Catching up on the 80’s
The Cinema of Stephen King #1
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Writer/Director – Stephen King
Runtime – 98 minutes
Dino de Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Evening readers, there are a plethora of films I’ve never seen and have always wondered why. In most cases I’ve read the accompanying/relevant paperwork. Or if you prefer the book that goes with, or is the inspiration for, the film. Maximum Overdrive is one such example and is based loosely on ‘Trucks’ a short story penned by Stephen King (originally published in June of 1973 which later appeared in his 1978 Night Shift short story collection).
Taking equal parts premise from Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Richard Stanleys’s Hardware, James Cameron’s Terminator and Kings’ Christine, Maximum Overdrive twists this intriguing concoction into new realms utilizing the enigmatic powers of the ethereal ‘presence’ from Rhea-M, a comets tail suffocating Earth’s orbit (a force which is better known in this genre, specifically, to spark resurrection, and appetite, in those recently deceased). Machines have taken a life of their own. But for what reason, vengeance, union rights, a more rigorous maintenance schedule?
Admittedly, any film that calls it’s director/writer, in this case Stephen King (albeit in cameo), an asshole in its opening scene is enough to draw my interest. And, it only gets better. In the following scenes a ‘drawbridge’ opens wide, unbeknownst to its operators, leaving unsuspecting motorists shocked, dangling from their car windows and ultimately plunging to their untimely demises. Soon all electronic and mechanical equipment appears to generate a vengeful life of their own and the surrounding community begins to feel the squeeze.
At a local Dixie Boy/Gas World Truck stop, a horde of big rigs encircles the gas pumps and parking lot ensuring a handful of survivors stay put.
A Green Goblin (Spiderman fame) mask-fronted Happy Toyz truck heads the charge against the ragtag motley crew of misfits thrown together by way of extenuating circumstances and an odd predicament. Bill, Emilio Estevez (Young Guns), is the brainchild shattering the shackles of his corrupt boss, Hendershot (played by Pat Hingle), as he attempts to stay one step ahead of a myriad of mechanized antagonists.
Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson – The Simpsons) lends her voice and hysterical talents and adds character to an assembly riddled with inflated egos. Laura Harrington (Buckaroo Bonzai, The Devils Advocate) provides the love interest to keep Bills ‘drive’ alive. And a youth, who knows a little too much for his own good, hurdles over emotions brought about by the recent demise of his Father to aid in the groups attempted escapes (whoops nearly added a spoiler there!).
Plenty of standout scenes here. A school bus skewered by a light aircraft, a vending machine which emits deadly projectiles, an ice cream van and a lawnmower take turns chasing a youth on a bike and the instant karma handed out to a impulsive jewel thief are amongst those which immediately come to mind. A multitude of truck upon fragile human shell impacts and forms crushed to pulp are surprising additions to a tale which boasts an enjoyable pace, a curious premise and a rousing soundtrack courtesy of AC/DC. Although I’m left wondering why ‘Highway to Hell’ wasn’t incorporated when it would’ve fit, in instances, like a made to order (driving) glove. I’ve no problem with ‘Back in Black’ not being used, as let’s face it, it plays at damn near every sporting event and is used by virtually every high school/college team wishing to add another trophy to their hallways glass case. Can you tell I prefer my Aussie rock in short, infrequent doses?
Maximum Overdrive is many things. It’s often light-hearted, is occasionally dotted with dark humor and is certainly enjoyable from its sunny-side up fried eggs start to its rousing, bazooka explosion, finale. Several moments might even make the viewer ponder upon the abuse they’ve dished out upon their powered ‘equipment’ without one iota of appreciation, it might even make some think upon a world without such. One of the films priceless scenes sports the frustrated Dixie Boys waitress, Wanda June, yelling defiantly at the vigilant big rigs “We made you!” as it adjusts its path to plow straight towards her. But who, really made who? (cue “Who made Who” by AC/DC) There’s obvious argument that without machinery and electricity we wouldn’t be at all where we are today. The films creepiest moments come by way of the machinery operating itself. Levers turn, gears change and ignitions are triggered all without the guidance of a human hand, imagine the possibilities. Its terrifying!
Maximum Overdrive sports a smorgasbord of characters one wants to root for and others which only fuel wildly imaginative death scene scenarios in the viewers mind.
I’m not here to spoil the fun (for it’s not my style) but suffice it to say if 80’s movies, horror drenched in camaraderie, easy to follow story lines, sweaty action, hysterically screaming ladies, heroes developing from the most unlikely of character and mushroom cloud laden explosions, are your thing and you have yet to lay your peepers upon this…you’re missing out!
Add this to a Creepshow, Silverbullet (aka Cycle of the Werewolf) double bill and you’re set for a grand night of macabre yet humorous King inspired cinema. Of course, there’s a roulette wheel of others from which I could have chosen but I went with these, although on second thoughts I’d toss in Cats Eye too, leaving the more epic affairs for another night entirely!
If this is any indication of Stephen King’s directorial prowess, he can direct like a MF-er!
You can find Cult on twitter. This article originally appeared on his blog which you can find here.
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