ROAD GAMES (1981)

PrintE-mail Written by John Higgins

Originally released theatrically in the UK in a double-bill with the Chuck Norris action film An Eye For An Eye (and subsequently in the early pre-regulated UK  VHS home video days by Embassy Home Entertainment alongside the likes of Escape From New York and Codename: The Soldier) Richard Franklin’s Road Games (aka Roadgames in the opening credits)  is also a film that STARBURST championed first-time around in an early 1980s edition of the magazine.

It is an unusual entry in the Australian New Wave of that time, not least in the fact that this Australian set horror film has two Americans (Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis) in the leads. The title might lead you into thinking that this is another Mad Max-style thriller, given that that film’s Production Designer, John Dowding and composer Brian May (not the Queen guitarist, I must add) also lend their talents to the film. In terms of visuals, it does remind one of George Miller’s classic in the broad strokes of open road. However, this is more of a psychologically-driven piece and evokes memories of Duel, The Hitcher and Wolf Creek as a reference point. It works very well on this level and the total lack of gore and overall suggestion that something isn’t quite right in the Outback actually heightens the atmosphere.

Quid (Keach) is a truck driver who carts all manner of things across the continental Oz landscape and is on his way to deliver an urgent supply of meat to Perth amidst a butchers strike affecting the Western side of the country. With a trusty pet dingo, Boswell, in tow, he notices at one stop somebody in an upstairs window observing the rubbish bins, a fact not lost on Boswell.

Back on the road, he picks up a stranded woman whose husband drove off, but notices a green van parked by the side of the road and a man allegedly digging a hole, who stops when Quid sees him. The woman is dropped off at a gas station and Quid tries to notify the local authorities. Later on the journey, he picks up another woman (Jamie Lee Curtis), who he calls Hitch, who may or may not have something to hide….

Road Games is an intriguing, stylish thriller and heightens the paranoia that Keach’s character feels, particularly in the verbal games that he plays with his passengers to pass the time. This was also Franklin’s calling-card to Hollywood and led him to direct the admirable sequel Psycho II, scripted by Tom (FRIGHT NIGHT) Holland. Given the popularity of the serial killer genre, this film may just have far more impact this time around than it did 35 years ago on its original release. Fans who are expecting more bloodshed and surprises of that ilk may be disappointed, but if you read it as a more suggestive piece, you will not be.

ROAD GAMES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RICHARD FRANKLIN / SCREENPLAY: EVERETT DE ROCHE / STARRING: STACY KEACH, JAMIE LEE CURTIS, MARION EDWARD, GRANT PAGE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
 


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