Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
An excellent thriller, Roadgames (it's Road Games everywhere but on the print
of the film itself) is definitely one of the best thrillers born of the slasher genre instigated
by 1978's Halloween. A largely Australian production, it's a smart amalgam of
Rear Window, Duel, and a bit of
Mad Max thrown in for good measure. Add
to that an excellent Stacy Keach performance, a short but effective appearance by Jamie Lee
Curtis, and you have a freewheeling, suspenseful road picture that's much too good for its own genre.
Pat Quid (Stacy Keach) is an American truck driver in Western Australia who with
his trusty Dingo Bosworth is transporting a trailer-load of pork halves to Perth. As he observes
travelers on the highway, Pat becomes convinced that a shifty character in a green van is the Jack The
Ripper-style killer of young women he hears about on the radio. This causes him to become protective
of the smart young hitchhiker he picks up, a runaway named Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis). But the more
Pat tries to determine if the Green Van driver is the killer, the more circumstantial evidence he
lays before the cops that he's the guilty party.
Made near the befinning of the burgeoning international success of Australian films, Roadgames
is an extremely well-made suspense film that plays its own games with Alfred Hitchcock visuals.
Certainly not a slasher film - there's almost no blood here - it instead takes a credible situation
and builds its scenario out of genre expectations. Most of the way through, it entertains simply
by being different than what's expected.
The Hitchcock content is fairly overt, but it's free of the solemn worship of your average Brian de
Palma thriller of the time, and there are no blatant copycat scenes. A character is nicknamed
'Hitch', another's given name is Madeleine,
and our truck-driver hero talks to himself while making up names and backstories for the people
he sees on the road - Captain Careful
is an annoying guy towing a boat; sneezy rider is a motorcyclist with a kleenex problem, etc. As with
a Hitchcock thriller, we're given info the main character doesn't have, and from then on we sit
anxiously hoping he gets close to the danger, but not too close.
If this were all that Roadgames was made of, it would be pretty dull, but the clever script
keeps events at a boil while offering Stacy Keach an unending string of fun monologues. The 'road
with games he plays by himself while talking to his dingo, and continue with an unwelcome guest
rider, "Sunny" Day (Marion Edward). Naturally, she gets the idea that Keach is the killer, and
almost runs herself off a precipice; the highway seems to parallel an endless stretch of giant cliffs,
emphasizing the strange landscape.
Naturally, most of the folks Keach meets are hostile, indifferent, or deaf to his attempts to
identify the possible killer; there's a nice stopover at a bar where the locals seem determined to
keep him from communicating over the only phone. Another key stop along the way uses a noisy car
alarm as a giallo-like tension device, to keep our nerves at a rattling pitch.
Roadgames is a highly commercial show, with a couple of scenes of George Miller-like highway
mayhem that are borderline-irrelevant to the basic story but a welcome break just the same. One
fairly explicit killing up front is the only slasher-like scene, but it colors all that comes later.
The frozen hams in the back of Keach's truck are a constant reminder of the fates of the serial
killer's dismembered victims - at one point we're encouraged to worry that there's human meat hanging
Jamie Lee Curtis is completely charming, with definite star appeal; but she's only on screen for a
little over a reel, (spoiler) spending the last 20 minutes or so out of sight, but hopefully not
chopped up into mincemeat. Stacy Keach isn't Cary Grant or James Stewart, but he does make for a
likeable central hero, playing harmonica & making friendly with most of the people he meets.
The characters in other vehicles are introduced as vignettes, and become more 'real' as Keach
re-encounters them later on.
Roadgames is a handsome and technically impressive film. The handling of the
driving scenes, with vehicle mounts and helicopters, is better than competent, and more than a
little reminiscent of Duel, Spielberg's Hitchcockian TV movie. But there are plenty of clever
front-or-rear projection scenes and Richard Franklyn's own inventions, such as the nifty camera
move from the back of the Green Van around to the driver's side mirror. In another
clever touch, reflected red taillights align with Keach's eyes, visually
turning him into a demon. Franklin superimposes female eyes over the back windows of the Green Van,
perhaps aping a Hitchcock visual idea sketched in the Truffaut Hitchcockinterview book. 1
Roadgames perhaps loses a little momentum at the end, but closes with a nifty and unique action
sequence that never fails to raise hackles. Keach's giant semi-truck is drawn into a side street,
alley and finally a tinier alley where it has no chance of getting through; it's the kind of
nightmare situation where the walls close in. Keach finally gets to a point where he can't move, and
can't open either cab door, effectively imprisoning himself. Add other elements, like the poor Aussie
cop trapped in a mess of wire underneath, and the sequence gets very complicated. Frankly, knowing
how tough it is to maneuver those big rigs, I can't see how they could disentangle it.
A few weeks back, Savant reviewed
Strange Behavior, a quirky and likeable
character study somewhat stifled by the commercial necessity to be an early-80s
slasher film. Roadgames has the same problem initially, but soon pulls far ahead of the game,
leaving simple genre limits behind. This is an engaging and fun thriller.
Anchor Bay's DVD of Roadgames is another of their rewarding packages that, if released by
a major label, would be called a special edition. AB's enhanced transfer is nigh-perfect,
even in the many dark scenes; Savant only saw this picture flat on early cable and can appreciate the
visuals much better here.
As is typical, Anchor Bay has key talent on tap. Keach and director Franklin are paired in a
20 minute documentary that gives this title its full due. AB extras wrangler Perry Martin
put it together, in additiou to conducting the feature commentary track with Franklin; he's a
gracious host and his docu style is unfussy and direct. There are ample stills and posters in
a visuals gallery, including the sleazy key graphic that has unfortunately mis-represents the
picture. It adorns the package cover (above). Mark Wickum provides incisive career bios for
Franklin, Keach and Miss Curtis.
Menus and art trimmings for the disc are top-class, and are accompanied by snippets of
Brian May's stunning score.
The IMDB lists a 'Tony Curtis' as a producer; I dropped it from the credits above because I didn't
see his name on the film, and the Franklin interviews gave the impression that Jamie Lee was a
'scream queen for hire' on Roadgames.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: commentary, docu, stills, bios, & original trailer.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June, 2003
1. A curious detail in the
process work: for alternating single shots of Keach and Curtis in his truck, the clouds seen out
the window of each side of the cab are the same background plate, flopped! The many process
scenes in Stacy's truck are very deftly handled.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson