A Movie A Day: ROAD GAMES (1981) + DUEL (1971) ”Tomorrow’s Bacon”
Published at: Oct. 13, 2009, 2:26 a.m. CST by quint
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.
I like THE HITCHER, but ROAD GAMES strongly reminded me of another movie, a favorite of mine…
As much as I like SUGARLAND EXPRESS, I find Duel to be the first and best pre-Jaws Steven Spielberg movie. You feel his style all over this flick, originally made for TV, but it was so good that it got a major and successful theatrical release overseas as well as a theatrical push stateside.
ROAD GAMES is like the mirror universe version of DUEL. Instead of the truck driver being the good guy, he’s the villain. Actually, the way Spielberg films the movie the driver of the truck is inconsequential. It could be Satan for all we know. The truck itself is a monster, rusted and wicked.
The only thing we ever see of the driver is his booted feet much like the majority of what we see of the killer in ROAD GAMES are those crazy gloves.
There are plenty of other comparisons, but if you haven’t seen one or the other take my word for it.
Dennis Weaver plays the main character. Up front, Dennis Weaver is a huge whopping chunk of vanilla sitting on Michael Jackson’s zoot suit. He’s whiter than white and a fairly bland man, but in a stroke of genius or plain old fashioned luck Spielberg cast him in a role that is almost tailor made for this kind of personality.
The poor bastard who crosses the evil truck is supposed to be a boringly average guy. That’s the whole point of the story. What would happen if Joe Blow Anybody was thrown into a situation where he (or she) is being stalked by a monstrous truck. The dude’s not trained for situations like this and is in a constant state of panic until he’s pushed to the point where he has to make a stand.
My adoration of the film isn’t just some blind Spielberg love, either. I’ve also seen his TV horror film called SOMETHING EVIL which managed to suck big time despite having Darren McGavin in the lead. Spielberg really does show his chops here. You’ll see visual trademarks, like his split-focus diopter (that neat lens that lets you have the foreground and background in perfect focus, usually leaving a blurry line in the middle of the frame).
Duel is suspenseful, fun and fascinating as the beginnings of such a well known filmmaker. An absolute must-see for any Spielberg fan or movie lover in general. It makes me wish we could get Spielberg to drop his next studio movie in favor of a seat-of-your-pants no budget pure-filmmaking exercise like Duel. Granted, he had Richard Matheson writing for him on Duel, but I’m sure there’s at least one writer out there who can deliver something as simple, yet fucking awesome as Matheson did time after time.
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Monday, October 12th: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)
Tuesday, October 13th: PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
Wednesday, October 14th: THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
Thursday, October 15th: THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)
Friday, October 16th: WOLFEN (1981)
Saturday, October 17th: MADHOUSE (1981)
Sunday, October 18th: THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976)
Yep, I have yet to catch up, thanks mostly to me falling head over heels in love with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which took up my planned AMAD catch-up time from me. My next two movies are Aussie genre flicks, including another from the same director as ROAD GAMES called PATRICK. Since there’s two more Aussie flicks left I’ll do my damndest to double feature them tomorrow and be back in tune with the line-up.
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