Tag Archives: Rutger Hauer

Say Four Words: Who Was John Ryder?

This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a while but never really found the time. But with the recent passing of Rutger Hauer a couple of weeks back, this seems like the right moment to make it happen.

The Hitcher was a very low budget psychological horror/thriller film from 1989 and it’s easily my favourite Rutger Hauer flick. For those not in the know, a quick synopsis of what The Hitcher is all about.

So The Hitcher written by Eric Red and directed by Robert Harmon and was inspired by The Doors song, Riders On The Storm and if you listen to the lyrics knowing the characters in the film, it all makes perfect sense too.

So the film tells the story of a young man, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego. While driving through the West Texas desert, Halsey spots a hitcher and offers him a lift. The man says his name is John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). Ryder soon reveals himself to be a little unstable and a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins as Ryder sets his sights on killing Halsey… but why?

I love Rutger Hauer in this flick and John Ryder is definitely one of cinema’s great villains. But there has always been a query that has run through my mind for years… just who was John Ryder? The film itself explains nothing. No mention of where he came from, where he was going or what he was doing. No rhyme or reason is given as to why Ryder wants to kill Halsey either. Who John Ryder is and what he wants is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. I have read a few theories from others offering their opinions on just who or what he was. I’ve read one saying Ryder some kind of demon or ghost. One theory suggesting that he was the Devil himself, I even read a article that suggested Ryder doesn’t even exist and was just a figment of Halsey’s imagination. I’ve read lots and lots of theories and opinions on just who John Ryder was and so wanted to offer my own.

The Hitcher Poster

Now, I don’t buy into anything supernatural with this flick. It just does not work for me and takes away from The Hitcher’s effective psychological horror element if you just say ‘John Ryder is a ghost/the Devil’, it feels like a cop out and dismisses a lot of the very clever, subtle writing and acting in the flick. Then the theory of Ryder being a figment of Halsey’s imagination also does not work. There are several instances in the picture where both Ryder and Halsey are addressed by other people, so they are most definitely two separate people. So what do I think? Well, I think he’s just a man. I like that simplicity and it makes the whole thing much more scary. A much as I like my supernatural killers in horror films, Myers, Voorhees, Krueger etc. As much as I like them… I know they are not real and never could be and that takes away some of the scares, some of the horror. But when the killer is human, it adds that layer of realism that supernatural horror lacks. You’ll never come across a Freddy Krueger in your life, but a John Ryder? It’s possible.

Now, there is a lot more to my theory as to who John Ryder is other than “he’s just a man” otherwise this would be a really short article. So I need to dig a little deeper, scratch the surface of what The Hitcher offers and explore the enigma that is John Ryder. And the best place to start with all of this is with the recently passed Rutger Hauer himself. There is a documentary of the film called: The Hitcher: How Do These Movies Get Made? It’s chock-full of interviews with the cast and crew and perhaps one of the best quotes from the documentary comes from Hauer when he is asked who John Ryder was…

“John Ryder? That’s a rental car company. This guy’s name’s not John Ryder forget it.”

– Rutger Hauer

So even the man himself believes John Ryder was a fake name and there is even a clue to this in the film. During the scene when he reveals his name, the way Hauer plays it is very subtle but there is a clue if you pay attention. It’s how he says his name, when Halsey asks the hitcher his name, he quickly says “John”, but then there is a slight pause as if he’s trying to think up the next part before continuing with “Ryder”. So there we have it, John Ryder doesn’t exist or at least the name is made up. This is where I start with my theory on who he was. At the very least, we know his name wasn’t really John Ryder.

John Ryder 2.png

I also noticed that the hitcher was wearing a wedding ring. Now this could’ve just been Rutger Hauer’s actual wedding ring as he was married at the time of filming. But for my theory, I’m going to assume the ring belonged to Ryder himself, or at least the person using the name Ryder anyway but more on this later.

I need to cover why Ryder felt the need to terrorise Halsey to begin with. See, it’s never explicitly covered exactly why the hitcher is trying to kill the kid at all… but I don’t think he really wanted to kill him anyway. For this to make sense, we need to look at a couple of other scenes. First I want to jump forward in the flick to the diner scene… no not the one with the finger but later, after Halsey escapes the police station and the two meet up in a diner.

Jim Halsey: “Why are you doing this?”

John Ryder: “You’re a smart kid, you figure it out.”

Now to me, this says little but tells a lot at the same time. It’s clear Ryder wants ‘something’ from Halsey as if he didn’t, he could have killed him very easily earlier in the film. I mean look at the police station scene as an example. Ryder must have killed all those cops and opened Halsey’s cell door. So if all Ryder wanted to do was kill the kid… why not do it right then while he slept?

John Ryder 3.jpg

In fact there are several scenes in the film where Ryder could’ve very easily killed Halsey with little to no effort but didn’t. The previously mentioned police station is just one of them. How about earlier in the film at the abandoned garage? It’s just the two of them, no witnesses and instead of trying to attack and kill the kid, the hitcher throws down the car keys and walks away. We know Ryder is capable of some sick stuff before this point in the flick too.

John Ryder: “Because I cut off his legs and his arms and his head… and I’m going to do the same to you.”

Now we don’t see that happen and for all we know Ryder could’ve been bullshitting… but what about just after that scene with the hitcher in the family car? The film is clever here as it does not show anything specific when Halsey finds the car at the side of the road, we see a little drop of blood and that’s it. But it’s clear Ryder did something pretty horrific to the family including the children by Halsey’s reaction and him throwing up. So yeah, he could’ve easily murdered Jim Halsey but didn’t. No, it’s clear to me that Ryder wanted something from Halsey and didn’t just want to kill him. But what?

My theory is that John Ryder wanted someone to stop him. In fact the hitcher himself pretty much says so. I need to go back to the start of the film again and look at one scene in particular. It’s when Ryder pulls out the knife and holds it to Halsey’s face.

Jim Halsey: “What’d you want?”

John Ryder: “I want you to stop me.”

See? John Ryder wanted to be stopped but no one had stood up to him at that point in the flick. In fact it looked like Halsey would become just another victim until he pushed the hitcher out of the car as it sped along that desert road. That was the moment when Ryder knew he had found someone worthy and so he followed Halsey as a kind of sick and twisted guardian angel and pushed him to do something that Ryder just could not do. I think John Ryder wanted to die.

Jim Halsey: ” Please, I’ll do anything.”

John Ryder: “Say four words.”

Jim Halsey: “Okay.”

John Ryder: “Say ‘I wanna die.'”

Jim Halsey: “Say what?”

John Ryder: “I want to die… say it.”

For me, this exchange is key to the whole thing. This is a scene where Huger’s amazing and subtle acting comes into force. When Ryder first tells Halsey to say the four words, to say “I wanna die” (that’s three words with the contraction) that is pretty straight forward and just comes across as a crazy bastard trying to get his victim to say those four (three) words. But it’s the second time Hauer says the line where you have to pay attention. As the acting and the way Hauer plays it is key to everything.

John Ryder 4

First, the contraction is gone and ‘wanna’ becomes ‘want to’, it makes the line more ‘certain’ in a way, adds more gravitas to that very simple line. Second, they way the line is read is softer, not angry as before. It sounds like Ryder was saying that line to himself and not to Halsey. Third, just pay attention to the acting itself. Ryder breaks eye contact with Halsey as he says “I want to die”, he’s not talking to his victim and telling him to say the line, he’s talking to whoever the person is using the fake name of John Ryder. As if in that second or two he just realised what he wanted… he wants to die, not that he wanted Halsey to say the line, ‘Ryder’ wants to die. Then just as soon as the line is delivered, he snaps out of his little moment of realisation and back into character, back into John Ryder mode. It’s an amazing scene and one really worth watching. I’m convinced that just for those few moments when Ryder says “I want to die” for the second time, he dropped his facade. It’s subtle but it is there and only for a couple of seconds and in those couple of seconds, we saw the real man whatever his real name is.

But why does he want to die? Well that goes back to that wedding ring I previously mentioned. If we take it as read that the ring did indeed belong to the man pretending to be ‘John Ryder’, then this is where my theory really comes to life. My theory is that the hitcher was once married, hence the ring and he lost his wife. Originally I put it down that he killed his wife, but that didn’t sit right with me and I think Ryder deserves to be a bit more of a sympathetic character despite his homicidal tendencies. So I’m suggesting his wife died from something else. Cancer, raped and murdered, accidental death… pick one, it’s not really that important exactly how she died but more a case of she did and there as nothing Ryder could’ve done about it. I like to think there was a time when Ryder was a normal, loving man.

John Ryder 45

Since her passing, he has felt guilty that he was helpless in her demise. His anger grew and grew until he just snapped. Suicide was just not an option, that was the easy way out. So Ryder spent hours, days, weeks, months just walking through the Texas desert sticking his thumb out looking for a ride to nowhere, but ultimately a ride to his own death at the hands of his driver. He was picked up by several people and he tested them. Ryder pulled out the knife and began to make his threats, giving his victim the chance to fight back… but they never did. Unhappy with the lack of balls from his prey, he killed them and hit the road once more. More drivers stopped and no one stood up to him. Then he was picked up by Jim Halsey and that was when things changed. Halsey was the only one to actually make a stand and fight back. That was when Ryder knew he found the person worthy enough to kill him so he could be with his wife once more. But Halsey was still green behind the gills and Ryder knew he had to push him, to mould him in a way to become the killer Ryder knew Halsey could be…

John Ryder: “You’re a smart kid, you figure it out.”

So there you have it. My theory on who John Ryder was and what he wanted. He wasn’t a ghost, he wasn’t some kind of supernatural entity.  He was just a normal man that was pushed over the edge.

This article is written in memory of the great Rutger Hauer and my way of saying thanks for his creating one of cinema’s finest ever villains.

John Ryder 6

“You wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured? Do you got any idea how much blood jets out of a guy’s neck when his throat’s been slit?”

– John Ryder

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Rutger Hauer: Like Tears In The Rain…

Very few actors are distinctive and really stand out against the sea of Hollywood pretty boys. Very few actors posses that ‘something’ that you can’t quite explain what it is, but you know it’s there when you see it. Very few actors can play a villain and yet, you enjoy them for it. The great Alan Rickman was one of those very few who we sadly lost a handful of years back. And more recently, we lost another one of those very few.

Rutger Hauer sadly died a few days ago, though his passing was only made public recently. It’s pretty hard to know where to start when remembering an actor as diverse and varied as Hauer, but I do know I want to save the best for last. I guess the best thing to do is start with a brief profile.

Rutger Hauer Gif

Rutger Oelsen Hauer was born on the 23rd of January, 1944 in Breukelen, Netherlands during World War II. In fact, the Netherlands was under German occupation at the time of his birth. Aged 15, Hauer left school and joined the the Dutch Merchant Navy where he spent a year travelling the world. He returned home and signed up at the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam for acting classes but soon left to join the Royal Netherlands Army where he trained as a combat medic. Hauer decided to give the whole acting thing another go and and graduated from acting school in 1967.

Rutger Hauer landed a few small roles in his early acting career, but it was in the Paul Verhoeven directed flick, Turkish Delight from 1973 where he really got noticed. He began to take on more roles in his homeland but struggled to breakthrough in America. His American film debut was in 1981 where Hauer acted alongside Hollywood heavyweight Sylvester Stallone in the flick Nighthawks. It’s a rather bland and dull action/thriller but I have to say that Rutger Hauer’s performance is brilliant as the main villain, but most of his scenes were cut out of the released film because (supposedly) Stallone felt he was being upstaged and so requested that Hauer’s part be cut. There’s said to be two versions of the film shown to test audiences at the time. The one with all of Hauer’s scenes, which test audiences loved. Then there is the one with a lot of his scenes removed that was not as popular… yet it was the latter one that was released to the public.

Nighthawks.jpg

Then the following year in 1983, Hauer appeared in a film that many people consider his very best performance, Blade Runner. Here, Hauer played Roy Batty a replicant (kind of an android thing created by man) who was in search of his creator to ask for more life before he dies. Out hunting these replicants is Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been ordered to ‘retire’ any replicants he comes across. Well there’s a lot more to the film than that, but if I were to go into detail, I’d be here all day attempting to explain it. Basically, just go watch Blade Runner (any of the numerous versions), it’s amazing.

Philip K. Dick who wrote the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the film is based had this to say about Hauer’s performance in the flick:

“The perfect Batty, cold, Aryan, flawless”

– Philip K. Dick

The man himself had this to say in a 2001 interview:

“Blade Runner needs no explanation. It just is. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world’s thinking. It’s awesome.”

– Rutger Hauer

The infamous “Tears in the rain” speech delivered by Hauer’s Batty at the end of the flick was rewritten from the original by Hauer. He then presented it to director Ridley Scott who loved it and included it in the final cut of the film.

Rutger Hauer Blade Runner

After Blade Runner, Hauer finally began to be noticed in Hollywood as the roles started to flood in and he had a steady and respected career through the 80s in flicks such as Flesh & Blood, Eureka and Ladyhawke to name a few. In 1987 he starred in the action picture Wanted: Dead or Alive which is a strange reboot/remake/sequel of the T.V. series of the same name. In this one, Hauer plays Nick Randall an ex-CIA operative turned bounty hunter. Anyway, the character he plays is said to be a descendant of Josh Randall who was played by Steve McQueen in the 1958 T.V. show… which itself was a spin-off of another T.V. show called Trackdown.

Rutger Hauer Blind Fury

Oh and there was the still brilliantly entertaining Blind Fury from 1989 where Hauer plays a blind Vietnam War veteran who is highly skilled with a sword. He sets out to find one of his missing ex-veteran friends. Blind Fury is actually a remake of a Japanese flick called Zatoichi Challenged from 1967. I love this film, it’s a bit silly but it’s meant to be. Blind Fury is an action/comedy/samurai film that’s a lot of fun.

The 90s is where Rutger Hauer’s career really took off as he began to appear in more and more films. Wedlock, Nostradamus, Surviving the Game (love this one), Split Second and of course the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the T.V. show even existed. Through the 90s, Hauer was hugely prolific and did a lot of sci-fi  and action flicks. But for me, the main thing from the 90s I’ll always remember him for was the Guinness (Pure Genius) ads here in the U.K. The ads were bizarre, strange, obscure and yet they just worked, they were very ‘Rutgery’. You can check them out here.

 

As the 2000s began, Hauer’s career began to dry up a little, he was still working but you didn’t see him all that often until the awesome 2005 comic book bought to life flick Sin City where he played Cardinal Roark. After Sin City, Rutger’s career took off once more and he continued with his very successful career all though the 2000s. He appeared in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy with Batman Begins. But my favourite film of his from the 2000s was the overlooked, black comedy, exploitation flick Hobo with a Shotgun. This one is so ridiculously over the top and stupid that it’s genius. The title tells you the whole plot, Hauer plays a hobo who get a shotgun and cleans up the neighbourhood. It’s a stylised, 70s exploitation flick and it’s glorious.

As well as film work, Hauer had a successful T.V. career too appearing in shows like Alias, Smallville, True Blood, Porters and many more. He even featured in a couple of video games with Observer and Kingdom Hearts III.

Of course Rutger Hauer fans reading this would’ve noticed a glaring omission from his acting credits I’ve not yet covered. As I said earlier, I’ve saved the best for last…

Rutger Hauer The Hitcher

Many people including Hauer himself say that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty was his best performance. But for me it was John Ryder from the 1986 psychological horror picture The Hitcher. This is Rutger at his most ‘Rutgerist’. He’s cold, manipulative, dark, murderous, twisted… and yet utterly charming and endearing too. This is that ‘something’ I alluded to before when an actor had that thing that just works and is perfect casting. There is a great mystery surrounding the character, one that film fans have theorised over for years and I aim to offer my own view soon-ish.

The Hitcher is a tense and suspenseful horror flick that really lacks things like blood and gore. It’s more about cerebral horror. The film was pretty much a commercial flop when released and  slated by many respected critic at the time.

“This movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”

– Roger Ebert

It’s really quite hard to find a positive review of the film at the time. But all that proves to me is that these critics have no idea what they are talking about. The Hitcher is perhaps too subtle for some people to grasp. It’s not an out and out gore-fest, it’s not overtly violent compared to other horror films of the day. It’s just more indirect with it’s message and has a lot more layers to it than you first realise. As I say, I aim on doing a a much deeper look at Hauer’s John Ryder at some point to highlight what I mean. But The Hitcher is brilliant and by far my favourite Rutger Hauer performance.

As of writing and even though he is now gone, Hauer still has a handful of films currently going through post-production to be released later down the line. So we’ve still not seen the last of the great actor yet.

Rutger Hauer died on the 19th of July, 2019 following an as of yet unspecified illness. He was 75 years old.

“I hate guns, I think they’re the worst thing ever invented.”

– Rutger Hauer