Friday, March 15, 2013

Forgotten Ozploitation: Road Games (1981)

I picked this film up on the basis of director Richard Franklin's other work. I really enjoyed both his sequels to Psycho and FX. Psycho II in particular is a film I've always had a great deal of fondness for. I love that film's playful sense of black humour and the way it builds on the original film rather than rehashing it. Road Games was made in 1981 and was at the time the most expensive film ever made in Australia (though you won't notice looking at it). Franklin was a graduate from University of Southern California and was good friends with John Carpenter. He initially hoped to get Sean Connery for the lead but the budget couldn't stretch. However Carpenter did recommend Jamie Lee Cutis to him, while they were working on The Fog, and she took a small but key role in the film.

Road Games sees Stacy Keach play a truck driver called Pat Quid who is hauling a lorry full of frozen meat through the Australian outback. To pass the time he likes playing little games with himself, like imagining the lives of other drivers. When he hears on the radio that a serial killer is on the loose he begins to grow suspicious of the driver of a green van who always seems to be in front of him. The longer he travels the more sure he becomes that the driver of the green van IS the killer. He enlists the help of Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis), a young hitchhiker who he picks up, and together they try and gather some concrete evidence. However, when Pamela mysteriously disappears Quid is forced to prove his own innocence to the authorities. Will he save Pamela in time? Is he right about the man in the green van?

The film is very much a Hitchcock homage and the plot plays out like a variation on Rear Window. Quid is a curious voyeur just like Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window only he's not as powerless. Rather than being confined to a room with a broken leg, he's only confined to a truck cabin and a single stretch of highway. However he's also on his own for much of the film with only his pet dingo to keep his sanity alive!

One thing I will say is that the poster for the film completely missells what it is. Don't get me wrong it's a great poster but it leads you to think that you're going to see a slasher with loads of gory murders and you don't. Everything is very restrained and beyond some slightly lurid conversations between Curtis and Keach it's all pretty tame. I actually enjoyed this approach in an old fashioned sort of way because it leaves it completely up to the viewer to imagine what's going on (including whether Quid is right about the green van man being the killer).

The only real weak point of the film is that the end gets a little messy. Essentially, all the drivers that Quid has met on his journey turn up at the end and testify to the police how much of a dangerous lunatic he is. Apparently Franklin ran out of money and couldn't film all the bits he wanted that would have tied them back into the story. As such, they sort of appear out of nowhere which is a bit of shame.

Keach really holds the film together and he and Curtis have great chemistry. Much like Lauren Hutton in John Carpenter's Someone's Watching Me Keach spends a lot of the film on his own talking to himself which should be annoying but it's not. Keach makes Quid a thoroughly likeable and quirky character and you're always rooting for him however desperate he gets. I love the fact that he constantly feels the need to correct people about his profession - "Listen lady, just because I drive it truck, it does not make me a truck driver." I will warn any potential viewers that despite being second billed Curtis doesn't appear for a great deal of the film. However she makes the most of her small scenes. Her character of Pamela (or 'Hitch' as Quid nicknames her) makes a great counter foil to Quid and I liked the lack of any sexual tension between the two.

All in all Road Games is a decent little thriller. Sure it's more witty than scary but it's a fun film all the same. Any fans of Hitchcock's thrillers will feel right at home with this. If you want a little blood stick with The Hitcher but if you want some mystery and old fashioned storytelling try this one out.



  1. Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hitchhiker again, just like in The Fog?

    Never seen this movie, but that poster is all kinds of awesome. By your descriptions of it, it reminds me of The Hitcher or Joy Ride, remember those two?

  2. Ha! Yeah, hadn't thought of that. Love, love, love The Hitcher and Joy Ride is a pretty fun variation on the same theme.

    This is a bit different from those. It's less of a nail bitingly tense thriller, more laid back and witty. It feels quite tongue in cheek. I think you'd quite like it.

  3. I've heard of Road Games before but have never seen it. When I first saw the poster, title, and that it was from Australia I wondered if it was like a horror version of Mad Max!
    Nice write-up, I'll have it check out out sometime. And I love The Hitcher!

  4. Yeah, that damn poster is misleading so many people.

    Big fan of The Hitcher too. I'll have to get around to reviewing that at some point.

  5. I would like to see a remake of this ... with an adequate budget.