Though many acclaimed flicks have been based on the works of Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive was the first – and so far last – to have been directed by the horror legend himself.
First published in the September 2021 issue of Street Machine
Based loosely on King’s short story Trucks, Maximum Overdrive kicks off with a drawbridge mysteriously rising by itself, sending motorists to their doom to the tune of AC/DC’s Who Made Who. This sets the tone for the rest of the film – machines running amok, soundtracked by more Acca Dacca songs.
Much of the action takes place around the Dixie Boy Truck Stop outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Things begin to go awry when a misbehaving diesel bowser blinds an attendant and an arcade gamer (a young Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame) is electrocuted. It’s here that we meet parolee Bill (Estevez in his typical ‘delinquent with a heart of gold’ vein). The parked trucks then begin to awaken, murdering anybody unfortunate enough to get in their way. Leading the lot is a black Western Star 4800 with an enormous Green Goblin mask fixed to the grille.
The prime movers lay siege to the truck stop, trapping a motley crew of survivors inside, including Bill, shrill newlywed Connie (Smith, voice of Lisa Simpson) and Vietnam veteran Bubba (Hingle).
As more and more 18-wheelers converge on the holed-up humans to extract blood and diesel, Bill and the others decide to fight back. With an arsenal of M72 rocket launchers stowed by Bubba, they attempt to escape the angry vehicles.
Stephen King later admitted to being coked to the gills throughout Maximum Overdrive’s production, labelling it a “moron movie” and even apologising repeatedly to Estevez for the final result. Its premise begins to fall apart under scrutiny – for example, no cars seem to become possessed, just trucks and electrical appliances – and the mystical elements in the film are hastily explained away at the end as being due to UFOs. Some of the dialogue is painful too: “It’s like Neville Chamberlain giving in to the Nazis,” protests a character when appeasing the trucks is suggested.
Despite all of these critiques (plus two Golden Raspberry nominations), this is an absolute hoot of a film. The various punishments dispensed by machines in the opening half are creative, and the trucks feel properly intimidating. Most of the humour sticks– a machine gun-wielding Mule utility vehicle as a Morse code-beeping enforcer is especially entertaining. Sound design is satisfying too, propelled by air-started diesels and the Young brothers’ guitars.
Maximum Overdrive copped a harsh reception on release, but it looks brighter through the rearview mirror. It’s a 90-minute feast of automotive carnage, directed by an off-chops Stephen King. What more do you need to know?
- Western Star 4800
- Autocar A64 B
- 1978 GMC Brigadier
- 1962 Mack B-61
- 1977 Cadillac Coupe DeVille
- 1980 Chevrolet Malibu
- Willys M274
- 1973 Chevrolet Step-Van
- Emilio Estevez
- Pat Hingle
- Laura Harrington
- Yeardley Smith
- Frankie Faison
- Giancarlo Esposito
All manner of cars and trucks are smashed, crashed and blown up as man fights machine. A classic BMX rig is even thrown in for good measure.
A truck stop is assaulted by a gang of vehicles possessed by cosmic forces.
COOL FLICK FACT:
King, an avid AC/DC fan, offered the band a role in the film. They declined.