Ever since catching the phenomenal documentary Not Quite Hollywood (if you haven’t seen this yet – order it now!) at a couple of horror festivals earlier this year, we’ve been desperate to bring an Ozploitation Night to our humble Zombie Club. Covering the gamut of Australian B-Movie productions from the late 60s onwards, Not Quite Hollywood shows us teasing glimpses from all the classic cult movies from Mad Max through to Long Weekend and Patrick amongst many, many others.
Originally our night was going to be a double-bill of one of our favourite directors, Mr (The Man From Hong Kong) Brian Trenchard-Smith but we were unfortunately unable to get our DVD-R copy of Dead End Drive-In to work on the night. Help was at hand though as Zomblee was able to insert the classic Roadgames starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis in its place.
Our other movie on tonight’s double-bill is Trenchard-Smith’s Stunt Rock, which as far as we could tell featured a lot of stunts, courtesy of Brian’s favourite stunt man Grant Page, and a lot of rock. So, join us as we throw some shrimps on the Barbie and settle down for a couple of B-Movie classics from the land down under.
Tonight’s Zombie Club was brought to you in association with Rawshark, magical musicians and a dingo called Boswell
Plot A truck driver plays a cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious serial killer.
Rawshark Directed and written by the team behind the 1978 film Patrick, Roadgames is a fantastic film based on the concept of Rear Window set the open highways of the Australian outback. American cult actor Stacy Keach plays Quid, a freelance truck driver who travels alone with his faithful dingo Boswell, and after spending a night sleeping in his cab (whilst a murder takes place at the nearby hotel), Quid takes on a double-time job hauling pork across the Australian states.
However, amidst the random hitchhikers he picks up along the way (including a fresh from The Fog Jamie Lee Curtis), Quid soon realises that there’s a murderer on the loose who seems to be following Quid in an attempt to place the blame on him. Is it the strange man in the van? Or is it any one of the random assortment of characters Quid encounters on his travels, including the red-leathered motorbike driver, or perhaps the man driving a car filled with balls (”He’s got loads of balls” - Jim) listed in the credits as Benny Balls?
Make no mistake, Roadgames is a brilliant entry into the canon of Road Movie genre classics (a list including previously viewed Zombie Club movies Rabid Dogs and Hitch Hike). From the opening murder scene, dubbed quite rightly by Quentin Tarantino as a masterpiece of cinematic tension, the film oozes class from the script, terrific cinematography and brilliant performances. Stacy Keach, in a role originally written with Sean Connery in mind, is the main standout, delivering a performance that starts out cocksure, yet slowly unwinds into frustration and desperation as the police close in on him, blaming him for the trail of corpses seemingly left in his wake. Quite rightly, Zomblee commented that ”Stacy Keach was really on top of his game here”.
Despite not appearing that much in the film, Jamie Lee Curtis also shines in her role as Hitch (so called as a nod to Alfred Hitchcock), but also watch out for the acting prowess of Quid’s dingo, who comes back at the end of the movie to help save the day. I mean, honestly, who says dingos can’t bark?
”Darling, just because I drive a truck, doesn’t mean I’m a truck driver”.
Jim So, truck driver Stacy Keach (sorry, guy that drives a truck Stacy Keach) pulls in to a motel car park only to see some guy in a van, who’s picked up the pretty young hitcher that he was planning on picking up earlier, steal the last room available, so it’s another night in the cab with only his dingo for company. He’s up at the crack of dawn when the bin men arrive, but why is that curtain twitching when the bin men pick up that big suspicious body shaped bag? And did whoever was behind that curtain see him see them? Hmmm…
That’s how the very clever Roadgames begins, with a little bit of mystery followed by a monologue by Stacy Keach as he talks to his dingo, a bit like how Snowman talks to his dog Fred in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. But as the boys have said this is Keach on the top of his game (pre-Mike Hammer) delivering lines from a script that’s so tight you’d think this was a play, reinforced by the fact that there’s only a handful of characters in the movie, and despite it being a bona fide road movie, they keep reoccurring. And I wasn’t the only one who thought that - "It seems like all the characters are moving on at the same pace" - Zomblee, "Yeah, it's like a play, pick 10 characters and stick with them" - Rawshark.
Let’s see, we have the annoying fat woman that Keach plays mind games with, the guy with all the balls in his car, the bizarre boat being dragged through the middle of the outback ("I thought that boat had a tree in the back of it for a moment." - Rawshark), they guy in the van that seems to be following Keach (or is he one step ahead?) and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis, who shines as Hitch, especially in the later scenes.
The direction is assured, the cinematography is stunning (even though pointing a camera down an open road in the Outback is always going to look good) and the score does a great job of raising the tension. In fact, it’s a real surprise just how good Roadgames really is. I’m still getting over the fact that I hadn’t seen this before.
"Pleased to meet you."
Zomblee I first watched Road Games about 6 months ago, and felt a bit cheated that a movie this good, which features two actors I love, had eluded me all these years. Where had it been hiding? Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her scream queen fame, it has strangely become a forgotten Australian classic, which will hopefully gain more popularity on the back of Mark Hartley's riveting documentary, Not Quite Hollywood.
Directed by Hitchcock scholar, the late Richard Franklin (who also helmed Psycho 2, appropriately enough), Roadgames sees vegetarian Stacey Keach driving loads of bacon across Australia in his big truck, accompanied by his dingo, Boswell. Convinced that he has stumbled upon the reported serial killer-at-large, a game of cat and mouse ensues, and along the way he keeps passing a hitch hiker who looks like that girl from Halloween. Fearing for her safety on the open road, he obliges by picking her up in his pig wagon, and christening her, 'Hitch' (geddit?). Little does she know that she's soon to be embroiled in Keach's amateur sleuth trail, when he is fast becoming the suspected murderer.
It's hard to find fault in a movie like Road Games. It's possibly Keach's finest ever role; the scenes featuring only him and the dingo are irresistible, and his character is expertly written, with more depth than usual for a genre movie. The supporting roles also entertain, bringing life to the quirky, original little scenarios, which are so reminiscent of Hitchcock ("It's like Rear Window on the open road' - Jim). There's too many nice touches to mention here, like when the police pull him over and ask him what he's got in the tuck ("Pigs"), or that nail biter of a scene at the road side garage, which ends when Keach clumsily falls right off the motorcycle.
This is a superbly resourceful slice of Australian filmmaking, blending humour, suspense and an ingenious script with a keen eye for the Australian landscape. If you haven't seen it, buy it now. Don't rent. Buy.
"Gotta get the piggies to the market."
Director Richard Franklin
Cast Stacy Keachd
Jamie Lee Curtis
Runtime 101 mins
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Stunt Rock (1978)
Plot Australian stuntman Grant Page goes to Los Angeles to work on a television series. He uses his spare time to lend his expertise to rock band Sorcery...
Zomblee Stunt Rock is a true original. Conceived by one of our all time fave directors, one Brian Trenchard-Smith, as a "professional love letter to stunt men", and that's exactly how it comes across. Featuring none other than 70s stunt guru Grant Page and the onstage theatrical excess of 'magical' rock band 'Sorcery', it delivers a strange and unique brew which comes across as documentary in style, except that it's not - there is a plot here but thankfully, it takes the back seat in favour of a relentless showcase of STUNTS and ROCK. Because STUNTS + ROCK = STUNT ROCK. It's that simple.
But is it any good? First up, Trenchard-Smith's use of split screen leaves a lot to be desired, almost like it was a new toy being experimented (too much) with. Think Brian de Palma, circa mid-70s, having a really bad day with stunts and rock and you're pretty much there. The other main fault, for me anyway, was this really strange rock act, 'Sorcery', and I know for a fact that Jim and Rawshark concurred ("This band have collectively disappeared up their own asshole" - Jim, "This must be the world's longest song" - Rawshark). As much as I tire of the saying, "that is so Spinal Tap", that's exactly what it was, except more tedious and involving 'magic' tricks, which then encouraged momentary diversion by trying to think of suitable names for a rock band who also do magic ("Iron Daniels" and "Guns 'n Copperfield" being two of my favourites).
It's when you're not being bored senseless by the self-indulgent 'theatrical rock' that you really get your dollar's worth with Stunt Rock. Luckily for the viewer, the onstage excesses of Sorcery carries over to the death-defying stunt work of human miracle Grant Page, with his penchant for death slides ("He really likes being on fire on a death slide" - Rawshark), and anything else that looks really insane. It's an awesome display of complete madness that one onlooker simply describes as "stupid".
As the man Brian Trenchard-Smith puts it in Not Quite Hollywood, "Much stunts and much rock takes place. What's not to like?", and when it's put so simply, the allure is even stronger. Any film that features someone doing pull-ups off the letter 'H' at the famous 'Hollywood' sign gets my vote. Oh, and it also features a dog eating spaghetti. Never seen a dog eat spaghetti before.
"That's not a stunt. That's just stupid."
Jim No, I've never seen a dog eat spaghetti before either, but Zomblee was fastest on with the pen on that one, although he did have a spot of bother. ("I wrote 'spaghetti' and I automatically wrote 'western' after it!" - Zomblee)
But yeah, how do you top something as awesome as Road Games in Ozploitation Night, hmm? What? A Brian Trenchard-Smith movie? Good idea! Oh, we've done the amazing The Man From Hong Long though, and we've done the sublime Turkey shoot too, and we haven't yet sourced a copy of Dead-End Drive In (we will though, don't worry). So what's left? Why, Stunt Rock, of course!
Okay, so Sorcery aren't the best band in the world, which is kind of an overstatement really, but Trenchard-Smith would be the first to admit as much. In the amazing Not Quite Hollywood he admits that he had a weekend to find a band, and this is the kind of band you can come up with given only a weekend. And the super loose plot is this; Grant Page's on-screen brother - I think - is in this cheesy gothic rock magician's band ("I know the name for this kind of music, it's 'Shock Rock'!" - Zomblee) and, err, he does some stunts.
The stunts are amazingly cool (Grant Page is a mad man, but he's a calm mad man who's still alive today) and the rock is hypnotically bad ("I don't know what the rock band are in it for." - Rawshark) but the ensemble is probably one of the most unique and original films I've ever seen. Disjointed yes as the stunts and rock don't really gel, but Grant Page turns up at the end concert ("...and starts selling T-shirts!" - Rawshark) and that's supposed to tie it all up, just as the journalist girl goes "Hey, I'm going to call this Stunt Rock!" or something. Crazy.
I've never gone "Wow!" and "What?" in the same breath before watching a movie, and that should be recommendation enough for anyone. This would make a great companion piece to Not Quite Hollywood as the latter discusses a lot of movies who's stunts are featured in the former. I only hope someone in Europe picks this up for distribution as the print we saw (The Ozzie Mad Dog print) was a remarkably clean transfer. We need to bring more BTS to Zombie Club.
"I am the arrow."
Rawshark Yes, we definitely need to bring more Trenchard-Smith to Zombie Club, but perhaps not this film again. For whilst both the words Stunt and Rock seem to go as well together as Macaroni and Cheese, the only cheese we got from this film was what Zomblee described the awful noise of the band’s music - ”melodic cheese thrash”, and believe us, that’s no compliment.
To be fair the stunts in the movie are quite cool, but ramping them alongside a rock band with zero charisma and talent was a big mistake, especially in light of the fact that the filmmakers couldn’t even be bothered to pull together a decent storyline to tie the two strands together (we’ll ignore the fact that Jim was so taken with the stunt montages that he failed to notice this at first - ”It’s taken me 1 hour and 19 minutes to realise there’s no plot!”).
Sorcery’s band members included a Merlin-a-like (”That Merlin’s getting right on my tits” - Jim), and a keyboard player who wore a mask and never spoke a word, and although their opening track – Stunt Rocker – got the toes a tapping to the intro montage, they soon settled back into Prog Rock wank with the added ‘bonus’ of bringing in magical acts into their stage shows. These included the ”pendulum hypnosis attack” (Jim) and the ”spinning sword fountain trick” (Zomblee), although it would be fair to say that a children’s entertainer would no doubt pull off better illusions.
Stunts-wise, Stunt Rock does deliver, with thrilling death slides, explosions and cool car chases, but it must be said that Grant Page does come across as a bit of an egotistical prick in the movie. Although billed as a faux-documentary (it’s all about Grant Page going to the US to work on a TV show called Undercover Girl), it’s fairly clear that Brian Trenchard-Smith made Stunt Rock as a love letter to his favourite stunt man, and thus unfortunately allows Mr Page a little too much room to show off about himself. That said though, Stunt Rock does do exactly what it sets out to do – as Jim said ”It’s delivered stunts and rock. It’s Stunt Rock”. And who can really begrudge that?
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast Grant Page
Monique van de Ven
Runtime 86 mins
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So there you have it, after all the Fosters we drank and shrimps we ate, there was unanimous approval for Roadgames which turned out to be a true polished gem of a film, one that was almost too good to screen at our Zombie Club events, but with both Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis featuring in it, it would have been rude not to have screened it.
Stunt Rock was the unknown quantity tonight, and despite featuring lots of STUNTS(!) and ROCK(!), it was a rare misfire from one of our favourite directors Mr Brian Trenchard-Smith. Well, you can't win them all I guess...
Join us next week for Warrior Women Day as Jim brings us a whole day (yes, that's four films) featuring women who are also warriors. Oh yes!