Roadgames (1981)

Director Richard Franklin
Writers Everett De Roche
Starring Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marion Edward, Grant Page
Genre Thriller
Tagline A State Of Suspense
Country

Talk us through it

Quid is a long distance truck driver called in to deliver a container of frozen pig carcasses to Perth in the face of a meat worker strike. It's never quite explained why a yank is driving a truck across the Nullarbor, but he has a dingo he constantly talks to if that's any help.

Adding to the local flavour is some nutter is on the loose traveling the highways and chopping up young female hitch hikers because well okay that's never quite explained either. Could the local Jack the Ripper be the bloke Quid keeps running across driving a green van around and acting all suspicious?

Adding to the festivities Jamie Lee Curtis, yay, is hitching rides because well okay that's never quite explained fully, but we're getting used to that by now. Can Quid and Jamie Lee sort out the situation or will Jamie discover her brother has a friend Down Under?

Ready to go pig in a poke?

Review

"Madam, just because I drive a truck does not make me a truck driver." - Quid

Director Richard Franklin is clearly doing his homage to Hitchcock here, in a sort of Down Under cut price fashion, but where Hitchcock delivers bird attacks and salient warnings on taking showers in out of the way Motels, Franklin has to show us a car chase involving a van and a truck. Not entirely sure if the Aussie Director realizes it, but something got lost in translation and Quid's grinding torture of monologues is simply no substitute for Norman's various sound bites. On the bright side of the highway Roadgames also dials into some giallo, circa Bava and Argento, which helps save the movie from descending to the level of road kill. Let's see if this one hits top gear or stalls out on the incline.

Richard Franklin opens his movie in a strong visual style that brings to mind Argento's Deep Red. Quid arrives at some second rate hotel but is beaten to apparently the last room available by some dude driving a green panel van who has some babe with a guitar in tow. Our truck driver of the proto emo type consigns himself to sleeping in his cab and warns his dingo teenage sidekick to not make "evil smells". Deciding the audience has had enough of Quid's waffling Franklin thankfully cuts to the hotel room where foresaid babe is using her guitar to good effect. If by good effect you mean hiding all her naughty bites behind the guitar as she is stark naked. Director Franklin then goes all giallo with someone unseen using a wire to garrote our guitar wielding nekkid chick. It's actually a pretty artistic scene, if sans boobs, but don't get excited folks Franklin is all out of the artistic stuff with this one scene. Quid wakes early next morning, looks like the dingo was making with the "evil smells", and notes someone is overly interested in the rubbish bags as the local garbos go about their collection round. How the person in the room knows about the schedule of the local council workers is never fully explained.

The rest of the movie devolves into Quid becoming increasingly convinced he knows who the highway killer is, constant references to the meat worker strike, and recurrent characters who I think were meant to be the odious comic relief. To say this drags out like a train journey between Newcastle and Sydney would be an understatement, especially if the train journey involves a couple of odd couples talking loudly about the most inane shite imaginable behind you. To be honest Roadgames, the title of the movie is pun of the most excruciating kind, could have been shot as a 40 minute episode of one of those cop shows and we would have been happy enough with that length. There is simply not enough going down in this movie to justify the 90 odd minute running time.

Director Franklin is unable to get this rig out of first gear as it meanders towards the resolution. Hopelessly inept comedy tries to thumb a lift, but the majority of viewers will be beyond caring.

Director Franklin turns in an example of bored Directing that doesn't help the Audience stay interested during Roadgame's running time. I actually checked the weekend box office results while the movie was running as I needed something to do, Franklin certainly wasn't filling the dull moments as Quid rambled on like a pensioner after a couple of beers. The one original idea in the film is shooting things from the claustrophobic confines of the truck cab, but Franklin blows it by having Quid jump out of that cab every ten minutes or so.

Not helping Roadgames was the zero chemistry between the leads, these two simply didn't seem to like each other, and the fact that we pretty much know who the killer is from about the fifth minute. A giallo would have at least kept that hidden away till a shock conclusion brought some apparent minor scene into glaring focus. The support characters and recurrent subplots didn't manage to keep my interest either. What was with the kamikaze dude driving the yacht across the Nullarbor? Supporting characters seem to have been inserted into the movie because the Producers realised they didn't have enough footage to get things up to feature length rather than due to driving the plot forward or to add motivations to the various leads. Quite frankly it all seems haphazard and about as flat as Kylie.

In the wash-up you are left wondering if perhaps Richard Franklin missed the word "suspense" in the tagline to his movie, as he certainly doesn't bother putting any into Roadgames.

In an endeavor to sell this road kill to the North American market two yanks were cast in the leading roles. Stacey Keach (Quid) is diabolically bad and was clearly intent on killing off the Aussie Film Industry single handedly. Jamie Lee Curtis (Hitch) added some horror royalty to proceedings and at least turned in a performance. Marion Edward (Frita) played shrew pretty effectively, if we can forgive the cardboard cut out character. And finally Grant Page (Smith/Jones) did a Tom Savini and filled in for the villain in a sort of cameo role that made us aware that his normal credit as a stuntman would have been a better bet. Page doesn't seem to know what the hell he's meant to be doing in this one, thankfully his screen time is restricted.

T&A is restricting to guitar girl being all coy and such, oh and the dingo is naked throughout.

Brian May, no not that one, turned in the score and by the sounds of things didn't really make that much of an effort. Hey why should be bother when no one else could be arsed. Kudos however for the references to the seminal score from Psycho, that strident violin works for horror regardless of the actual visuals.

Summary Execution

I caught Roadgames as it's a requirement for those of us journeying through the back catalog of "ozploitation". Though how on earth this example of tired film making can be regarded as "exploitation", regardless of what Quentin Tarantino thinks, is anybody's guess. There's no "x" in the "ploitation" box here folks. As stated in the main review I got bored and checked a few things on the computer as the film dragged on and on to it's pre-ordained conclusion, the pacing is up the whack throughout and you never get the feeling things are picking up speed. The resolution quite frankly sucked the life out the universe and the whole "shock ending" schlock was old and trite before Roadgames was conceived of. If this is a homage to the great Hitchcock, then I hope the famed Brit Director never had the misfortunate of seeing it.

Roadgames is either available as a stand alone release or as one of the movies in volume one of the dual release Ozploitation revival set. I would tend to go with the second option as you get a bunch of other movies to groove along to, and it will go somewhat to lessening the disappointment you will feel after sitting through Roadgames. Of course if you are real lucky you might be able to pick it up as a rental, I wouldn't bank on that however.

For a movie marketed as a suspense flick Roadgames holds zero suspense and drags it's sorry arse toward the finish line like a starving dingo looking for an unattended baby at Ulhuru. You really have to say no one was the winner with this movie, and no one got out of it with their reputation intact. I've got a "road game" for you, throw the disc onto the freeway and guess which car will run over it and put it out of it's misery. No recommendation, spend your cash on something that can get out of first.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

One for the Aussie horror completist in your house. You wont be missing much if you make the sensible decision to give it a miss.