Truck driver Pat Quid (Stacy Keach) is transporting a cargo of pig meat across the Australian Outback, along the coast, because there is a strike on that has created a shortage in that region, when he becomes obsessed with the idea that a man he has seen driving in a green van is actually a serial killer who picks up hitch hikers and murders them. But as a battle of wits is fought between the two drivers, is everything exactly as it seems? Is Quid correct, and is this man trying to frame him for the crimes, and if so, doesn't this place him in an extremely tricky position?
This eccentric road movie thriller was written by Everett De Roche, that unsung hero of this particular era of Australian genre flicks, from a story by De Roche and producer/director Richard Franklin. Franklin had worked for Alfred Hitchcock as well as being one of the Master of Suspense's biggest fans, and it was clear he wished to fashion a Rear Window on Wheels for this. What could have been a rather basic suspense chiller of the kind we have seen many times before and since is lifted out of the ordinary by an odd, semi-humorous style and odd twists that continually wrong-foot the viewer.
There is a curious, half-jokey and half-menacing tone to the project where the well-acted supporting characters can change from being irritating or quirky to threatening, often in the space of one scene, Quid picking up (or being forced to pick up) a left behind wife (Marion Edward) who alerts him to the news stories about the serial killer, and eventually believing the offbeat trucker had a hand in the murders. Apparently, the only character we can rely on is Jamie Lee Curtis' hitch hiker, who appears to be set up as a victim - even Quid is suspect at times. The vast Australian plains conjure up a sense of isolation, and the film wouldn't have done much for their tourist industry.
As was the case with many of the Ozploitation movies, truth be told. Keach is very entertaining indeed as the constantly chatting trucker whose many idiosyncrasies include playing the harmonica, keeping a pet dingo in his cab (he prefers it to a dog, considering it more aristocratic) and, of course, talking to himself which helps for those frequent scenes where Keach is alone onscreen and prevents long stretches of nothing but the sound of the engine running on the soundtrack. But fans of Curtis, imported because she was the daughter of Hitchcock's classic psychothriller Psycho's Janet Leigh, may be disappointed that she's only in the film for less than half an hour.
Quid keeps telling Curtis's interested Pamela that he's too old for her, and takes a fatherly interest in looking out for her that can easily switch to disdainful when his confidence in his impressions falters. Just as humorous sequences can turn serious, the serious ones often turn inappropriately humorous. While Curtis's accommodating hitcher is investigating the van, Quid corners the driver in the men's room and harangues him through the door of the toilet stall: naturally, he has the wrong man. What is set up as an exciting chase, when Curtis is kidnapped as a result, finishes abruptly when Keach crashes the motorbike he's stolen after about three seconds. There's even a bizarre low-speed pursuit for the finale.
The whole film makes you suspect the worst - what's in the garbage bags the possible killer was checking on so early in the morning? What's in the green van man's lunchbox? Is the entire thing playing with the audience and Quid will be revealed as the villain? Maybe not that last, as you find yourself trusting his bafflement and frustration in the face of his major problem. You'd be wise not to take anything for granted. Did Franklin courting comparisons to Hitchcock go too far? Curtis is known as "Hitch" and the great director's face appears on a magazine, but his self-proclaimed connections to the great director seemed to have made many sceptical of Franklin's aspirations at the time. Though someone must have thought there was enough of a similarity, as Franklin went on to do a pretty good job on Psycho II. Music by Brian May (the Australian composer, not the bloke out of Queen), which sounds a bit like Holst's "Mars" in places.