Release Date(s)1981 (November 12, 2019)
Studio(s)Essaness Pictures/Quest Productions/AVCO Embassy Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Road Games, otherwise known as Roadgames, is one of the Outback’s finest genre offerings. Directed by Richard Franklin (Psycho II, Patrick, Cloak & Dagger), it’s a Hitchcockian thriller with a charismatic leading performance from Stacey Keach set on the long and winding blacktop across Australia (within the Nullarbor Plain) with Jamie Lee Curtis along for the ride.
One night after a long stint on the road, truck driver Patrick Quid (Keach) and his pet dingo Boswell notice a van parked outside of a motel room and a female hitchhiker who checks in with the driver, but never comes out alive. Suspicious without any actual evidence, Quid shrugs it off and heads back out on the road the next day. However, he continually runs into the van along the highway, and after witnessing the driver on the side of the road burying something off in the distance, Quid becomes convinced that the van’s driver is a murderer. Offering a ride to the wayward Pamela, or "Hitch" (Curtis), they pursue the van, possibly steering themselves into more danger than they know.
Despite how entertaining Road Games is, it’s a film that hasn’t gotten much fanfare over the years, partly due to its unavailability in the HD era. The cat-and-mouse games that Quid and the killer play with each other, as well as the many twists along the way, keep you glued to your seat, eagerly waiting to see what happens next. It helps that Stacey Keach is incredibly likable, as is Jamie Lee Curtis, and we want them to be safe from harm. The story is also not about the carnage as there’s very little of it (more effectively implied); the performances and the attention to detail are what’s important—not to mention an absolutely ghoulish twist ending, which Hitchcock himself would more than likely have chuckled at. In essence, Road Games takes a straightforward concept and does plenty with it, delving into character, racketing the tension, and circumventing clichés, winding up as one of the best thrillers of the early 1980s.
Scream Factory brings Road Games to Blu-ray in the US finally in a Collector’s Edition release. The presentation appears to be sourced from the same transfer used for the Umbrella Releasing Blu-ray in Australia. Shot by cinematographer Vincent Monton (Long Weekend, Thirst), the original camera negative, interpositive, and internegative materials are either missing or weren’t available as the presentation appears to be sourced from a low fade print. As such, it carries inconsistencies when it comes to black levels and stability. That said, it’s still a major upgrade over its DVD counterpart. Though limited by a lesser quality source, it appears quite natural with an inherent softness but decent detail. The color palette never pops but is solid and represents the Outback setting well. Contrast is not perfect due to minor density fluctuations, but everything is distinguishable and nothing ever looks overly bright. Besides the uptick in grain, there are also occasional lines, scratches, instances of speckling, and frame splices leftover. It also carries a slightly higher, but flatter, encode. Looking at Umbrella’s and Scream’s presentations side by side, there is virtually no visible difference between them.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The packaging incorrectly states the inclusion of a 5.1 track (which the director mentions being a fan of in the audio commentary), but nevertheless, the original mono offers a full-bodied and natural soundtrack that really amplifies all of the elements at play. Clear and discernable dialogue is present throughout, while Brian May’s terrific score soars resoundingly. Sound effects are a tad hampered by their single-channel source, but nothing ever feels out of place. Damage is minimal to non-existent with no obvious instances of hiss, distortion, crackle, thumps, or pops.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Mark Hartley, Director of Photography Vincent Monton, Production Secretary Helen Watts, and Costume Designer Aphrodite Kondos
- Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Richard Franklin, Moderated by Perry Martin
- Australian Long Haul: Stacy Keach on Road Games (HD – 13:25)
- 1980 Script Read Audio (HD – 1:56:30)
- Composer Brian May’s Music Demos and Still Gallery (HD – 83 in all – 4:15)
- Kangaroo Hitchcock: The Making of Road Games (SD – 20:23)
- Uncut Interviews from the Documentary Not Quite Hollywood (HD – 1:03:19)
- Road Games: A Lecture by Richard Franklin, Barbi Taylor, and Brian May, 20 November, 1980 (SD – 2:10:22)
- Audio Interview with Richard Franklin (HD – 23:28)
- Vintage Profile on Richard Franklin (HD – 24:35)
- Audio Interview with Stacy Keach (HD – 9:10)
- Audio Interview with Grant Page (HD – 32:48)
- Stills Essay (HD – 32:13)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:11)
The new audio commentary with Mark Hartley, Vincent Monton, Helen Watts, and Aphrodite Kondos is a lively chat with some of the lesser known members of the film’s crew. The vintage audio commentary with Richard Franklin and Perry Martin is great as well, though Richard does most of the talking, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The new interview with Stacy Keach covers much of the same territory of some of the other material, including how he got into working on the film and his unwitting brush with Australia’s local deadly wildlife. The inclusion of an audio recording of a script reading from 1980 featuring Richard Franklin, Stacy Keach, and Marion Edwards is a fascinating glimpse of the film in its infancy. Brian May’s music demos are accompanied by a stills gallery featuring 83 stills of on-set photos, behind-the-scenes stills, posters, marketing materials, and lobby cards. The vintage Kangaroo Hitchcock documentary by Perry Martin, though brief, is still an excellent piece that speaks mostly to Franklin and Keach about the making of the film. The Not Quite Hollywood interviews feature Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, Richard Franklin, Everett De Roche, Vincent Monton, and Tom Burstall about their experiences on the film (including Curtis’ slight dismissal of the film, but nevermind).
Also included is a vintage film school lecture on the film with Richard Franklin, co-producer Barbi Taylor, and composer Brian May speaking to students about how the film was made in detail. The audio interviews with Richard Franklin, Stacy Keach, and Grant Page offer additional insight while the Vintage Profile is a TV special dedicated to Richard Franklin’s career. The 92-page stills essay, Lars Thorwald Hits the Asphalt: Isolation and Paranoia in Road Games (1981) by Lee Gambin, is accompanied by stills of script pages, storyboards, production notes, advertising materials, and a test screening survey. It’s worth noting that the film’s script in .PDF form via DVD-ROM from the Anchor Bay DVD release, as well as the 4K restoration featurette from the Umbrella Blu-ray release, have not been included.
Road Games is sorely underappreciated on this side of the world, and hopefully Scream Factory’s fantastic new Collector’s Edition will reinvigorate its aftermarket life and expose fans to a different kind of thriller. The film’s marketing campaign, including a salacious poster featuring a gloved killer unzipping a woman’s jacket before attempting to throttle her with guitar wire, downplays how sophisticated and well-made it really is. In other words, it’s an essential purchase.
– Tim Salmons