Maximum Overdrive



Main Cast: Emilio Estevez, Laura Harrington

Director: Stephen King

Back in the mid-1980s, I used to spend a lot of weekends at my aunt’s house in Gower.  My cousins and I would spend all day watching movies.  But it was the 80s, we were teens, and they lived in a very small town, so the movie choices were limited.  Mostly we just watched FIRESTARTER, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE over and over.  I’ve probably seen this movie 20 times by now, but it’s been just as many years, I’d bet, since I saw it last.

I’d forgotten how bad it is.  I mean, I’ve read things about it over the years, calling it a terrible movie. And even Stephen King himself is quoted as saying it’s the worst adaptation of his work, and he wrote and directed it!  But I have pretty fond memories of it.  Sure, it’s campy and silly, but it’s also mindless fun.

The story is adapted from King’s own short story, Trucks, which appeared in his first collection, NIGHT SHIFT, but for this version the basic premise–a group of people stuck in a remote truck stop being circled endlessly by sentient trucks out for blood–has been expanded.

Earth is passing through the tail of a rogue comet, where it is calculated it will remain for the next 8 days when suddenly all the mechanical devices we’ve built come to life and start killing people.  At the Dixie Boy truck stop outside Wilmington, North Carolina, an electric knife turns itself on and takes a slice of Wanda June, the waitress who is currently doubling as cook because Bill Robinson (Emilio Estevez, THE BREAKFAST CLUB) has been called to the office of Mr. Henderson (Pat Hingle, BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS) to discuss some unpaid overtime Bill is being forced into.  Apparently people out on parole don’t get to say no to working 9 hours and only being paid for 8.  The real point here is to set up our hero, Bill, but just in case you didn’t get it, Bill is later referred to by several other characters as “hero”.

Meanwhile, hitchhiker Brett (Laura Harrington, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) is stuck in a car with a sleazy Bible salesman (Christopher Murney, THE LAST DRAGON) on her way to Florida when they pull into the Dixie Boy for a quick stop.  Brett is pretty and street tough, carries a straight razor in her boot and threatens to cut off the hand of the salesman if he doesn’t take it off her leg.

Newlyweds Connie and Curtis (Yeardly Smith, The Simpsons and John Short, The Cavanaughs) stop at a gas station when they see a man lying dead on the ground.  An unmanned truck nearly runs over Curtis and the couple jump back in the car and speed away down the highway, eventually making their way to the Dixie Boy with the intention of calling the police. Once they see the massive trucks circling the place like sharks circling prey, they just want to get out of their car, off the road, and somewhere safe.

And little leaguer Deke (Holter Graham, FLY AWAY HOME) just watched his coach get bludgeoned with a flying Coke can from a vending machine. He hops on his bike and takes off through town before noticing people are dying left a right.  A dog lies dead on the road, a remote control police car hanging half out of its mouth.  A girl lies dead halfway out her window with a hair dryer cord wrapped around her neck.  A man lies dead in his porch swing, apparently killed by his Walkman as blood pours from his ears.  A lawnmower starts up and chases after Deke. Deke decides he’s had enough of this nonsense and he takes off for the Dixie Boy truck stop where his dad works.

As the machines of the world revolt, the situation in the Dixie Boy gets more dire with every passing hour.  But Bill discovers the basement is full of rifles, grenades and rockets.  The survivors at the Dixie Boy have a plan.

Seeing this movie at 49 was a bit different than seeing it at 15.  At the time, it was cool seeing the machines drive themselves. THE OUTSIDERS and THE BREAKFAST CLUB were required weekly viewing, so I liked Emilio Estevez, and Laura Harrington was pretty.  35 years later I’m a writer who has spent years reviewing movies and the only thing I can focus on is the bad script. 

Written by Stephen King, who usually creates relatively strong characters, everyone in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is about as cliché as it gets. The dialogue they’re forced to recite surely exceeds some legal limit of silly.  With gems like “I don’t give a ladybug” and “Eat my shorts” it’s a wonder the actors made it through this thing with any dignity intact.  And as thick as these folks were laying on the southern, I’m amazed none of them told the trucks to “Kiss my grits”.

The thing that truly amazes me about MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE isn’t how bad the final product is, because in my opinion King doesn’t stink as a director.  He had professionals onboard, so I’d be willing to bet there was a fair amount of hand-holding going on for the tougher stuff.  The thing that truly amazes me is that it’s written by Stephen King, adapted from a story by Stephen King, but it’s the script that’s the worst part of this thing.  It’s not that his directorial choices suck, it’s not the basic plot, it’s the actual written part of it that’s the worst thing here.

It almost feels as if King had no idea how people actually talk when he was writing it.  And, sure, King’s dialogue has always carried its share of plain old dumb charm, but this is ridiculous.

And the plot holes, my God!  Every mechanical and electric device on the planet gains awareness except the bicycles and cars?  Trucks drive themselves, even a plane flies itself in one scene, but none of the cars are affected?  That’s just lazy plotting.

It’s not all bad in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, though.  The soundtrack is awesome, consisting entirely of AC/DC hits like “Hell’s Bells”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Sink the Pink”.

Okay, look, I know it’s a bad movie.  I know it’s dumb and poorly made and is probably best left forgotten.  But despite everything I just said about the terrible script, I still think this movie holds a certain amount of nostalgic charm.  I’m not in a big hurry to watch it again, but, dang it, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE never hurt nobody.  Sometimes the world needs dumb movies, and this one definitely fills that role like a champ.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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