Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
Released on: July 27th, 2016.
Director: Richard Franklin
Cast: Stacy Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Grant Page
Year: 1981 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by Richard Franklin and written by Everett De Roche, 1981’s Road Games stars Stacy Keach as a truck driver named Pat Quid. He’s an American working in Australia and he keeps his mind busy on those long stretches of open road by playing different games and talking to his pet dingo. When hauling his latest load, a truck full of meat, he picks up a middle aged woman left at the side of the road by her husband. As they talk, she tells him of police reports about a killer operating in the area – and shortly after Quid spies a green van pulled off the road, its driver (Grant Page) burying a large garbage bag out in the desert. Quid recognizes the van and its driver from his stay at a hotel the night before.
As his journey continues, Quid picks up another hitchhiker, a pretty young woman who he dubs Hitch (Jamie Lee Curtis). They hit it off but after she disappears rather quickly, he becomes certain that the killer has taken her. Confident that he’s got this figured out, Quid sets out to make things right, while the cops close in on him based on the fact that his own odd behavior has them suspecting he might actually be the culprit himself.
An odd hybrid that fuses quirky, sometimes almost slapstick style comedy, with Hitchcockian thrills and the odd Mad Max inspired car wreck chaos, Road Games is one ridiculously entertaining film. At an hour and forty minutes in length it feels right in terms of its running time and its pacing. Franklin is savvy enough to let us get to know Quid and Hitch, as well as a few of the other supporting players, through the dialogue that occurs naturally over the course of their conversations. This lets us into their heads a bit and makes them more interesting to watch without over explaining things and allowing a palpable sense of mystery to run rampant through the picture.
Of course, the fact that the performances are as fun as they are in this picture certainly doesn’t hurt either. Jamie Lee Curtis is underused in some ways but she’s really good in her part. She’s got the right mix of sex appeal and genuine charm that you can easily see why Quid would take a liking to her Hitch. Grant Page as the supposed killer doesn’t get much in the way of dialogue here, but the famous Australian stunt man/actor certainly looks right for the part. He’s shaggy and disheveled looking and he’s made up in such a way and uses his body language in such a way that, yeah, there’s something suspicious about the guy. The real star of the show, however, is Keach. He’s excellent in the part, able to handle the comedic side of his character with ease but also able to turn things up and get serious when the movie calls for it. This is really hammered home in the film’s last twenty-minutes or so, where Franklin deftly ramps up the intensity in the picture.
Umbrella Entertainment brings Road Game to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.39.1 widescreen sourced from a 4k scan of a release print (the process through which this happened is nicely documented in the extras on the disc). For this reason, the image is fairly grainy and the contrast is a bit on the hot side, but all in all this is a pretty solid image. Some minor compression artifacts pop up here and there but you have to be looking for them to spot them. Detail isn’t ever reference quality but it is solid throughout and it definitely offers a noticeable step up from what DVD would have been able to provide. Color reproduction is generally very good but it isn’t always super consistent. Black levels are quite strong here and shadow detail pretty decent too, you’ll notice this during the finale that takes place in the dark, dimly lit alley way. Skin tones are also fine and there are no noticeable issues with either edge enhancement problems or obnoxious noise reduction.
English language audio options are provided in Dolby Digital Mono and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with removable subtitles offered up in English only. There are no alternate language options or lossless audio options provided on this disc. Aside from a drop out that takes place when Quid goes into the roadhouse, the 5.1 mix is alright, spreading things out here and there when the action call for it. The mono track suits the movie better, however. Regardless of which choice you go for, the levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is clean and clear and both the score and the sound effects nicely placed. Both tracks are free of any hiss or distortion. A lossless option would have been ideal, obviously, but what’s here sounds fine.
Extras start off with a commentary track from director Richard Franklin carried over from the long out of print Anchor Bay DVD release of the movie. Here Franklin talks about what drew him to the project, shooting the film out in the Australian outback, his thoughts on Everett De Roche’s script, working with the various cast members on the picture and with Keach and Curtis in particular and quite a bit more.
Umbrella has also assembled together an assortment of audio interviews, the first of which is with Grant Page and runs thirty-three minutes. Here Page talks about working on the film as both an actor and as a stunt coordinator. He shares some interesting stories about working with Franklin on the picture as well as what it was like being cast alongside some of the other performers. Speaking of which, Stacy Keach talks for ten minutes about working on the film, his thoughts on Franklin’s directing style, how much he really likes this picture, acting alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and more. An archival interview with Franklin is also found here, clocking in at twenty-four minutes. This piece features the man talking about how he got into filmmaking in the first place, some of highlights of his career behind the camera and a fair bit more. Some interesting footage from different projects he was involved with plays out underneath this piece, originally recorded back in 1981.
Moving right along, we find over an hours’ worth of uncut interviews originally shot for the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. Franklin, Keach and Page pop up here again but so too do writer Everett De Roche and leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis. Everyone looks back on this one pretty fondly and all involved seem to have enjoyed working together on the film even if it wasn’t always the easiest shoot to be on. In the aptly titled Road Games Lecture we get two hours and eleven minutes with Franklin where he speaks to an audience alongside co-producer Barbi Taylor and composer Brian May about the intricacies of making Road Games. Franklin covers some of the same ground here as in this other pieces he was involved with but getting May and Taylor on board ensures that there’s enough new material included here to make it worthwhile for fans of the film. Also worth checking out is the twenty-one minute long Kangaroo Hitchcock: The Making Of Road Games featurette. Carried over from the aforementioned Anchor Bay DVD, here Franklin talks about the Hitchcock connection, casting the picture and more while Keach chimes in with his thoughts on his character, his co-stars and the film in general. As mentioned earlier, Umbrella has also included an eleven minute featurette with cinematographer Vincent Monton and a member of the Roar Digital restoration team that details what went into cleaning up the release print used for the transfer on this Blu-ray release that features some very telling before and after split screen comparisons.
Rounding out the extras is a half hour long still gallery laid out as a slideshow that includes some essay writing from Lee Gambin, the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. It’s also worth mentioning that the disc comes packaged with some nice reversible cover art.
The Final Word:
Road Games is clever, it’s funny and, particularly in its last half hour Road Games is quite tense. Keach and Curtis are great in the lead roles and there are some fun supporting players thrown into the mix for good measure. Franklin directs with style but keeps the pacing deliberate and controlled. This is a really entertaining watch and Umbrella Entertainment has done a really nice job bringing it to Blu-ray on a disc that sports a fine transfer and is loaded with extra features.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!