When "The Hitcher" came out earlier this year, it seemed like a can't-miss movie, a splatter flick done with high production values--gore with a touch of class.
But the movie, starring Rutger Hauer as the homicidal hitchhiker and C. Thomas Howell as his adversary, wasn't a hit. However, with its recent release on cassette by Thorn/EMI/HBO, the film makers are hoping to recoup some of the loss, as often happens with highly publicized movies that fail at the box office.
What went wrong with "The Hitcher"? Paul Lewis, one of its producers, gave a candid explanation: not enough violence. "We weren't able to show the key killing on the screen. It's that simple." He was referring to the slaughter of the hero's girlfriend near the end of the movie.
"The people from HBO (the film's financial backers) were afraid the audience would be turned off by the violence. Her death is a horrible death, but it happens off camera. There's other gore in the movie, other killings, but this is the main one. It's the motivation for the hero. You can't show all the killings we showed and then not show the main one. It's cheating the audience."
Lewis' analysis of American audiences' tastes was not surprising: "They want to see violence, but the best kind is the kind that's involving. With the American audience, they like a character--they really get involved with that character--and then that character is killed. That really gets them involved with the picture. They want revenge, they want to see the killer get his. But their feelings aren't as strong if they don't see the killing. If they don't see it, it's just another killing."
The audience, Lewis contended, keeps its distance from "The Hitcher." "That killing, if shown on the screen, could have roused the audience and got them into the movie," he said. "But they weren't into it, which hurt word-of-mouth. People weren't telling their friends to see it and they weren't coming back to see it themselves."
The word-of-mouth may not be any better for the cassette either, because that graphic scene is still missing.
HORROR/ACTION: The best of the recent horror releases is New World's acclaimed "House," about a writer (William Katt) battling the sinister forces in a haunted house. On Aug. 27 Embassy will release the sleeper horror movie, "The Supernaturals," starring Maxwell Caulfield and LeVar Burton. Fans of low-budget horror movies loved this grisly tale of military recruits haunted by the ghosts of Confederate soldiers.
With "Aliens" doing so well at the box office, there's been renewed interest in the original. "Alien," released in 1979, also stars Sigourney Weaver. It's available on CBS-Fox for $29.98.
TERMINATING THE TRANSLATOR: Arguably the most fascinating item at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago last June was the Translator, a double-welled VCR that plays both VHS and 8-millimeter cassettes. Of course, copying tapes from one format to the other is one of the possible uses of such a machine. Naturally there was a roar of protest about it from several sources, including the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
The machine, made by Samsung, was just a prototype, but the company hoped to mass-market it in the United States. According to Samsung executive Richard Leister, that's not going to happen--not for the moment, anyway. His company, he said, wasn't frightened away by the protests but has other priorities now. The Translator, he insisted, may still be marketed here in the future.
NEW AND COMING MOVIES: "Pretty in Pink," the hit teen movie about a rocky rich-boy/poor-girl romance, will make its home-video debut Oct. 1 on Paramount. Molly Ringwald stars in the movie, which also spawned a hit sound-track album.
On Oct. 2, CBS-Fox will release "8 Million Ways to Die," with Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. This crime drama, directed by Hal Ashby, wasn't big box office but it may find an audience in the rental market. All those fans who like Bridges in "The Jagged Edge," a huge rental hit, may seek it out.
Out this week: MGM/UA's "Youngblood," featuring Rob Lowe as a hockey player, and Pacific Arts' "The Official Story," the Argentine film that won the best-foreign language film Oscar last spring.
Later this month: "Clue" (Wednesday), "After Hours" (Wednesday), "Trouble in Mind" (Aug. 20), "Quicksilver" (Aug. 21), "Target" and "The Clan of the Cave Bear" (both Aug. 28).
CHARTS (Compiled by Billboard magazine) TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS 1--"Back to the Future" (MCA).
2--"The Jewel of the Nile" (CBS-Fox).
3--"Jagged Edge" (RCA/Columbia).
4--"White Nights" (RCA/Columbia).
5--"Spies Like Us" (Warner).
6--"A Nightmare on Elm Street 2" (Media).
9--"Rocky IV" (CBS-Fox).
10--"To Live and Die in L.A." (Vestron).
TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES 1--"Jane Fonda's New Workout" (Karl-Lorimar).
2--"The Sound of Music" (CBS-Fox).
3--"Alice in Wonderland" (Disney).
6--"Back to the Future" (MCA).
7--"White Nights" (RCA/Columbia).
8--"Playboy Video Centerfold 2" (Karl-Lorimar).
10--"Jane Fonda's Workout" (Karl-Lorimar).