First up was MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981): Before FURY ROAD this was easily my favorite Mad Max movie, and it's still definitely the one I've watched the most. So it was amazing to realize how much I had forgotten. Like the rape scene. Or the opening sequence. But it still has all the energy I remember. And watching it after FURY ROAD you can see how a lot of the ideas that started here became bigger, better, and wilder there. Like the endless chase, of course. Or people crucified on the fronts of cars. Or a strong female warrior who is never treated differently for being female. Or the opening shot with Max driving off in the Interceptor. Or the music box. Or....
You know what, there's a fan theory going around that says Max in FURY ROAD is really the feral kid from ROAD WARRIOR. This explains how Max doesn't seem to age even though it must have taken a lot of time to build up the civilization in FURY ROAD. I don't buy it. What I think makes more sense is that they're the same story. Mad Max is a legend, told by survivors and their descendants long after some sort of peaceful civilization has been rebuilt (this is actually kind of explicit in the narrator framing device.) And like most legends, they grow the more they get told. So the first time the narrator tells this story around a campfire, it goes like ROAD WARRIOR. But he keeps embellishing it every time, and so maybe the tenth time he tells it it sound more like FURY ROAD.
Either that or they're just two stories, and they both kick ass.
THE HITCHER (1986): And then this sick classic. A driver, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is hired to drive a car from Chicago to California. On the monotonous drive he dozes off and almost crashes into a truck. So he picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) to keep him company and keep him awake. But Ryder turns out to be a psycho who threatens to kill him (specifically to cut of his legs, and arms, and head.) And when he narrowly escapes, Ryder starts to stalk him, kill others, and frame him for his crimes. Gruesome, tense, and all the more interesting for the apparent lack of motivation for Ryder. The dude's just evil...of some sort. But what struck me was a line early on, where Halsey asks him what he wants and Ryder replies "I want you to stop me." There are theories that Halsey actually crashed into the truck and died in the beginning, and that this is some sort of hallucination before he dies. Or this is hell and Ryder is the devil. Or that Ryder actually is Halsey suffering from split personality. Whatever Ryder is, he's an evil that came out of nowhere for the sole purpose of convincing Halsey to grow a pair and kill him. Which explains why sometimes Ryder seems to be helping Halsey (like busting him out of jail...and killing all the cops there.) If nothing else, it's a very interesting take on the nature of evil.
CHINA LAKE (1983): And then we got this little bonus. The first short by the director of THE HITCHER, Robert Harmon. Charles Napier plays an L.A. cop on vacation in China Lake, a depressed little dump of the town where he can get some peace and quiet and do whatever he wants. Like kill any locals who annoy him...or whom he thinks would just be amusing to kill. You can see the style of THE HITCHER being developed here. Visual storytelling with little dialogue. Mysterious motivations for the villain (anti-hero?) A sick, sadistic sensibility. And some solid violence. You know, good stuff.
Total Running Time: 225 minutes
My Total Minutes: 403,016