Color, 1981, 100 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Richard Franklin
Starring Stacy Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/PAL), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
After his international horror breakthrough with Patrick in 1978, Australian director Richard Franklin decided to make an overt tribute to his inspiration and sort-of mentor, Alfred Hitchcock, with this outback thriller openly inspired by Rear Window. Though only a modest success at the international box office and a late entry in the wave of Jamie Lee Curtis slasher films, it proved the director's abilities enough to earn a gig directing the wildly overachieving Psycho II and a brief career in Hollywood.
Shut out from the last room at a motel and forced to spend the night in his rig with his pet dingo, trucker Patrick Quid (Keach) observes the driver of a green van leaving without a female hitchhiker who had entered his room. The following morning he sets back out with a delivery of pigs on the way to Perth, but various encounters along the way tip him off that a murderer who dismembers his victims is on the loose in the area. Believing he may have witnessed a slaying himself (which we've already seen being committed with a guitar string), Quid shares his suspicions with another hitchhiker (Curtis, apparently continuing her role from The Fog) whom he nicknames Hitch. Subsequent run-ins with the green van and its mysterious driver not only continue to arouse Quid's suspicions but also start to point suspicion at him instead of the one he believes is responsible for all the outback carnage.
Far more concerned with suspense than graphic thrills, Road Games (or Roadgames in some territories) managed to skirt by with a PG rating in the U.S., a factor that helped it earn a decent cult following thanks to frequent afternoon TV airings. Perhaps due to the expansive outdoor setting, Franklin made the decision to shoot in scope versus his usual flat framing in his other films; surprisingly, that didn't hurt the film too much when it was panned and scanned for TV, with its claustrophobic highlights still coming through mostly intact. The film turned out to be a very strong showcase for Keach (rather famously stepping in when the production couldn't afford Sean Connery), who has plenty of fun with his quirky role as he gets to interact with a variety of personalities in his hunt for the murderer.
The first letterboxed release of this film on DVD popped up in 2003 from Anchor Bay, looking quite good for the time and featuring an enjoyable commentary with Franklin (who passed away in 2007) covering the entire production in conversation with Perry Martin. Franklin and Keach also appear in "Kangaroo Hitchcock" (20m23s), also by Martin, for a general overview of the project's genesis and the ins and outs of shooting out in the middle of nowhere with far more money than usual for an Aussie production. In 2016, Umbrella bowed the film on Blu-ray in Australia with a new 4K scan derived from a 35mm print; it's a shame a source closer to the camera negative isn't available, but what's here is certainly watchable and the best the film has looked on home video to date. Audio options include lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 mono (the theatrical mix) and an okay but gimmicky 5.1 remix that basically adds a bunch of reverb to scenes with heavy sound effects.
A subsequent 2019 U.S. Blu-ray from Scream Factory is taken from the same source and looks identical down to the pixel, though in this case the audio is DTS-HD MA English mono (with optional English SDH subs), the most satisfying option. Both the U.S. and Aussie Blu-rays port over the audio commentary and featurette (as well as the trailer) while adding an audio phone with busy stunt coordinator and actor Grant Page (32m48s), who plays a pivotal role in the film. A new audio interview with Keach (9m10s) via phone is an enthusiastic look back at the production with particular fondness for Franklin and the opportunities for the role to really let himself stretch with some enjoyable monologues, while a 2001 interview with Franklin (23m28s) conducted for the film's Australian DVD release covers his early career leading up to his transition to Hollywood and has quite a bit about his work with screenwriter Everett De Roche, including this film. An archival 1981 TV profile on Franklin (24m35s) is a nice addition as well featuring interview footage and some behind-the-scenes coverage of his two most recent projects at the time. Of course, this wouldn't be an Aussie cult film release without some interview footage from Not Quite Hollywood (64m ), and you get that here with outtakes and extended chats with Curtis, Keach, Franklin, Page, De Roche, cinematographer Vincent Monton, and assistant director Tom Burstall. A lengthy 1980 lecture (130m22s) with Franklin, composer Brian May and co-producer Barbi Taylor is a great time capsule of the team in their prime as they chat about getting the film off the ground and answer audience Q&As. You even get to see May do some demonstrations on a piano on stage, too. Exclusive to the Australian Blu-ray is a chat with Monton about the film's visual approach and the methods used to achieve the current transfer, but it's not much of a loss on the U.S. disc. Meanwhile the Scream Factory disc adds some substantial new goodies including an audio commentary with Monton, production coordinator Helen Watts, and costume designer Aphrodite Kondos, moderated by Mark Hartley, which features plenty of recollections about Franklin, the creation of individual looks for the various denizens on the road who pop up throughout the story, the proper look for Curtis' character to make her stand out during her limited screen time, and the daunting nature of capturing the tense final alley sequence. A new Keach interview, "Australian Long Haul" (13m25s), offers a condensed history of his time on the film and goes more into the quota system involving the amount of Australian versus international talent allowed on the film (with Keach barely scraping by on the "name quality" rule). That jumping spider story is something else, too. An audio script read (116m30s) with Franklin, Keach and Marion Edwards is quite interesting for its preservation of Franklin's insights into the story, essentially giving you a window into his directorial process on the fly as they walk through the entire story. A selection of audio piano demos by May (4m15s), accompanied by promotional stills, is a nice look at the early stages of the score as well stripped down to its basic melodies. Though not formally credited on the packaging, an in-depth gallery (32m13s) is actually a video essay of sorts by Lee Gambin, "Lars Thorwald Hits the Asphalt," featuring tons of stills, storyboards, press coverage, and promotional material along with text about the film's place in Australian cinema and the slasher subgenre taking over cinemas at the time.