A heroine called “Hitch” for most of the film is just one of the jokes in a film full of them. Director Richard Franklin’s obvious (and stated) veneration for Alfred Hitchcock has helped to shape his own style which he uses here to manipulate his audience between laughter and screaming with ease.
In the penultimate scene, Hitch lifts her arm and the camera cuts to a ferocious cleaver falling – on to a hunk of meat on a butcher’s counter. A murdered girl’s mouth opens for a final scream, but a cheeky aural cut replaces the sound with the din of clattering rubbish bins.
These flourishes point to a director with a distinctive grasp of narrative technique.
The pre-credits sequence, for instance, wastes nothing. The movie opens with a line of rubbish bins, pans to the Car-o-tel entrance, up to the neon sign and down to a truck arriving.
The camera confronts the truck head-on and cuts to sleep-deprived truck driver Pat Quid (Stacy Keach) talking to the unseen ‘Boswell’ (who turns out to be a dingo, asleep in the passenger seat).
The truck radio is giving news about a mutilated female corpse found in a rubbish dump. Quid watches as a green van draws up and, as it happens, he thereby loses the last vacant room at the motel.
As he lies down in the sleeping compartment of his truck and starts to pluck a guitar, the camera cuts to the naked back of a girl in a motel room, also with a guitar.
The door behind her opens; the killer stands there, garotting wire in hand linked visually with the guitar string and the girl’s thin metal neckband; and as her mouth opens in a scream, the film cuts to the morning noise of rubbish bins being rattled, and Boswell sniffing among the bin bags as Quid sees a hand and face appear around the edge of a motel window curtain.
A journey across the Australian Nullarbor desert as Quid transports a trailer-load of refrigerated pork carcasses to Perth for Universal Meats (“Pleased to meat you!”), is the setting for the long central section of a teasing thriller.
Quid becomes increasingly certain that the green van, with its mysterious icebox, is linked with the murders broadcast on the radio news. The tone, though, is casually comic as he plays his favourite road game of inventing little dramas about the other travellers on the roads and confiding them to the dingo.
He shortly acquires a talking companion – Pamela aka “Hitch” (Jamie Lee Curtis), the pretty girl he is about to pass for the third time before he breaks regulations and pick her up.
The film gathers a new tension as Hitch (the bored and casually rebellious daughter of an American diplomat in Canberra) joins Quid in his determination to catch the driver of the green van.
One of the film’s many champions, Quentin Tarantino, said in Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: “You could remake Road Games tomorrow and not change a damn word of it and it would scare the hell out of everybody. It’s an amazing movie”.
Jamie Lee Curtis
Smith or Jones
Angie La Bozzetta