationship with his runaway sister comes into the forefront.

A thick dose of unmitigated sleaze with more than a few rape scenes and the eventual murders of a gay man and a female child, Hitch Hike to Hell is the kind of movie that could only have come from the film’s legendarily infamous producer Harry Novak, whose own The Child and Toys Are Not for Children recently resurfaced from obscurity thanks to Arrow Video.  Competently directed and acted with most of the heavy lifting done by Robert Gribbin who all but inhabits the role of the psychopath, this shoestring production is rather rough around the edges and the unearthed surviving print is more than a little degraded with age.  That said, many of the director’s stock trade character actors are in this including John Harmon who starred in Piedras Blancas shows up at the monster’s dry-cleaning boss.

Somewhere between being a cautionary tale about the dangers of hitchhiking and purveying violence for exploitation’s sake, Hitch Hike to Hell right out of the gate is not for all tastes let alone the squeamish.  This is nasty, filthy fare here only for the bold, adventurous cinephiles keen on a bygone era of largely forgotten sexploitation trash.  While it doesn’t quite cross the lines traversed by, say, Herman Yau’s 1993 gutcruncher The Untold Story, for its time it comes pretty close particularly near the finale.  This is a difficult one to recommend but fans of the cult provocateur and late-70s drive-in sleaze will not be disappointed with this still acidic poison pill of a movie.

--Andrew Kotwicki