Last week one of the most iconoclastic actors in film passed away after a short illness. Rutger Hauer was one of those performers who elevated every single work he was a part of. He may have sometimes been contrary on-set, but it was always in service of the work. He was an actor’s actor and we here at Psycho Drive-In loved the man.
Here are the Psycho Drive-In All-Stars with some of their favorite film memories of the late, great Rutger Hauer.
If there was a sweet spot audience that they were trying to hit for Ladyhawke, I was it. In 1985, I had just turned 18, you see, and despite the fact that that year and the next would span other enduring fairy tales—Legend in ‘85 and Labyrinth in ’86–and that both had much to recommend them, they were also, in some senses, a bit childish for someone who saw herself stepping into the world as an adult. Muppets and glitter-encrusted fairies were just too much for my maturing sensibilities, I told myself, and Ladyhawke had just enough magic to be enchanting without feeling juvenile.
It also had Rutger Hauer, who I knew only from Blade Runner at that point, and who was thus seemed indelibly marked (Blade Runner having the power to seem the final word on so much) as the (heroic) baddie. Perhaps it was this same bias that led director Richard Donner to want to originally cast Hauer not as the hero, Navarre, Captain of the Guard of Aquila, but as Marquet, his evil replacement, something Hauer turned down cold. But when Kurt Russell dropped out as Navarre days before they started principal photography, Donner asked Hauer to play the hero, and I got my fairy tale.
Unlike, however, the Disney and other fairy tales I grew up on, the story of Ladyhawke is entered and viewed through a more overtly male lens. Matthew Broderick’s Gaston stands in for us in the story as we learn about the love and cruel fate of Navarre and Isabeau, and although Gaston meets Isabeau about a third of the way into the film, he spends the majority of his time with Navarre and it is Navarre’s perception of the romance that dominates, right down to his hopelessness that love will find a way. Navarre’s love for Isabeau is never in doubt, but it is the love of a soldier, not some Disney prince, and it is practical, not charming.
Which is what made Rutger Hauer the right choice in the end. His reserve and physicality make him an imposing presence, and there’s little doubt that he could have been captain of the guard or that he would have captured the eye of the most beautiful girl in Aquila. But all these masculine qualities also become the problem and the solution in the film. After all, there’s no doubt that he’s formidable enough to best the current captain of the guard, storm the castle, and kill the bishop who cursed him and Isabeau—it’d be so easy for him, that it wouldn’t be satisfying to watch him do it. So then what’s the final conflict in the film to be?
He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t see any solution other than revenge. He has lost hope. The entire last act is devoted to a confrontation in the church that Imperious has told him can be totally bloodless due to an eclipse that most of us in the audience figured out the moment Imperious talked about a “day without night and a night without a day” (which by the way, is the precise opposite of a solar eclipse since its both not one without the other). But Etienne must have blood and will not listen to Imperious, Gaston, or, indirectly, Isabeau. It is not until he thinks he has failed, and he prays to Imperious to be quick in killing Isabeau, that he has recognized that he has lost the woman he loves because he put his need for revenge first. We watch Hauer slip from avenging demon to stunned supplicant to unthinking soldier to enraptured lover in the course of two minutes as Etienne (hopefully) transforms into a man as worthy of Isabeau’s devotion as her own faith as proven her of his. The 18-year-old in me still believes in their happily ever after.
Flesh+Blood, which came out the same year as Ladyhawke, is in some ways, its mirror image. Both are set, for all intents and purposes, in Europe, Ladyhawke in France in the 13th (or 14th century if you want to by astronomically accurate), and Flesh+Blood in northern Italy in 1501. Both involve the church and soldiers and love, but their relation to reality is very, very different. Paul Verhoeven wanted to depict the (late) medieval period as it was, complete with filth, violence, disease and cruelty, and Flesh+Blood does an admirable job. Both films may revolve around a love story, but Flesh+Blood shows us just how unlike a fairy tale all those stories about princes and princesses would really have been.
And Rutger Hauer plays the principal role in this without playing the prince.
Because prince Steven himself is, not unlike Disney princes, distinctly uninteresting. His attachment to Agnes is nominal, having been betrothed to her against his wishes, and he falls in love with her via the only “magic” in the piece—the co-eating of some mandrake root right beneath the swinging bodies of hanged men. He spends the majority of the film chasing after, and trying to reacquire, his princess, although, by the end, it’s unclear whether she wants to be his or Martin’s (a character Hauer plays with a complexity that’s not entirely out of place in a movie that’s so frequently over-the-top).
While Verhoeven spent a great deal of budget and time on the ensemble scenes in this tale about a band of mercenaries and camp followers done wrong and seeking their desserts (led by a plaster saint), the enjoyment of the film comes from the constant game being played between Martin–the leader of the mercs—prince Steven, and Agnes. It’s clear that Agnes may not like the rabble that surround Martin, but she finds him more than a bit intriguing, and the audience shares this interest, though perhaps not entirely for the reasons.
In Martin, we see Hauer in his absolute strength. He depicts Martin as a man shaped by his circumstances—as brutal as required by his circumstances, but not a jot more than that. Able to put on the airs of nobility as a lark, but as unbothered by breaking his word as the lord who betrayed him and his mercenary band. He is not one given to emotional outbursts, but rather someone who keeps his feelings contained for the most part (the Othello-like almost-murder scene at the end notwithstanding) and out of the light–precisely the type of character Hauer was born to play. Watching, analyzing, seemingly impervious…until he isn’t. Until his bastard child dies. Until Agnes starts to fuck him back. Until he realizes the princess doesn’t really love him. Then, like a brilliant streak of sunlight through heavy clouds, we get a flash of feeling that changes the entire landscape. Then the clouds shift again, and it’s gone. But we never see things…we never see the character…the same way.
That’s pure Rutger Hauer.
As we say goodbye to him and find resonance in his words in Blade Runner, I’m just so glad that these moments—these moments that changed everything in characters we loved, that made them those characters—can never be lost.
— Laura Akers
I was 15 years old when Blind Fury debuted and had yet to become acquainted with Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, or the many Japanese films celebrating that particular folk hero. The idea of a blind man capable of expertly wielding a sword was a wholly new concept to me, as radical in theory as a ninja with a flamethrower or a time-traveling cyborg assassin. And as a fan of martial arts and action exploitation film in general, I embraced it with gusto.
I knew Hauer from previous work, but most notably a more recent film in the same genre titled Wanted: Dead or Alive. I’d come to appreciate Blade Runner, Ladyhawke, and Flesh + Blood in the coming years, but at the time I had primarily embraced the actor as a grizzled action hero badass. Blind Fury was just the sort of late-night low-budget action trash I craved and when it made the rounds on cable television it provided my friends and I with endless sword-slinging entertainment. My friend Howard was so convinced of Hauer’s blindness that we had to show him other films starring the actor just to prove he wasn’t actually sightless.
In retrospect, the performance isn’t actually that convincing, but Hauer seems to be having fun with it. The film has not aged well in terms of subject matter, the multiple jokes at the expense of Hauer’s blind character, Nick Parker, are crude and patently offensive. But Parker makes sure that everyone who underestimates him learns to regret it, from a gang of would be purse-snatchers to the criminal overlord bent on ruining his former combat buddy’s life. The story itself is standard 80’s action fare (aside from the blind swordsman angle!) Parker returns home after being MIA from the Vietnam War for years, having been nursed back to health and taught the way of the sword by friendly villagers following a mortar exploding in his face. He’s looking for his best friend, Frank Deveraux, and quickly becomes embroiled in a plot to kidnap Deveraux’s son to blackmail Frank into making high end designer drugs for a Reno mob boss.
It’s a bit silly, and much of the middle of the film is spent with Parker and Deveraux’s annoying little shit of a son trekking across the country toward a showdown in Reno. The kid is a snotty little punk who is constantly trying to take advantage of Parker’s blindness, and keeps getting himself into trouble as he struggles to run away from the only person invested in actually keeping him safe. The film is bolstered by some solid performances from a young Terry O’Quinn, the always beguiling (but sadly underutilized) Meg Foster, and a cigar-chomping beady-eyed Randall “Tex” Cobb as the crime boss’s heavy.
Is it all enough to recommend the film? I think that nostalgia aside, it’s a tough sell, but I was happy to take the stroll down memory lane in remembrance of Hauer. Blind Fury exists in that strange space between the ultra-ham-fisted action choreography of the 80s and the more fluid fast-paced action we saw rise to prominence in the 90s. Some of the sword work is decent, particularly a duel at the film’s climax, and there are a couple of scenes where Parker takes a hand or a limb off here or there that stood out as delightfully gory for the time. The logic is spotty however, sometimes the sword slices through solid marble and layers of wood or metal, other times it struggles to cut through a bullet-proof vest or to slice open clothing and flesh. Parker’s disability is also handled unevenly. At times he can hear well enough to catch a falling object cleanly out of the sky, other times he stumbles over furniture.
While it’s certainly not a jewel in his crown, Blind Fury will always hold a special place in my heart as the piece of crudely polished action trash that it is. And had I ever the chance to meet the man and share the story before his passing, I’m certain he would have been tickled to learn that my friend Howard so thoroughly believed Hauer must be blind in real life.
— Adam Barraclough
Hobo with a Shotgun comes from a simpler time in the history of cinema, when Dimension Films saw gold in letting Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino attempt to recreate the movie going experiences of their youth in a single super-size package. The resulting films, Planet Terror and Death Proof, were met tepidly by critics and audiences alike- the opening day screening I attended was me, my nonplussed spouse, and a guy who noisily ate at least three cheeseburgers during the show. Though the project did not fulfill its potential, the insistence of Tarantino and Rodriguez on approximating the full grindhouse experience has proven unexpectedly fruitful. The trailers that bridged the two films, contributed by Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth provided buzz even as the Grindhouse ship was sinking. Gooey zombies and death cars might not have worked, but a Thanksgiving-themed slasher or Nic Cage as Fu Manchu in a Nazi werewolf pic launched many an Internet thread.
Though Rodriguez would eventually develop the trailer for Machete into a pair of well-deserved star vehicles for Danny Trejo, the real story of the trailers was Hobo with a Shotgun, which wasn’t even included in most distributed copies of the film. Jason Eisner produced the trailer for a contest held by Rodriguez at SXSW Film Festival. The short, shot in six days for $150, starred an amateur, David Brunt, as the titular hobo. The original trailer, though the winner of the contest, only made the cut for some theaters in Eisner’s native Canada. As the more established directors moved on to other projects and the trailer buzz lost steam, the limited screenings and festival success generated enough buzz to secure a three-million-dollar layout for a full Hobo film.
Eisner considered allowing Brunt to continue in the role, but the trailer’s star had some health issues that negated his participation, and with three million dollars on the line conventional wisdom dictated that a name was needed to carry the picture. The immediate problem is there were very few recognizable actors willing to lend their reputation to a niche picture from a first time director, particularly a role that required taking several significant beatings and then dishing out an upsetting amount of violence with the promised shotgun, a lawnmower, and seemingly anything that happened to be within arm’s reach. Steve Buscemi would have brought the name recognition and could portray a convincing hobo, but he, a fact that remains true at this writing, had never taken an exploitation role. Nicholas Cage also seems like a likely candidate, but his genre calendar was full at the time with Drive Angry and Ghost Rider, and he hadn’t entered the phase in his career when he was working in lower tier productions. Even Danny Trejo, so memorable in a host of roles, needed Machete to up his name recognition. The list was quite short.
Enter Rutger Hauer. He had already had a couple of iconic roles, was well-versed in the conventions of grind house film making, and seemingly never met a role that he would not take. Hobo with a Shotgun was one of twelve acting credits he had in 2011, and, no matter how many good reviews The Mill and the Cross garnered, is definitely his most memorable. Hauer was suitably grizzled and gave a performance free of pretense. Rather than the bankable star slumming it in a first-time director’s low budget shocker, Hauer fully embodies his character. There was not a single minute of the film where a viewer can legitimately observe a Hollywood actor playing a role; Hauer went all in, and, even if that entailed blowing away scores of extra level actors in fountains of blood or memorably emoting that the hooker with a heart of gold character “should have been a teacher” before unleashing even more righteous fury. Hobo with a Shotgun soars to what heights it reaches on the strength of this performance. Rutger Hauer was not a typical action hero; there was a cipher quality that allowed him to disappear into a film while still being the best part of it. His performance in Hobo with a Shotgun is a prime example of how Hauer made a rich and varied career out of playing slightly threatening but soulful characters.
— R. Mike Burr
Rutger Hauer’s legacy is about passion. He was an improvisational, spontaneous actor who brought electricity to his roles. Whether it was getting his privates caught painfully in his bell-bottom seventies jeans in one of his first films, Turkish Delight (a tragic love story, and still the biggest Dutch movie of all time), or giving one of the most powerful (and largely improvised) soliloquies in science fiction at the end Roy Batty’s journey in Blade Runner, those electric blue eyes always proved to be windows directly to what the characters he portrayed wanted, needed and felt about what was happening in every cinematic moment.
Roy Batty was in a way his perfect match as a character, because he was all the big blundering male energy Hauer commanded turned up to eleven. Super strong, with unpredictable and razor-thin emotions, clever but uneducated, he was a frustrated child with a superman’s body. And those who crossed his path paid the price for disappointing him. Batty is so memorable because his basic goal is universal: he just wants to live. It’s not his fault that he was designed with a time limit, meant to burn briefly and sputter out, as we literally watch him do at the end of Ridley Scott’s iconic movie. Certainly, Scott’s command of atmosphere, the derelict hotel, the many worn and haunted rooms Batty chases Deckard through as they struggle for survival in the climax of the film, conjures the evocative epic setting for such a pivotal conflict. But Hauer and Ford take full advantage of this masterfully conjured world, the latter struggling desperately against a stronger more determined foe, and the former toying with the cop who’s been sent to kill him, to “retire” the indentured worker even earlier than his own failing internal systems.
We see this passion for life in all the replicants, whether it’s Zhora fleeing Deckard’s hail of bullets through plate glass, Pris’s agile body convulsing uncontrollably after fatal injury, Leon’s inchoate rage at his predicament and the death of his friends, or even Rachael’s last minute murder of Leon, in order to save the only human who has ever told her the truth (that the life she remembers is an artificial lie).
It’s why the scene where Batty confronts his maker has an almost sexual energy, taking place in a bedroom, where he asks his “father” for some further lease on life, one that can’t be provided. It’s why he cradles him so gently before he kills him, the fragile old man who engineered this ungovernable monster, and poor Sebastian (despite his own debilitating disease) is collateral damage, a messenger who’s seen too much.
Driving nails into his hands keeps him going a little longer, and he laughs as well as rages as he busts through walls. He’s dancing through disasters, just as Pris performed gymnastics and Zhora ran with such determination for her life. But he’s only toying with Deckard, whom he finally saves from a deadly fall. Because he needs a witness, someone to see his final moments, to understand that this short, brutal life still had memories of beauty and wonder. It’s an elegy to a lost world of possibility, signified by the dove Batty cradles so gently in the rain, despite all the violence along the way. Our cinematic world has suffered a significant loss as well.
— Shawn Hill
Rutger Hauer was a treasure as a character actor and genre mainstay. While you’ve likely been bombarded with clips of his 1982 performance in Blade Runner, he built his career on paradoxical roles in which he was aloof and accessible all at once. I could list a series of characters and films featuring Hauer but none of them stand out to me quite the way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer does. The 1992 horror comedy by Joss Whedon that would later be adapted into the wildly popular series featured Hauer as a sinister but comical vampiric master named Lothos.
Lothos was the stereotypical vampire king. He was regal, domineering, and self-assured to the point of arrogance. Dressed like any other Eastern European vampire in formal wear and a cape and rocking the quintessential early 90’s mustache, Hauer brought to life not only the power of the character, but a sort of amused boredom within him at the eons old ritual of killing one teenage slayer after the next. It was an uncharacteristically funny performance from a man who had delivered much more serious and menacing personas over the years including his roles in films like The Hitcher.
This isn’t the only time Hauer would become a member of the undead, either. He would go on to play Kurt Barlow in the 2004 remake of ‘Salem’s Lot and Count Dracula himself in Dracula III: Legacy. But, neither of these nor any of the other villains he would portray through his career would be quite as funny, warm, or inviting, as Lothos.
Rutger Hauer leaves behind fans and a body of work that crosses genres, languages, and generations.
— Dan Lee
Rutger Hauer made his American film debut in the 1981 Sylvester Stallone action flick Nighthawks, playing the coldly charismatic terrorist Heymar “Wulfgar” Reinhardt. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when the film premiered on HBO, that 15-year-old me desperately ate it up, having been stunned by his Roy Batty in Blade Runner.
This was a film that went through production hell with Stallone going full diva (in his full post-Rocky I and II glory and before his post-First Blood descent into playing cartoon characters) and essentially getting the original director replaced with someone to whom he could play puppeteer, rewriting the script to minimize the roles of Hauer, Billy Dee Williams, and Lindsay Wagner, and then the studio chopped it up since the suits thought the idea of terrorist attacks in New York was too unbelievable and the final showdown too bloody. Through it all, though, Rutger Hauer shines. While Stallone is doing a piss-poor Serpico impression, Hauer’s charming psychopath steals every scene.
There’s a twinkle in his eye as he blows up storefronts, and a gleeful smile as he murders people right and left. And despite the chaos and violence, despite going from lovable to terrifying in an instant, he’s still the most likeable character in the film. That’s probably the most consistent element to every Rutger Hauer performance, whether he’s playing monsters or heroes. It was even there in the last production I saw and loved him in, Channel Zero – Butcher’s Block, where he played the otherworldly patriarch of a trans-dimensional family of cannibals!!
It’s rare to find an actor so damned charismatic you can forgive him for murdering stores full of people, tormenting drivers on lonely highways, popping out people’s eyes, draining the blood from innocents, torturing and raping medieval victims, eating people, and generally being able to chill you with a glance. Hell, we love him even more for being able to pull that off. Rutger Hauer was one of the greatest villains in genre film, whichever film you want to watch. And he was one of the greatest actors of the past fifty-odd years. He will be sorely missed.
— Paul Brian McCoy
I was thirteen years old, and an avid follower of these magazines, when I first read about BLADE RUNNER. Naturally, I wanted to see it because Harrison Ford was in it, and Han Solo was the second coolest character in the Star Wars universe (after Darth Vader). I wasn’t too worried about growing up yet, just surviving, but this also sounded like a very adult movie. Meaning there might be some boobs in it, of course, but also that it might be kinda slow.
Well, there were some boobs in it – and they were good boobs, even covered in fake snake scales – and Ford was great as Deckard. It was more of an adult movie than Star Wars too – and, yes, it was kinda slow. But there was never a moment of boredom for me. Ridley Scott and his team of movie magicians had created an entirely real world that lived in those two hours on the screen, one that I never doubted existed.
The most amazing thing in the movie, though, was Roy Batty, the replicant played by Rutger Hauer. Damn, that dude was badass. He was supposed to be the bad guy, more or less, but all he wanted to do was exist. I’d been raised without religion, but that scene where he goes to the man who had made him . . . “I want more life, fucker” . . . that was the most intense case of someone meeting their god I could imagine.
Yeah, Hauer went on to play a bunch of other awesome roles. THE HITCHER. LADYHAWKE. NIGHTHAWKS. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. While I was never a huge fan of the original Buffy movie, his character was the closest he ever got to playing the vampire Lestat (a role he seemed born to play, but that eventually went to, grumble-grumble, Tom Cruise). Though he was in all of these things, he will always be Roy Batty in my mind.
There’s undoubtedly a glut of quotes from his “tears in rain” speech from the end of BLADE RUNNER. That’s because it was perfect. That scene can still choke me up and twist me around in all kinds of ways. When he tells Deckard how all the things he’s seen will just be lost in time, then that dove flies up into the air beside his slumped form . . .
That moment reached into my thirteen-year old soul, and it’s been somewhere in everything I’ve ever wanted to write. I know he was just an actor, it was just a movie, and these were just magazines, but these things have all formed part of the world I exist in.
And they haven’t been lost in the rain yet.
— John E. Meredith
Rutger Hauer will be largely remembered for his performance as Roy Batty in the 1982 Sci-Fi masterpiece Blade Runner. While he plays the antagonist, he is hardly a villain. In 1986 he was given a truly villainous role in The Hitcher. His performance as John Ryder should be on an essential villains list and mandatory viewing as an essential 80s horror/action classic. When Rutger Hauer is the villain his acting can’t be touched.
The Hitcher is a simple story of giving a ride to the worst hitchhiker in existence. Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) gives our hitcher the ride and things get bad quickly and worsen at a ferocious pace. In many ways The Hitcher himself has a small role with very few lines, but what Rutger Hauer does throughout the entirety of the picture is cast the impression of impending inescapable doom. He does this largely with his eyes, shifting from looks of acute lethality to pure joy to deep sadness. What few lines he does get, he doesn’t say in a commanding, forceful tone. They are all intensely whispered, he brings you in chilling you to the core, “I cut off his legs… and his arms… and his head… and I’m going to do the same to you.”
There is a great shot early in the film when Jim eludes The Hitcher for the first time, John Ryder is kicked out of the car, and as Jim speeds away The Hitcher gets to his feet with a look of anticipation on his face. The Hitcher’s motives for violence are never discovered, but this look on his face tells us he has been waiting a long time to play the game he is about to play. In a career highlight performance by Rutger Hauer, The Hitcher is a relentless, evil, agent of chaos. In 2019 he passed away at the age of 75. While I immediately thought of The Hitcher and Blade Runner, I also remembered how good he is in Wanted Dead or Alive, Nighthawks, Sin City, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Ladyhawke. All worthy of being picked up again.
— Raul Reyes
Certainly not his last film and too small a bit part to be called a swan song, Rutger Hauer played the President of the World State Federation in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017). The film opens with an incredible montage sequence, including historical footage, of humans meeting humans in space stations and then meeting a series of aliens. The montage sequence and Hauer’s well-written bit part, however, were perhaps too clear and concise compared to the rest of the film.
Just a bit part, alone on a green screen, and giving a speech filled with exposition, Hauer brought his best to the science fiction genre he was mostly known for as his character explains in a press briefing how a massive space station will be released from Earth’s orbit. The end of the speech echoes the positive greetings of Voyager 1 and 2 when referring to the space station: “The symbol of our values and knowledge, it will carry a message of peace and unity to the furthest reaches of the universe” which is the best we can ask of Rutger Haur as he enters the void.
— Fred L. Taulbee Jr.
When J.J. Abrams’ second TV show Alias was on television, it was a world of Nokia phone rings, spy hijinks and outfit changes, Jennifer Garner kicking ass as Sydney Bristow, and a recently graduated 18-year-old me lapping it all up and trying to get my friends to watch. Network TV may have had the numbers back then but TV as a whole didn’t quite have the storytelling prestige it’s earned in our current era, so it was a hard sell from friend-to-friend to convince that Alias was a terrifically fun, intricate, and emotionally involving spy series. Then came the Super Bowl episode in 2003 (“Phase One”), the midpoint of Season Two, and what would turn out to be a complete show shakeup.
Rutger Hauer had a one-episode part as a former colleague of the man he would be torturing for information, Jack Bristow (Victor Garber). It was only one episode, he died by the end, but I remember being enthralled at how much work Hauer was putting into this part. I had seen him in Blade Runner and was impressed, and to this day I will swear that Ridley Scott’s movie should have been told from Roy Batty’s perspective, as he was the far more compelling character in that movie. At this point in my life, Hauer was mostly known to me due to his 90s output, which was increasingly low-budget direct-to-video movies and whatever occasional TV spot he snagged.
My opinion wasn’t exactly high. I can distinctly remember watching the man appear on my TV screen that Super Bowl Sunday and genuinely being impressed. He could have phoned it in, just relied upon the genre trappings, but he found hidden glimpses of a character, little moments that painted a deeper picture, and circled the scene finding that point rather than directly landing onto it. Hauer’s appearance actually made it easier for me to convince friends to give the show a chance, and it worked out that much better that his lone appearance was the Super Bowl episode, a fortuitous combo that allowed me to convert even more friends to the series.
Hauer had a long career of good and bad, but the man never took a part for granted. He will be missed.
— Nate Zoebl