One thing Stephen King loves to do more than just about anything else is gripe about how Hollywood can't get his stories right. Heck, he even turns his nose up at The Shining and THAT'S a bona fide eceipretsam. So, about 10 years after Carrie deep-fried the prom and made him stinking rich, Mr. Sunshine decided to take the reins himself with Maximum Overdrive (1986, 98 minutes). And upon rolling into theaters the wheels completely fell off the flick. Critics jeered and the box office returns didn't even cover the tab to MAKE his disaster. But something happened. Over the years, the picture has played hundreds of times on basic cable, and throughout that time a cult following began to fester and bubble up from most every demographic of society (especially among insomniacs). And nearly 15 years after its release, the AC/DC-fueled film's popularity defies its rather embarrassing debut. Still, it remains King's first and final directorial effort.
The movie: Machines revolt against their creators when a comet bathes our planet's skies with a slimy green haze. An ATM dispenses curses instead of cash. A draw bridge spontaneously raises and dumps perfectly good watermelons all over Donald Trump's future ex-wife Marla Maples. Soda cans launch from vending machines like mortar shells taking out a little league baseball coach and half his team. As the great Chuck Heston would say, "It's a MADHOUSE!!!!" And it's worldwide, but King's story focuses mostly on the Dixie Boy Truck Stop and the odd collection of rednecks cowering inside. Our hero is Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson a parolee turned short-order cook who doesn't seem to mind battling the convoy of 18-wheelers that crush any Earth ape dim enough to wander outside. Being the reckless, er, brave fella he is naturally wins him the carnal affections of Brett (Laura Harrington) his convenient love interest. Speaking of amour, young newlyweds Curt and Connie are chased off the highway and the groom has an unpleasant run-in with a Mac truck prompting one of the flick's best lines from the ever-squawking Yeardley Smith, "Cuuuuurrr-tis!!! Are ya day'yid!!!??" It goes on for an hour and a half like that. But King gets momentarily bogged down when he makes the rookie mistake of having actual character development. Namely a couple scenes where Bill and Brett yap about what all this bedlam MEANS. Thankfully, there's enough AC/DC and wanton destruction to make up for such foolishness. Like when the Dixie Boy owner (brilliantly played by Pat Hingle) breaks out his secret arsenal of militia gear and levels the playing field against the Green Goblin truck and its mechanical minions. CineSchlockers should note that the film was remade for TV as Trucks (also the title of King's original short story, and available on DVD). This time Tim Busfield's name is above the title and the rigs clobber a truck stop near Area 51.
Notables: No breasts. 20 dead bodies. Gasoline to the eyes. One dead dog. Gratuitous urination. One rat. Bubble blowing. Multiple explosions. Arcade-game electrocution. Maniac lawnmower. Rocket-launcher attack. Kamikaze airplane.
Quotables: Brett is a woman with limits, "If you don't get your hand off my leg, you're going to be wiping your ass with a hook the next time you take a dump." Bill tells off Hendershot, "You sir, are one of the biggest f@#%heads I've ever met in my life." King's script really sums up Earth's plight, "The whole g$%damn world is going t@ts up!" and "Jesus is coming and he's pissed."
Time codes: The first sign of trouble and also Steve's cameo (1:15). Steamroller pancakes a little leaguer (15:05). Post-diddle snuggling in a movie about vehicular homicide? (51:50). Rolling machine gun makes demands via Morse code (1:13:40).
Audio/Video: Absolutely beautiful W-I-D-Escreen (2.35:1) print. CineSchlockers who've only seen the flick formatted for TV won't believe their bloodshot peepers. Anchor Bay's also delivered a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that rattles your teeth when it should. AC/DC's score has also never sounded better. With immortal rock tunes like "Hells Bells," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Sink The Pink" and three tracks written solely for the picture including the "Who Made Who" theme.
Extras: Brief King bio. Theatrical trailer in which the director gleefully pledges to scare us silly. Static menus with audio. Insert card features original movie poster.
Final thought: Universally dismissed as an utter failure, this woefully underappreciated picture has become a cult classic that will continue to mesmerize discerning viewers for generations to come. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.