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New York City’s public library system is the best resource in the city. I love the library for its books, surprise surprise. Rarely do they not have one I want. And they make it easy to put them on hold so when I make my weekly trip to my favorite branch in the west village I collect them from my corner on the Holds shelf without having to track things down at different branches.

Yesterday I happened to be in Midtown so I stopped by the large branch to browse their DVDs hoping to find a few horror movies I haven’t seen yet. Returned home with a stack of 4 DVDs and food from Punjabi Deli on 1st and 1st, my favorite Indian food place in the whole city. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but their food is happiness on a plate. Though their aloo tikis will make you cry and there’s no shame in that.

Anyway, the first movie we tried was Aberration. The title is pretty generic but I wanted to like it because it’s an indie film and often my biggest complaint about these movies is the overemphasis on fancy effects piled on thin story lines. I thought maybe a low budget would equal a meatier story.

aberrationSomething about the way the people were styled and the quality of the picture made this look like it was either shot in Canada or in the 70’s, a golden age for horror films (apparently it was filmed in 2006 in the U.S. and released in 2013). Then the actors had to go and start speaking. This film is loaded with the dreaded: bad acting. We lasted through 14 minutes of 20-somethings playing teens making bedroom eyes and a predictable I-see-dead-people setup. Decided not to waste any more time.

Onwards to The Hitch-Hiker:

This copy is released by The Library of Congress as it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It’s a 1953 noir film with a curious background. The screenplay is based on a story by Daniel Mainwaring, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings and was not credited. His story was based on a true story about a murderer named Billy Cook.   It’s also directed by one of the first female directors, Ida Lupino.

the hitch-hiker

The opening introduces us to long empty roads, faceless victims that could have been you, police finding bodies by the roadside, the killer traveling on and two average Joe’s driving down to Mexico through what looks like a gritty world of desert and sky. Not a word is spoken until around minute 4:13. The ominous horn score, shadows and the outsider-looking-in feel of the camera angles do all the work needed to set an eerie mood.

This 71-minute film basically follows what happens to two friends after they pick up Emmett Myers. The pacing takes its time and that made me acutely aware of how much I’ve gotten used to watching continuous cuts to different cameras. The movie isn’t perfect, the police seem to anticipate Billy’s next movies so accurately that it cuts some of the suspense. The big question isn’t whether he’ll be caught, it’s whether his two captives will survive.

ida-lupinos-hitch-hiker-head

Doesn’t he look like an angel when he sleeps?

The biggest source of suspense is Billy’s eye. He’s partly paralyzed in his right eye. The two men are with him for several days so the man has to sleep, right? You think they’ll make a run for it then, but the eye never closes and he sleeps with a gun pointed at them. They can never tell if he’s awake or not. Unfortunately, Emmett (William Talman) occasionally appears to forget one eye is supposed to be paralyzed, which kind of ruined the illusion, but otherwise his portrayal of a psychopath is intense.

Ida Lupino Looking Through Movie Camera

Ida Lupino at work

This isn’t a horror, but it’s one of the earliest examinations of male rage I’ve seen. The three men are almost always within the same frame plotting and taunting with equal force. There are no significant female characters. The intention is to give the viewer the sense that what happens to the two friends could happen to anyone, could happen to you. Ida Lupino succeeded at that.

If you have the chance to catch this, give a shot. Watch the first 15 minutes and you’ll have a good idea of whether or not you’ll like it. It actually looks like the whole movie is available on YouTube. Gotta love the Internets sometimes.

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