Road Games (1981)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #513

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 26, 1981
Sub-Genre: Suspense/Road Movie
Country of Origin: Australia
Budget: A$1,750,000
Box Office: A$100,800,000
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Richard Franklin
Producer: Richard Franklin
Screenplay: Everett De Roche
Story: Everett De Roche, Richard Franklin
Visual Effects: Roger Cowland
Cinematography: Vincent Monton
Score: Brian May
Editing: Edward McQueen-Mason
Studio: Essaness Pictures, Quest
Distributor: Embassy Pictures
Stars: Stacy Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marion Edward, Grant Page, Thaddeus Smith, Steve Millichamp, Alan Hopgood, John Murphy, Bill Stacey, Robert Thompson, Ed Turley, Angelica La Bozzetta, Colin Vancao 

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Suggested Audio Candy:

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I would imagine that too long on the open road with only yourself as company would end up driving you a little doolally. It’s all well and good for a while and there are plenty of solo games one can play just to keep things ticking along but, eventually the loneliness must creep in and you begin to question your own sanity. The dusty plains of the Australian outback provide precious little in the way of “I Spy” material and, with little in the way of on-hand excitement and given the grungy rest stops and dingy motels that punctuate your route, despair is only ever a few clicks away.

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Melbourne-born director Richard Franklin (Psycho 2, Link) came up with the idea for Road Games after lending screenwriter friend Everett De Roche his copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window script during shooting for his highly celebrated breakthrough film Patrick, three years previous. The pair later thrashed out a formula to pay homage to Hitchcock’s thriller, whilst relocating the paranoia to the wide open expanses of the Aussie planes. It seems that it wasn’t only Brian De Palma paying it forward to the master of suspense at the time and this has his makes no excuses for having his fingerprints all over it.

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I recall my primary introduction to Road Games and a short teaser trailer cast it under a wonderfully ominous light. Our killer emerges from an over-lit doorway, looking like The Fog is about to roll through it, and advances on a blissfully unaware bunny playing guitar in the buff from behind. If she’s struggling to lick a tune, then perhaps it has something to do with the fact that one of her strings is missing. Not for long, we watch as said string is lowered before her mesmerized eyes with the intention looking rather clearly like a good garrotting. That was quite a calling card and, for years, I remained curious before eventually capitulating and gifting Franklin’s film its long overdue run out.

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“Madam, just because I drive a truck does not make me a truck driver.”

First port of call is hailing our truck driver after a full 360 panning shot of his big rig and, it doesn’t take long before we realize that Patrick ‘Pat’ Quid is the kind of fella who would enjoy a bout of road games. Stacy Keach took a 16-gear semi truck crash course in preparation for the role of Quid and it really feels like he knows every bump in the road. He doesn’t travel solo and his best buddy Boswell may be the quiet type but the dingo is more than happy to let him blather on so their dynamic works well. And blather he does, Quid’s head is chock-full of all kinds of useless information, biblical quotes, and banter bullets and, moreover, he makes for an eminently enigmatic lead.

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“Might be able to pick this one up and take her to Perth with me? Dazzling her with my stylish rhetoric and witty innuendos, eh?”

He is aware from the offset that something is up and a mysterious green van that keeps flashing up on his radar seems to hold all the answers. For the first act, it’s all just a little bit of fun for Quid but, after a radio bulletin reveals a killer at large close to his own coordinates, the penny drops that he may be about to play fall guy. The games are on and, what’s more, a number of poor executive decisions have left him very much public enemy number one. The road can be a lonely place for sure but, in Road Games, it becomes a surprisingly cluttered environment. Having passed a hitchhiker twice already and providing her only his tire dust as a memento, Quid decides to cut the poor street urchin some slack. Lo-and-behold, it’s “The Body” herself, Jamie Lee Curtis.

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“I could go to Disneyland for a little adventure. What I’m looking for is a little excitement.”

Firstly, let us deal with the elephant in the room. Why Quid why? Why would it take three passes to pick up this Hitch? Granted, “The Body” was cunningly concealed but still it beggars belief. Secondly, had he taken the time to view John Carpenter’s The Fog as opposed to lugging pig carcasses across the Outback, then he would know that Curtis is more than happy to oblige the rules of the road. Tom Atkins, who passes more than a vague resemblance to our truck driver here, managed to persuade her into the sack in barely two shakes of a wallaby’s tail but Quid decides to play it all chivalrous. Dagnabbit! Having said that, the chemistry between the two is glorious and their playful exchanges act as the best kind of foreplay imaginable.

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The mystery element is there all along but Franklin decides against forcing the issue and, instead, allows the charm of his travel companions chauffeur us towards the darkness. With all these road games playing out, let’s not forget there’s a killer on the loose and this desert critter appears to be getting his sick kicks at Quid’s expense. We are gifted one patient and panic-potent exchange at a roadside restroom as Hitch (dotingly named after King Alfred himself) pokes around the mysterious green van in question for clues, while the final act introduces pedal to metal as all Franklin’s games finally come to a head. All the while, director of photography Vincent Monton makes the most of the parched setting.

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Like Quid’s sidekick Boswell, Road Games turned out to be an altogether different creature than the one I had suckered myself into expecting and that could quite easily prove cause for concern. However, our two token Americans are so beguiling that it never once becomes an issue and he creates his own suspense off the back of fine performances from both Keach and Curtis, as we never wish to see either come to harm. De Palma may be more adept at constricting his audience and I would be curious to see what he would have come up with its source material, but Franklin can’t be accused of not making our road trip memorable. Interestingly, his next project was the excellent Psycho II and came far closer to inspecting the darker side of Hitchcock’s vast oeuvre. But the road he travelled to get to Bates Motel is still unquestionably one worth taking.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

Read The Fog (1980) Appraisal

Read Psycho II Appraisal

Read Jaws Appraisal

Read Race With The Devil Appraisal

 

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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015

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5 Comments

  1. Well, you just happened to select one of my favorites, bone-chilling though it is. Stacy Keach, I think, is just right and in the role has exactly the right instincts. His character reminds be of hard-boiled detective writer Raymond Chandler’s description of the private eye–a good, right-minded, relentless, incorruptible man who simply will not give up.

    1. Yes, he was delightful in this. I totally agree and love your comment. It is a grossly overlooked film and totally different from what I expected before I took the trip. However, Keach sold me from primary ignition. Thank you David, glad to have done it justice.

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