Director: Alvin Ganzer
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Inger Stevens, Adam Williams, Lew Gallo, Leonard Strong, Russ Bender, and George Mitchell
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 1/22/1960
Production Code: 173-3612
In this classic episode, a young woman named Nan Adams (Inger Stevens) embarks on a pleasant road trip from New York City to Los Angeles, but soon finds herself the victim of a perpetual nightmare when a mysterious hitchhiker (Leonard Strong) literally appears at every corner. After failing to evade her ominous stalker, Nan finally reaches a point where she is forced to accept the cause of her dire predicament.
A most unnerving tale, “The Hitch-Hiker” can best be summarized as a metaphor on coming to terms with mortality. Especially commendable is Rod Serling’s remarkable twist ending, which will no doubt disturb viewers with its harrowing implications.
By transitioning from a generally carefree young woman to a nervous wreck over the course of her journey, Nan becomes a sympathetic figure with whom the audience can relate. Also worth mentioning are Nan’s inner monologues, which accentuate Inger Stevens’ troubled reactions to every encounter with the eponymous hitchhiker.
A subtle but chilling performance from Leonard Strong also lends credibility to the protagonist’s building sense of paranoia. Though a sinister grin seems to be his only method of communication, the hitchhiker makes clear his diabolical intentions for Nan (the hitchhiker likewise appears to derive a great deal of pleasure from Nan’s fearful responses to him, thus further establishing his character as a seemingly evil or demonic figure).
(Spoilers beyond this point)
When Serling reveals that Nan had actually been dead all along, one can assume that the hitchhiker serves to represent death personified as opposed to a malevolent human predator. Under such an interpretation, Nan’s fear of the titular character would seem to represent a subconscious resistance to accepting her tragic demise at a relatively young age (of course, this inner conflict resolves itself as soon as Nan begins to acknowledge the futility of her struggle). While Nan’s ultimate destination along with that of the hitchhiker is never expressly identified, this aspect of the story is far less relevant than the protagonist’s eventual decision to find peace through embracing the inevitable.
By combining traditional horror elements with a solid life lesson, “The Hitch-Hiker” makes for a perfect episode of The Twilight Zone. Despite ending on a grim note, Serling’s narrative offers a sobering message on the importance of confronting personal demons lest they consume every facet of existence.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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