Road Games (1981)

aka Roadgames

2016 #132
Richard Franklin | 100 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Australia / English | 15 / PG

Road Games

I hadn’t even heard of Ozploitation thriller Road Games before April last year, when Make Mine Criterion posted an excellent write-up proposing it for release by Arrow Video. That piqued my interest, so when it was announced for release by Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment the very next day, I jumped on a pre-order lickety-split. Just a couple of months later, a film I had only recently found out about was in my hands, in a better-than-its-ever-looked remaster, having arrived from literally the other side of the world, for about the same cost as a new release from Masters of Cinema or Arrow, i.e. under £14, including postage. (Makes you wonder how Criterion justify their £17.99 price tag…)

Leaving aside the wonders of today, the film stars Stacy Keach as lorry driver Pat Quid, who one night happens to witness some shady goings on that may’ve been a murder. The next day he’s given the task of transporting a container full of carcasses to the other side of the country, because there’s a butchers’ strike over there and Aussies need their meat goddammit! On the road, he spots a vehicle connected to the possible-murder, and wonders if he’s on the trail of a killer — or if the killer’s on his. The tension only deepens when he picks up a hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis), who may become the next victim…

It's impossible to find good quality stills from Road Games

Road Games’ low-budget roots and exploitation-derived genre tag may give the impression it’s a slasher movie or something, but nothing could be further from the truth (though there is one gory shot — so gory it’s a wonder the film got a PG in the US). Rather, it could best be described as Rear Windscreen, because fundamentally it’s the same story: our hero spies on a guy from a distance because he thinks he saw him commit a murder, but is it all in his head? Where Hitchcock staged that impressively in a single confined location, writer-director Richard Franklin opens it up to the whole Australian outback. In some respects that’s an even more impressive feat — of course neighbours are smooshed up against each other, but long-distance travellers? However, it doesn’t feel like a stretch that Quid keeps bumping into the same people, such is the skill of the construction.

Keach makes for an affable lead, whether chatting to his dog early on or bonding with Curtis after he picks her up. Their shared ponderings about the possible murderer are just as effective as the Stewart/Kelly interactions from the Hitchcock film, though perhaps more conspiratorial. It’s easy to draw these comparisons and mirrorings with Rear Window, but it does Road Games a bit of a disservice — it’s not simply an off-brand remake or set-in-a-different-location pseudo-sequel. That said, the parallels are equally unavoidable. There’s also some Duel in the mix, as the killer notices he’s been noticed and turns the tables on our hapless trucker — an inversion, of course, as in Spielberg’s film it’s the trucker who’s the villain.

Seeing red

Basically, while acknowledging these undoubted similarities, I’m trying not to make Road Games sound too derivative, because I don’t think it is. It’s a masterful mystery, using ever-building tension to create a properly nail-biting thriller, which leads to an unpredictable final act (the benefit of many an independently-produced thriller is that it doesn’t necessarily have to comply with a studio’s view on how it should end). While it may owe a debt to one or both of the aforementioned movies, it’s a gripping work in its own right; one which deserves a bigger audience.

5 out of 5

Road Games placed 12th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here, and also featured on my list of favourite movies from the past decade, which you can read about here.

Advertisements

The ⅔ Monthly Update for August 2016

2016 is 66.67% over — here’s how my film viewing went for the last 12.5% of that, i.e. the most recent 8.3% of the year.


#128 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition (2016)
#129 Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
#130 The Good Dinosaur (2015)
#131 Pride (2014)
#132 Road Games (1981), aka Roadgames
#133 Armageddon (1998)
#134 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
#135 Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
#136 Enemy (2013)
#137 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
#138 Deep Blue Sea (1999)
#139 Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
#140 Duel (1971)
#141 The Salvation (2014)
#142 The Maltese Falcon (1941)

.


  • With 15 new films watched, August is my best month since April. It’s also my 27th month in a row with 10+ films.
  • With two-thirds of the year still to go, 2016 is already my second highest year ever, having sailed passed 2014’s final tally of 136 in the middle of the month.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS viewing was the progenitor of much of what we know as film noir, the 1941 adaptation of The Maltese Falcon.



The 15th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There are a few quality films up there this month, in my opinion, both the expected (Duel, The Maltese Falcon) and the less-so (BvS Ultimate Edition, The Good Dinosaur), but probably my favourite of the lot was the Ozploitation flick you could call “Duel Down Under”, or “Rear Windscreen” — Road Games.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
For all the faults of Armageddon, the recently released Honest Trailer has just served to clarify/remind me of the disappointment of Batman: The Killing Joke.

Best Song I’d Never Heard Of Until I Saw It in a Trailer This Month
After I watched something or other on Amazon this month, one of the recommended films was Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal. (It wasn’t after Enemy, because I watched that on Now TV; it was probably Dallas Buyers Club. Anyway.) I knew nothing about the film but have seen it come up a few times, so I watched the trailer, and the best part of that was the music: Heart’s Crazy On You. This has been a real “how have I never heard this before?!” moment. It also made me really want to see the film, so, y’know, trailers work.

Best Bit of Audio Commentary Ever
I am going to review Armageddon eventually, but really, all you need to do is watch these 2 minutes of Ben Affleck’s commentary:

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I tend to find reviews of alternate cuts do particularly well, hit-wise (I figure that’s why the first two Harry Potters are far and away my most-read posts ever, and still usually top the list for each day, while the other Harry Potters just see average-to-good figures). The post that topped this month’s tally doesn’t surprise me greatly, then. The winner, by a country mile (it’s already my second most-read new post of the entire year), is my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition.



It’s a heady genre cornucopia this month, with nine movies spanning Action, Comedy, Drama, Musical, Romance, Sci-fi, Thriller, and Western — usually more than one at once.


The 8.3% of the year known as September.