Robert Harmon’s Highwaymen

I love horror movies set on the road, it’s such a great breeding ground for paranoia, vehicular mayhem and fear of the great unknown. Setting out on a road trip is always an amazing feeling of freedom, but the vast interlacing network of desolate highways that lie just outside the structured, familiar peripheries of any big city ways have an innate, sleeping menace to them; anyone, or anything could be out there. Some of the best films in horror overall come from this idea, including Joyride, The Hitcher, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Tarantino’s Death Proof, Roadgames and so many more. I finally got a chance to check out Robert Harmon’s Highwaymen and I can’t believe I didn’t sooner because it’s an absolute banger, and one that has always gotten terrible reviews and buzz, which to me is inexplicable. This has the hazy, moody early 2000’s thriller feel, an atmospheric yarn about a terrifying serial killer (Colm Feore) who murders woman with his souped up, rampaging Cadillac El Dorado and the lone man (Jim Caviesel) whose wife once fell under his tires, has now made it his quest to bring the monster down. He spends his days attentively scanning CB radio stations and trawling the vast nebula of backroads looking for any sign of this guy resurfacing, and when he does rear his hood ornament once again, the chase is on. An innocent woman (Rhona Mitra) and her ill fated friend (Andrea Roth) find themselves in the crosshairs of his malicious intent and Caviesel takes full advantage of the situation to try and stop him, with the help of an intrepid rogue traffic authority officer (Frankie R. Faison). Feore is intense as ever as the truly vile killer but what makes the character so fascinating is that without his car he is useless; So many years of disastrous collisions have left him a mangled multiple amputee who is wheelchair bound and uses fearsome homemade steel appendages to operate steering wheel, pedals and gearshift, giving him the appearance of some demented crippled cyborg, it’s quite the character choice for a villain. Director Harmon also did the original 1986 Hitcher film which is a classic and while there are shades of his original vision at work here, this is a different beast altogether. It’s moody, shot in deep saturated colours to illustrate the dusty days and inky black nights that hover over the rural roadmap, has a dark, portentous score by Mark Isham (also composed for Hitcher’86), tons of atmospheric unrest and profoundly brutal, stunningly reckless car chases that constantly threaten to spin wildly out of control into outright carnage and keep the viewer on edge splendidly. Powerful horror film.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Rutger Hauer Performances

Rutger Hauer left us earlier this year and since then I’ve been revisiting his work, performances that although I’ve seen countless times somehow never get old. He leaves behind him a legacy of incredible work over a decades long career that has firm and lasting roots in the horror, action and science fiction genres. With a rough hewn, elemental figure, a honey soaked purr of a voice and electric eyes, the guy practically radiated originality, never one to rush a line, hurry a glance or let his gaze move too quickly. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Martin in Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood

This is a rowdy, unconventional medieval adventure starring Hauer as the leader of a roving pack of mercenaries who kidnap a beautiful princess (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and use her as leverage for revenge against a warlord who betrayed them. One of the most un-Hollywood films about the Middle Ages, it chooses no moral ground, paints the characters as neither good nor evil especially Hauer’s roguish warrior and shows this time period in every ugly detail. Oh, and it probably has one of the most realistic and steamy sex scenes in all of cinema, with him and Leigh getting it on in a hot tub.

9. Harley Stone in Split Second

Futuristic London’s toughest renegade cop, Stone is searching for the serial killer that murdered his partner and eventually finds something far more… inhuman than he was expecting. It’s a terrific action hero role with just the right moments of humour, whether he’s bargaining with a canine club bouncer or toting giant heavy artillery through flooded catacombs, hunting his quarry.

8. Heymar ‘Wulfgar’ Reinhardt in Nighthawks

A ruthless terrorist holding New York City in a vice grip of violence and explosions, it’s up to super cops Billy Dee Williams and Sylvester Stallone to bring him down before he levels the whole city. This is a sensational action picture with many engaging set pieces (that gondola) and its Hauer’s bloodthirsty, coldly menacing villain turn that makes it ultimately memorable.

7. Xavier March in HBO’s Fatherland

What if Germany won WWII and Europe carried on under the leadership of the third reich? And what if the holocaust and every other Nazi atrocity was well and carefully hidden from the world? This film explores what it’s like for one high ranking Nazi party member (Hauer) to slowly discover that his country was responsible for the deaths of millions of souls, process that information and decide what to do with it. March is a good, kind man who is heartbroken and betrayed when he learns of his country’s crimes and Hauer intones his arc achingly well with subtlety and quiet devastation.

6. Ben Jordan in Arctic Blue

People go a little loopy in the land of the midnight sun, Hauer’s rowdy trapper included. After one violent encounter with a park ranger (Dylan Walsh) he finds himself pursued across the tundra by authorities and must come to terms with his past and the narrowing gap of his future. I like how he doesn’t play this rugged outlaw as a bad guy or a good guy but just a wild card outsider who can’t be tamed and seems to represent the harsh northern landscape he inhabits like an elemental force. Great hidden gem of a film too, I might add.

5. The Hobo in Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun

A pissed of homeless dude who has had enough, the Hobo arms himself with a shotgun and takes on an extremely violent faction of the criminal underworld singlehandedly. This is one balls out, fucked up, blood n’ gore soaked slice of exploitation cheese and he finds both the ridiculous campy notes as well as a few surprisingly affecting ones. I wonder if he did his own stunts too because this guy gets put through an absolute fucking wringer throughout the film.

4. Etienne Of Navarre in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke

This beloved medieval fantasy sees him play a Knight under a curse that causes him to transform into a wolf at night while the love of his life (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a hawk by day, keeping them forever apart. Originally Kurt Russell was going to play this role and Rutger was slated for the evil bishop (the role ultimately went to John Wood). Wise choice to let him lead because as much as I love Russell the guy just doesn’t suit the medieval aesthetic and Hauer gives him a grounded, ethereal aura that carries the film to great heights.

3. Nick Parker in Phillip Noyce’s Blind Fury

Parker is a Nam vet who loses his sense of sight but gains a sense of kicking major ass thanks to some heavy duty training he gets while lost in the Vietnamese villages for years. Back stateside he takes on all kinds of baddies with an epic set of skills and wicked cool stunt work. Hauer finds the charm and humour in Nick nicely and looks damn good swinging a katana around and slicing goons to ribbons left and right.

2. John Ryder in Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher

Blond hair, grey duster jacket, shotgun in hand, Ryder is one of the most iconic boogeymen in horror cinema, a mysterious figure trawling the highways looking for blood. Rutger plays him initially as an endearing, quiet gentleman who quickly morphs into a deranged, blue eyed angel of death, stalking a terrified young man (C. Thomas Howell) across the dusty back roads of the southwest. It’s a towering, terrifying performance full of many subtle notes, deep nuances and lots of bloodthirsty menace.

1. Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

A rogue replicant, all Batty wanted was more life and he went about it by causing death, a tragic stroke of irony. There’s a childlike naïveté to these replicants, Hauer imbues their leader with a steady, measured and almost alien like grace and eventual resolution in the face of mortality. He improvised the final ‘Tears In Rain’ line which would go on to become one of the most beautiful and iconic pieces of poetic dialogue in cinema, as would his brilliant performance.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill