I have commented before that I am a huge fan of The Twilight Zone – the television series brought to us by the creative genius Rod Serling. While the show often explored science fiction and character studies, some episodes were just downright spooky. That is particularly impressive because the producers did not have the technical know-how or the budget for lavish sets and special effects. By necessity the impact of the stories had to fall on the strength of the script and performance of the actors. There were plenty of episodes that creeped me out but The Hitch-Hiker is one the spookiest in my opinion.
This episode tells the story of Nan Adams, a young woman who is driving to California to visit her mother. The episode begins with a serviceman changing her tire. It seems that one of her tires blew out along a particularly nasty stretch of road.
After she gets her tire replaced Nan begins to notice a strange man on the side of the road who seems to want a ride but she decides not to let him in her car.
Nan does not think much of the encounter at first but then she notices the man again in a town about 50 miles away. Throughout her trip she sees the mysterious hitch-hiker over and over again. Much of the story is conveyed through voice-overs – Nan’s internal monologue. She does feel that the man is menacing but she senses that he wants something from her. Eventually the repeated sightings of the hitch-hiker cause Nan to break down.
Nan’s behavior becomes increasingly hysterical. At one point she meets a Navy crewman and agrees to give him a ride while hoping he will offer some sort of protection from the mysterious man she repeatedly encounters. After seeing the stranger yet again Nan impulsively decided to run him over with her car which understandably unnerves the sailor. Not being able to see the hitch-hiker, he leaves her and tells her that she needs a good night’s sleep.
After reaching Arizona, Nan decides to call her mother. She desperately needs to hear the voice of somebody familiar. Unfortunately, she does not recognize the voice of the woman who answers the phone. It turns out that her mother had a nervous breakdown following the death of her daughter – Nan. When her tire blew out the car had flipped over killing her. Upon realizing she is dead Nan is no longer afraid. She gets back into her car to see the man in the backseat who simply says, “I believe you are going my way.”
So who was the hitch-hiker? I believe he is the Grim Reaper. Or perhaps he is something less menacing – a being that helps the dead find their way to the afterlife or whatever you believe is in store for the newly deceased. This episode is interesting because it plays both sides of the classic ghost tales told by those who travel on the road a lot. The recurring hitch-hiker tale has been around for centuries (if not millennia) and I am sure most of you have heard at least one ghost story about somebody who gets in a vehicle driven by a ghost. The sailor in this episode has a ghost story to tell and does not even realize it.
The Twilight Zone is a great series to revisit in October and this episode in particular is a classic for Halloween.