Blu-ray/DVD Review: ROAD GAMES (1981)
Courtesy of Shout! Factory

Part of the fun and intrigue that can be found in horror is in how the genre is used to analyze societal fears. It’s even more fascinating when you go back and look at horror films that were made a couple of decades back to see what might have been a fear, small or otherwise, back then. In the case of director Richard Franklin’s ROAD GAMES, the film takes a familiar tale concerning the dangers of hitchhiking and breathes new life into it. While the film does dabble briefly in other socio-political territories, it doesn’t get that deep which may be preferred by some horror fans. For the Collector’s edition Blu-ray release of the film, I got to watch the film and check out all the special extras that Shout! Factory put in for movie fans and cinephiles to enjoy.

The film follows a lone trucker named Pat Quid, who spends the bulk of his time driving for long periods of time in the Australian Outback. He spends these periods trying to play games on the road to maintain his sanity and keep himself away since his dingo companion isn’t super talkative. Throughout several points in the film, he continues to run into a van driver that has been giving off suspicious vibes. That coupled with the knowledge that there has been a serial killer making their rounds on the roads of the Outback has him on edge. After running into this van driver one too many times, the driver decides to assault Quid’s dingo while Quid is stuck in a roadhouse. This personal attack has Quid on edge and starts the process for him in hunting down this killer. On the way, though, he runs into a free-spirited hitchhiker named Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis). She’s seeking out her own adventure but does so in a fashion that will make modern-day audiences scream at the screen as the film progresses. Needless to say, after her introduction, the slow burn murder thriller ramps up as things get personal and the stakes continue to be raised.

While the general storyline of the murderous hitchhiker is not an unfamiliar one, there were still plenty of twists and turns that left me guessing what would happen next. You could tell that director Richard Franklin was definitely a fan of Albert Hitchcock because there were little homages featured in the film. There were moments where you started to question whether or not Quid was the actual killer, which I thought was a major plus and helped to heighten the tension throughout the course of the film. I will say though that I’m not 100% certain if Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Pamela has aged well as a character that the audience could relate to. And that’s after taking into consideration that she acted her butt off in the role to make it semi-interesting. All I know is, I’ve never yelled at a screen so much because some of the decisions that were made were just questionably stupid.

The conversion of the film to Blu-ray has its pluses and minuses. The color positively pops onscreen, which helps to fully capture the sweeping Great Victoria desert area via Nullarbor Plains that the bulk of ROAD GAMES takes place in. There’s definitely a graininess present in the film, which is to be expected given the time period. However, it becomes clear the lack of clean up in post when you see dust and dirt on the screen that fudges up the film. There’s also some slight discoloration that I noticed at the edge of the frame, but it’s not an issue that can be seen in every single scene. As the industry continues to convert these older films over to Blu-ray, these are the type of issues that we might expect more of post-conversion. They are minor, in my opinion, but some people might take issue with it.

As for the Blu-ray extras, there’s actually a fair amount packed into this Collector’s edition which will make the acquisition of this DVD a must for movie fans. For those who enjoy interviews, commentary, and behind-the-scenes goodness, Shout! Factory has put all of that on these discs. There are interviews featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, director Richard Franklin, Stunt Coordinator Grant Page, screenwriter Everett De Roche, cinematographer Vincent Monton, and assistant director Tom Burstall. There’s a behind-the-scenes making-of extra, where director Richard Franklin and actor Stacy Keach really dive deep into the making of ROAD GAMES. There’s even a lecture on the film inside the Blu-ray extras, which I think is the first time I’ve ever seen an actual lecture put onto a DVD as an extra. Needless to say, I think film fans will be content with the Blu-ray extras portion of this Collector’s edition.

Overall, while the film itself is satisfactory but just so, there’s enough behind-the-scenes, special features to really compensate for the actual film product. The transfer of film to the Blu-ray format is a tricky one and one that hasn’t necessarily paid off with older films. This is kind of the case with ROAD GAMES, which was definitely made on a lower budget. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, but the quality definitely stands out after the Blu-ray conversion process.

ROAD GAMES is available now for purchase via Shout! Factory.

Sarah Musnicky
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