A Movie A Day: ROAD GAMES (1981) + DUEL (1971)
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
ROAD GAMES mixes a few of my favorite things. These are Australian genre films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, be it MAD MAX or BMX BANDITS, young ‘n hot Jamie Lee Curtis, road-set thrillers and prime-of-his-life Stacy Keach.
I’m also a fan of director Richard Franklin. His PSYCHO II is a very underrated sequel which never really gets its due because it has to follow up Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant original.
Hitchcock is an obvious influence on ROAD GAMES with Keach being the wrong man this time instead of Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. Keach plays an American ex-pat working as a Truck Driver in Australia. In the first 20 minutes we essentially just get Keach talking to himself to a voice on the CB or his dingo, Boswell.
If it wasn’t for seeing a naked girl getting strangled by a gloved man we wouldn’t know we’re in a thriller. Keach’s stuff plays out almost like a comedy, but that’s smart. Keach is a likable guy and his character, Quid, is allowed time to curry the audience’s favor.
Franklin also uses this time to introduce us to the road travelers. Anybody who has ever been on a long road trip will recognize the familiar characteristics Keach points out… the miserable family, the too-careful driver hauling a ridiculous load, etc. You’ll also recognize the weird familiarity you feel on these long drives when you’re leap-frogging the same dozen or so vehicles over the course of a few hundred miles.
Whether Keach ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time or if the killer has had him in his sights before we start the movie I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Keach is drawn into this killer’s world and we’re along for the ride.
One of the interesting things to me about this film is that Quid isn’t the typical lead, especially for this type of film. He’s not trying to prove his innocence (right away at least), he’s not trying to stop the killer so much as he’s using his theories about the man in the green van and what the fuck was he burying out in the desert?!? to keep himself occupied as he hauls a freezer full of pork from one side of Australia to the other.
Quid’s decisions struck pretty true to me. I’m sure his actions in the movie, especially in the first half, are how I’d react if it were me. Talk is easy, speculation is easy, but there are a million reasons why this one guy isn’t the dude they’re talking about on the radio, the new Jack the Ripper.
Jamie Lee Curtis comes into the picture rather late, over 40 minutes into the film, as a hitchhiker that is intrigued by Keach’s theories.
I quite liked the romance that develops between the two of them. It’s nothing overt, just a common bond that sparks a bit more than it probably sure given the age difference.
If I had a bone to pick with the movie it would be in a decision to take this film into a happy-ending territory. Maybe I had HITCHER on the brain and was anticipating a bleak ending, but it seemed to me that Franklin and screenwriter Everett De Roche was setting up a darker conclusion.
I could be very wrong, especially when you consider the Hitchcock influence, but it seemed like all indicators were pointing to Keach getting the shit end of the stick. He doesn’t get off scott free, but it’s certainly not the fucked up downer I was expecting.
Final Thoughts: This flick is very entertaining and the chemistry between Curtis and Keach is awesome. It’s a great turn for Keach and with all the landscapes we see it’s almost like Outback-pornography. Also, fans of the cultastic STUNT ROCK keep your eyes out for the killer’s face. You’ll recognize him as noneother than Aussie stuntman and star of STUNT ROCK Grant Page!
Now, in thinking up my recommendation title the obvious choice was THE HITCHER. It’s a very similar story, but trade out Stacy Keach in a hero role for Rutger Hauer in a villain role, Jamie Lee Curtis for Jennifer Jason Leigh and add in C. Thomas Howell for good measure.