From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
I have to admit straight off the bat that I have never really been into the Ozploitation genre. It's not that I never wanted to, just never felt like I had any reason to go out of my way to watch them. Apart from the Mad Max movies and BMX Bandits (which was a perennial favorite growing up), I don't really remember watching many Ozploitation flicks. So imagine my embarrassment when I realized that Road Games was NOT, as I had always assumed, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, a superstar of the genre but another major player from Australia, Richard Franklin.
Road Games is a small little gem that came out at the height of the Ozploitation craze, an excellent thriller that checks all the tropes of a classic road movie and then adds some more. I have read that it is a favorite for many directors including Quentin Tarantino, who keeps championing it in various interviews and with very good reasons.
The story involves a delivery truck driver, Patrick Quid, played by the wondrous Stacy Keach, who while on a night stop at a motel, starts suspecting there might be something fishy about a guy that just checked in with a hitchhiker whom he had wanted to pick up earlier. Partly due to jealousy, plain boredom or just habit, he starts imagining the conversation they might have had before falling asleep in his truck as the motel is full. As he travels further down the road towards his destination, he keeps hearing about a serial killer on the loose on the radio making him suspect that it might be the guy he saw at the motel. Now as the audience, we do get to see a very creepy and chilling scene at the hotel which confirms this to us but the movie is all about how Patrick tries time and again to prove this, to himself at first out of curiosity and later to save his own skin as evidence starts to pile up that HE might be the killer on the loose. Along the way he meets some really interesting characters including a couple of hikers he picks up, namely a nagging wife called Frita and Pamela, a runaway played by the original scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween).
As the movie started, I kind of got a feeling that the casting of Stacy Keach might have been a compromise wherein the role was written as a star vehicle but they later had to settle for a lesser star, something like Roy Scheider replacing Steve McQueen in Sorcerer. He is the kind of actor who almost always ends up in the "who's that guy" list, an actor who seems to be in every other movie but no one really remembers his name. Case in point, recently as I was watching a movie in which he acted, my friend nudged at me and went, "Isn't he the guy from Jaws? Didn't know he was still alive!". But after I finished watching Road Games, I just can not imagine anyone else in the role of Patrick. Stacy Keach is utterly believable as a grizzled lonely truck driver prone to playing silly little games for his own amusement with only a dingo for company. You can really buy into it when he tells his back story and how he ended up in Australia, unlike say, a Tom Cruise as a longshoreman working at the docks. And the chemistry which he shared with an equally excellent Jamie Lee Curtis is crackling despite the age difference which is often played up in the movie. I loved the way she gamely buys into his theory about the killer and starts helping him trying to prove it. You actually feel the bond developing between the two making his horror at realizing that she might end up being the next victim of the killer all the more relatable.
There are many thrilling sequences in the movie including one where Patrick follows a guy who he thinks might be the killer into a restroom and the final chase and confrontation between him and the killer. And there is a really nail-biting scene near the beginning involving his pet dingo (not a dog and can't bark as Patrick keeps stressing on throughout the movie) and a trash bag which may or may not has contained body parts of a victim. The ultimate fate of Jamie Lee Curtis' character also left me surprised as the movie headed towards a satisfying conclusion.
Apparently, Richard Franklin was inspired by Rear Window and the screenplay was written modeling it as "Rear Window on wheels". If that is true, he has done a bloody good job at it because here he gets to play at a much bigger playing field, the Australian outback. It is not only one of the cornerstones of the Ozploitation era but also one of the best thrillers ever, the kind you be thinking about for a long while after you finished watching it. Don't miss this one folks.