Maximum Overdrive. What else is there to say? Well, I suppose I could explain how I came to find this movie and why I love it. So, grab a drink—just not from a vending machine—and ignore the jingling of that ice cream truck.
Growing up in a small town during the pre-internet age meant finding your own entertainment. It goes without saying that led to many stupid, semi-dangerous adventures. It also helped develop my interest in literature and film.
Our small town was the home to a locally-owned video store, the kind that’s been obliterated by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and their ilk. On Fridays, I would go there with my mom to rent a few movies for the weekend.
While mom usually went for the new releases, I would head straight to the horror section. Among the famous slashes, their lesser-known (and lesser-quality) counterparts, and various titles of dubious caliber, I found a cover that stood out to 9-year-old me.
On it was a gun-toting Emilio Estevez and a semi adorned with the face of the Green Goblin. I saw that the movie had a soundtrack by AC/DC and was both written and directed by Stephen King.
I was in.
Can't You See We've Got a Situation Here
Maximum Overdrive opens with a shot of the earth being enveloped by what I can best describe as a space fart. Accompanying the image is a message informing the viewer that the planet is currently passing through the tail of a rogue comet.
Makes sense so far.
Also, this isn’t going to feature a traditional plot summary. Why? Well, there isn’t really much of a plot.
Moving along, we’re taken to Wilmington, North Carolina, and a Stephen King cameo. From there, we’re introduced to Who Made Who, one of the few new pieces of music composed by AC/DC for the film—and one of my favorite songs. While the entire soundtrack is composed of their work, most of it is made up of songs from other albums.
A drawbridge—the Isabel Holmes bridge—decides that it’s done carrying traffic over the Cape Fear River. While two clueless operators play a rousing game of Go Fish, the machinery inside begins the process of raising the bridge.
Chaos ensues, including a flying watermelon, a couple of stoners in an AC/DC van, and a few unlucky motorists being dumped into the water below.
Not a bad start.
From there we move to the Dixie Boy Truck Stop, the location where much of the film plays out. We’re introduced to a handful of characters—chiefly Billy, an ex-con portrayed by Emilio Estevez. We also meet Pat Hingle‘s Bubba Hendershot, owner of the Dixie Boy and aspiring gun-runner.
The biggest intro comes when the film’s main antagonist—a White Western Star 4800 wearing the Green Goblin’s face. Thankfully, the truck is gracious, delivering Frankie Faison into the film as the truck’s driver.
Everyone’s favorite chicken restaurant/meth kingpin Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) shows up long enough to see a pinball machine’s glass shatter. His response—inexplicably—is to issue an agitated “your mama” to the machine. Then again, Stephen King has admitted to being “coked out of his mind” during the production of the movie, so best we not linger too long.
We’re introduced to a handful of characters, including the hitchhiking Brett (Laura Harrington), pervy bible salesman Camp Loman (Chris Murney, who played Hanrahan in the hockey classic Slap Shot), and little leaguer Deke (Holter Graham), whose father works at the Dixie Boy.
We also meet newlyweds Curt (John Short) and Connie (Yeardley Smith). Connie is, well, let’s just say “high-strung,” though it is fun to hear Lisa Simpson say “fuck” and “shit.” Hey, I’m a kid at heart.
We Made You!
It soon becomes apparent to everyone that something fucky is going on as everything from trucks to electric knives, lawnmowers to toy police cars become homicidal.
Eventually, Bill comes up with a plan for the refugees to make their way to Haven, an island with no motor vehicles. To get there, they’ll take a sailboat, again making it a point to avoid anything with a motor that may become murderous.
Sensing treachery, a parade of semis and heavy machinery begin destroying the Dixie Boy, hell-bent on killing everyone. The group makes it out, eventually reaching a marina and putting them one step closer to safety.
As I said, there’s not much of a plot, but that’s okay. There’s more that happens in the movie, but I don’t want to spoil it.
King—who adapted his short story Trucks for the screenplay—doesn’t hold this film in high regard. While I know full well the tendency of being your own worst critic, I still think it’s a shame. While it’s not without flaw, Maximum Overdrive is a hell of a lot of fun.
At its heart, it’s a B movie and a pretty damned good one at that. It’s more sci-fi than straight horror, a fact that plays well with the script. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which can be refreshing in and of itself.
Unfortunately, this movie marks the only time King has served as a director. While it may not be what he envisioned, he delivered a movie that’s absolutely perfect for what it is.
No, the writing isn’t great. The dialogue is stilted. The acting is all over the place. As the great Rick James said, cocaine is a hell of a drug. Still, despite all of its flaws, Maximum Overdrive works. It’s a movie that you can watch with your mind wholly disengaged.
A perfect example of this is the ice cream truck that stalks Deke. What song is jingling through its loudspeaker? King of the Road. Priceless.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. Still not sold? Take a look at the trailer: