A highly effective little serial killer thriller set on the lonely highways of the mid-West and featuring the icy stare of Rutger Hauer, the best Hannibal Lector that never was. With this low budget hybrid of horror and action, the skill is in generating a taut atmosphere, and the endless plains of Middle America so shorn from civilisation make for the ideal breeding ground for motiveless murder.
Robert Harmon utilises such emptiness to fine effect, there is just nowhere to run to, and his film has a relentless nastiness that propels it into apparent realms of the supernatural even as it stays resolutely earthbound.
Despite its rigid and efficient script — boy picks up lunatic hitchhiker and starts a cat and mouse game where the trail of bodies could lead to either of them — Harmon delivers it with the singsong feel of a dark fairy-tale in which Hauer is the bogeyman of myth and the tracks of New Mexico become the inversion of Freud’s nightmare forest: glaringly bright but equally as unwelcoming. The sheer indestructibility of Hauer’s killer happily reminds you of James Cameron’s stark Terminator and slasher-gem Halloween, two films which effectively blurred genre boundaries.
Yet, it’s also to its credit that the film never oversteps its purposes. There are no flamboyant ripples of gothic dialogue for the badguy, his evil is born in remorseless action, and the transformation of Jim from a genial nobody into a reflection of the killer himself (in order to stop him) has the vital resonance of survival. You could read the film as a rather violent rites-of-passage. What it’s not is a film of superheroics or mastermind detection being doggedly primal and upfront. A duel, also reminiscent of Spielberg’s hghway horror movie, where the killer is simply waiting for his opponent to be worthy enough to stop him.