Road Games (1981)

The first time I saw Road Games I was a bit confused, since the two leads, Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, are American.  When watching Ozsploitation films I'm used to the closest thing to an American being Mel Gibson.  As the movie went on it made much more sense why these two ex-pats would be about as far from the United States as one can get without learning to speak penguin.  I also realized what a strangely enjoyable movie this is. 

Pat Quid (Keach) is a truck driver that has had little sleep, and when he finally does get a chance to stop for the night he notices a man (Grant Page) with a hitchhiker he passed up earlier on the road.  They take the room he was going to rent, so he spends the night in his truck with his dog Boswell (Killer).  In the morning when Boswell goes to do his business he is overly interested in some trash bags outside the motel and the man is overly interested in Boswell. 

While curious, Quid doesn't pay it any mind as he has to get a truckload of meat across Western Australia to Perth, where there's currently a butcher's strike.  There is also news on the radio about a serial killer picking up female hitchhikers, and Quid starts to suspect the man he saw, especially when the guy starts to follow him in a green van.  While he normally doesn't pick up hitchhikers, he decides to pick up a lady he simply nicknames Hitch (Curtis), and she becomes curious about the man as well.  Unfortunately for Quid the police think he may be the one responsible, and Pat and Hitch's snooping around may have dire consequences.

One reason I like this movie so much is, although I don't drive a truck, I do take a lot of road trips, and there are still long stretches of nothing in Arizona.  After a while making up different types of games, or paying attention to the other vehicles that kind of follow in a sort of temporary band of travelers, helps with the long stretches of highway once one runs out of saguaros to count.  Ever since I originally saw Road Games the whole cast of characters that Quid makes up lives and names for - Sneezy Rider (Robert Thompson), an allergy-prone biker, Frita (Marion Edward), the wife of an accountant left behind "accidentally" by her husband and Captain Careful (Bill Stacey), a man hauling a boat who gets in a bit of tizzy over his windshield.  Many of the cast of characters are leads and bit players from other Australian action and horror films.

That apparently became a problem for Curtis.  Although director Richard Franklin specifically wanted Keach in the lead, the role of Hitch was supposed to go to an Australian actress.  However, distributors and backers in the United States demanded an American actress, and Franklin knew of Curtis since he was friends with John Carpenter.  Curtis does her usual great job in the role, even though it's a bit smaller than one would think for second billing.  The choice was unpopular with the Australian cast and crew, and she was largely isolated by the rest of them. 

This is one of Stacey Keach's best roles, and it's a shame more people didn't see this movie when it came out.  It was the most expensive Australian film at the time, and there were big hopes that it would make a splash internationally.  There may have been some factors as to why it didn't, but with the popularity of Mad Max this should have done better than it did.  Grant Page was one of the stuntmen on that movie, and Road Games is one of the few where he acts outside of Stunt Rock, where he played himself.  He plays a good killer, always on the fringes and pretty much silent throughout.  

Ricahrd Franklin was a fan of Hitchcock, which becomes evident as there are tributes to him throughout the movie.  The only real problem, and Franklin was in agreement since he thought it was goofy, is the ending.  The shock at the finale is out of step with the rest of the movie, which gets its thrills from chases and suspense.  It just feels cheap after everything that came before it, and it was a compromise that was forced on Franklin by the producers of the film.  It's just a few seconds out of the rest of the film, but it comes at a point where it's hard to dismiss it.  Despite that, it is definitely an underappreciated film, and it did get Franklin a dream directing job: Psycho 2, a sequel to one of the most famous films by his favorite director. 

Road Games (1981)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Grant Page, Marion Edward
Director: Richard Franklin



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