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DIARY OF A TEENAGE HITCHHIKER (1979).

Kicking off with crime statistics involving female hitchhikers, juxtaposed with an opening credits montage of hot young ladies thumbing by the roadside, this ABC made-for-TV movie (first broadcast on September 21, 1979) focuses on ditzy Southern California teens risking their lives in order to avoid icky public transportation. Though never as spectacularly sordid as you might've hoped, director Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) piles on the leaden scare tactics, in hopes of scaring the bejesus out of young viewers about the dangers of hitching, aided by a supporting roster of familiar TV faces, loads of kitschy late-'70s trappings and fashions, plus enough heavyhanded melodrama for a season's worth of Afterschool Specials... 20-year-old Charlene Tilton (only a year into her long-running stint on DALLAS as teenage trollop Lucy Ewing) stars as recent high school grad Julie Thurston. When her parents (Dick Van Patten, taking a break from fathering his grating EIGHT IS ENOUGH brood, and SOAP-star Katherine Helmond) refuse to buy their obviously-irresponsible daughter a car, her only conceivable alternative is to snag free rides from sleazy men. Hey, all the kids do it!! Pay no attention to the constant news reports of locals hitchhikers who've recently been abused and beaten to death! Meanwhile, viewers get a glimpse of this sinister predator behind the wheel of his black sedan, awaiting his next victim. Making her acting debut, 19-year-old Dominique Dunne (three years before playing the older sis in POLTERGEIST, as well as her brutal murder by an abusive ex-boyfriend) plays Julie's girlfriend Cathy, who's busted up and raped while hitchhiking, midway into the film. Soon afterward, another one of her besties, Dana (Karlene Crockett), slides into a stranger's front seat and, one police chase later, goes face-first through the windshield! Alas, dimwitted Cathy lacks any sense of self-preservation, because even though her pals are dropping like flies, she's still obliviously snagging rides and hoping that they won't be a deviant... Unfortunately, instead of sticking to its entertainingly alarmist message, the teleplay by Robert Malcolm Young (Disney's original ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN) suddenly shifts gears in favor of Julie's romantic fling with a slick older lothario (James Carroll Jordan), who wears a tasteful Tony Manero-style white suit on their first date, takes her to LA for her 18th birthday and encourages Julie to express her artistic spirit as a (wildly mediocre) sculptress. Thank goodness, all of this dull padding is jettisoned for the finale, as our roving maniac returns and puts Julie in danger... Tilton is certainly cute and perky, but also such a thoroughly one-note actress that she manages to make a post-BRADY BUNCH Christopher Knight (as Julie's needy asshole boyfriend, given the boot early on) look relatively competent. In addition, look for Richard Sanders (WKRP IN CINCINNATI's Les Nessman) as Dana's father, THE CANDY SNATCHERS' Brad David Stockton as Cathy's attacker, Katy Kurtzman as Julie's susceptible little sister, and Craig T. Nelson as one of Julie's first pick-ups, who unsuccessfully tries to "scare some sense" into this dense chick.

© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.