Stephen King has always been one of my favorite authors. (For an in depth discussion of King and his influence on me, see my article on him here.)
King has often been vocal about adaptations of his work, and not shy about expressing his displeasure in the way Hollywood has made a butchery of some of his stories. In 1986 he decided that the best way to get a true adaptation was for him to take the reins himself He not only was the screenwriter for the adaptation of his short story Trucks but he even went so far as to be the director of the film (so far his only endeavor in that role).
The movie preview is a study in cheese in its own right. King himself guarantees that he is “going to scare the hell out of you” and it ends with probably the most laughable tag line: Maximum terror. Maximum King. Dino de Laurentis presents Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. Okay, it may not be laughable in print, but to hear the voice of the classic movie trailer narrator, I think it might be Don La Fontaine who did a lot of these types of movies, it sounds kind of hilarious.
The movie itself does not live up to King’s prediction, I have to admit. At least I wasn’t scared. But it is a pretty good movie nonetheless. Possessed semis have it hands down over most of the possessed cars movies out there (not including Christine, another Stephen King entry).
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
The essence of Maximum Overdrive is the appearance of a comet that, after it passes by Earth, leaves a tail in its wake (green and funky, much like that nasty orb Loc-nar from Heavy Metal). The upshot of this lingering comet wake — which the prologue states will be with the Earth for eight days — is that everything electrical and mechanical goes haywire. A scene, early in the movie, with Stephen King giving a nod to Alfred Hitchcock with a cameo, as an unsuspecting person being called an “asshole” by an ATM machine.
The scene shifts to the Dixie Boy Truck Stop where our main action takes place. Here, obnoxious lowlife owner Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle) runs the operation with an iron fist (and a less than reputable hand). He tells employee Bill (Emilio Estevez) that he wants him to work nine hours a day, but only clock-in for eight. As an incentive he holds up a time card with a star that indicates that Bill is on probation from the law, intimating that if he doesn’t comply, Hendershot will turn him in to his parole officer.
Meanwhile, the comet’s tail starts to do its dirty work on the diner. All the trucks gain a life of their own. The ringleader of the gang of mechanical monstrosities is a truck carrying “Happy Toyz” with a front end decked out with the face of Spider-Man enemy the Green Goblin to bring home the fact that these trucks are the epitome of evil.
The diner eventually garners a crew of people who straggle in from the onslaught of these new rulers of the earth, including a drifter, Brett (Laura Harrington) and the sleazy traveling Bible salesman who picked her up, Camp (Christopher Murney). Also a newlywed couple (Yeardley Smith and John Short) and a kid (Holter Graham) who has spent most of the movie biking across the country trying to avoid getting killed by these trucks. (The kid, it turns out, is the son of one of the truck stop employees).
A battle occurs between the refugees in the truck stop and the trucks that surround them. This is helped by the fact that Hendershot has an entire armory stored in his basement. (A survivalist, maybe, expecting the end of the world?) But the trucks have their own arsenal, including a bulldozer and a portable rolling machine gun cart.
About the only hint of anything totally ridiculous (if the concept of possessed machines isn’t already making you question that), is the hint, late in the movie and in the final closing credits that the comet may have been the product of an alien invasion to try to get rid of the humans so they could take over the planet. Really? Please, Steve, I give you much better credit than that.
The reviews on this movie at the time were pretty much all bad. It only has a 15% Fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website According to a website a looked at Variety said this is the kind of movie that makes people want to talk back to the screen. (Remember the Seinfeld episode where the gang were on their way to watch Plan 9 from Outer Space just so they could talk back to the screen? Or for those of you of that bent, every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000?) To add insult to injury the movie garnered two Raspberry nominations — one for Emilio Estevez for worst actor and one to Stephen King for worst director.
But the movie is not as bad as the film critics would lead us to believe. It does get a bit ridiculous in places and is not nearly as scary as, say, Carrie or The Shining, but it is fun. Plus it has a killer soundtrack by AC/DC which includes the made for this movie song “Who Made Who?”
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.