The first time I saw Stephen King’s magnum opus was in the fall of 1987. We were visiting my father and step monster on the weekend, and my former stepbrother, and all around good egg Danny rented for us to watch. To say it’s a bad movie is an understatement. Even eleven-year-old Josh could tell how schlocky it was. That said, I love this fucking movie so hard and not in spite of its cheesiness, but because if it.
The phenom that is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE was written and directed by the master of horror himself, Stephen King. The screenplay was inspired by and loosely based on King's short story ‘TRUCKS’, which was included in King's first collection of short stories, ‘Night Shift’. I like the story of ‘TRUCKS’ more than the movie MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE but in the early 2000’s a television movie was made entitled ‘TRUCKS’, which although honing closer to the original story sucked balls. And not in the cool “hey my boyfriend shaved for me” way either.
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE was so bad it was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Director for King and Worst Actor for Estevez in 1987. Rightly so both lost against Prince for Under the Cherry Moon, I mean seriously that movie is an atrocity. In 1988, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE was nominated for Best Film at the International Fantasy Film Awards. King has described the film as a moron movie and stated his intention to never direct again soon after. King considers the film a learning experience.
So just what is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE?
We start with a comet tail enveloping the Earth. What the fuck was wrong with the 80s and their comet obsession? I realize that Haley’s comet made its regular return around this time but by Odin’s balls people that doesn't mean killer electronics and zombies (we’ll get to you NIGHT OF THE COMET) are coming after us. So the comet tail envelopes the Earth, causing anything run by electricity to come to life and attack the human population. The best part in the opening is when Stephen King and his wife Tabitha, in their obligatory cameo, are called assholes by the ATM. We are then treated to an awesome montage of machines slaughtering people across America. I assume the world as well, but we are never explicitly told this. The best of these are the little leaguers and their coach attacked by a soda vending machine that shoots cans at them like a machine gun. One the little leaguers, Deke, is one of the main characters and he escapes the ballfield carnage, which includes a disturbing scene where a steamroller crushes a screaming kid on his bike.
Good old manual foot power.
At the Dixie Dream, a roadside truck stop just outside Wilmington, North Carolina, we meet the rest of the movies cast including Emilio Estevez, post REPO MAN, and pre MIGHTY DUCKS, as ex-con Bill. At the diner, a waitress is attacked by an electric knife and a patron is electrocuted by the video games.
I call bullshit immediately. Much like a turtleneck saving Jeremy Renner from nerve gas (fuck you 28 WEEKS LATER) an electric knife can't jump around on its own. Neither, for that matter, can an arcade game electrocute you through plastic handles. They should have had the damn thing overload and blow up.
Bill realizes that something is wrong with the machines but the Dixie Dream’s fat southern stereotype owner Bubba Hendershot played by the legendary Pat Hingle is having none of it. Can I take a second and express my love of Pat Hingle? If you ever run across a movie or television show with him in it, please watch it. The project may suck, but Pat will be brilliant. He is one of the best character actors of the 20th century. The cars and trucks at the Dixie Dream attack and a toy store truck with a giant green goblin head on the front kills Deke’s father who worked at the Dixie Dream. The people are trapped in the diner.
Now for the best most fucked up part of the movie. Bubba has an arsenal worthy of a third world strongman's army in the basement of the Dixie Dream. Using a LAW rocket launcher Bubba and Bill stand off the trucks by destroying one of them. Bu the trucks have a miniature military vehicle, a Mule I believe, with a mounted M-60 light machine which shoots up the diner killing many of the trapped patrons and staff.
How by Loki’s black asshole did that little golf cart looking thing make the gun fire? There is clearly no electronic trigger on the M-60.
The Mule uses its horn to communicate in Morse code. Deke, who showed up earlier during the boring parts I’m not talking about, knows Morse code and translates. The trucks want the humans to run the pumps and refuel them. Realizing finally that they are now the trucks slaves Bill suggests they arm up and escape to an island off the coast with no cars or trucks allowed on it. During the escape, Bill blows up the Mule and Bubba is killed fighting a bulldozer, which destroys the Dixie Dream. The Green Goblin truck chases the survivors to the docks where Bill kills it, and the Dixie Dream survivors sail away. A word scrawl tells us three days later the comet passes and the chaos stops.
Oh yeah, there’s also a romance subplot between Bill and a hitchhiker, a perverted preacher, and Lisa Simpson.