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The Hitcher (Mark Isham)

December 2, 2021
The Hitcher

When I was a kid, few films freaked me out more than The Hitcher. Rutger Hauer is absolutely evil as a murderous hitcher, terrorising C Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The film is brutal from start to finish, with one scene in particular, involving a truck, sure to unsettle anyone. The score is an early and eerie effort from Mark Isham.

The film is directed by Robert Harmon, whose career did not really take off following The Hitcher. His 1986 road-tripping horror film wasn’t received well at the time, and only gained a fanbase in later years. Harmon wouldn’t direct his next flick until five years later (Eyes of an Angel), shortly followed by another (Nowhere to Run, also scored by Isham). After that he switched to TV, only sporadically directing something, until things took off to some extent with several Jesse Stone TV-movies from 2005 onwards. He’s worked with Isham on a couple more occasions (Gotti and Highwaymen) and has also worked with Randy Edelman, Brian Tyler, Mark Snow and Jeff Beal.

The Hitcher is one of Isham’s earliest scores, just three years into his film composing career. I’d say it owes a lot to his ambient jazz albums from around that time, with some typical 80s percussion added.

“Technically the music business was in a crossroads and new instruments and new instrument technologies were appearing every day. I availed myself of this ‘new’ technology of ‘sampling’ and brought in two drummers who played only originally sampled drums. I was still using my early system of a Prophet 5, an Oberheim 4 voice and my ARP 2600. To this I added this new keyboard, a Prophet 2000 (sampler). This was the ‘band’!”

-Mark Isham

Isham uses synth pads to create a bleak, desolate atmosphere; pulses from synths, percussion and mallets to add tension and drive; and solo trumpet to add a touch of humanity, albeit of the loneliest kind. For all it’s graphic violence, The Hitcher is more of a psychological horror; and Isham’s score plays a key role in setting the tone of the movie. For all its synth-driven atmospheres and 80s electro percussion, it’s never really atonal, it’s never really just droning, it’s never too alienating. Dare I say, a film like this today would have the sh*t droned and braahmed out of it. Isham’s score has harmony, has rhythm and has melody. Nothing terribly overt, mind you, but enough to bring the characters to life, like real relatable, frightening people; not just anonymous monsters. It makes this film all the scarier.

At 42 minutes, the album is long (and short) enough to relive this classic without it outstaying its welcome. Fans of Isham’s early ambient albums (Vapor Drawings, We Begin) will find moments to enjoy, seeing as the introspective moments of The Hitcher sound much like a darker version of Isham’s ambient work. I suspect you either need to be an Isham fan or need to have lived through the 80s to fully appreciate it. Some of it sounds dated, but not all of it. It actually plays better on album than I was expecting. Recommended with caution.

The Hitcher is released by Silva Screen Records on December 3rd 2021. Visit their website for more information.


Article by Pete Simons (c) 2021 Synchrotones Soundtrack Reviews.

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