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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Film Review: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

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When a mysterious comet passes close to Earth, machines everywhere suddenly take on murderous minds of their own in this film directed by horror mastermind Stephen King. Soon, video games, cash machines, drawbridges and steamrollers all go on a global psychotic killing spree. But when the Dixie Boy Truck Stop is held hostage by a mob of homicidal 18-wheelers, human vengeance goes into overdrive. Who will survive the final showdown?


Written by: Stephen King
Directed by: Stephen King
Based on a short story by: Stephen King
Starring: Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney, Holter Graham, Ellen McElduff, Yeardley Smith and Emilio Estevez

Hell-o, everyone. Greetings from The Dixie Boy Truck Stop of North Carolina. Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen because “Jesus has come and he is pissed.” No one is safe as the tail of a comet passes over the Earth, engulfing the planet in green smog. While under the comet’s seven day reign ATM machines and bank teller signs, along with burger drive-through signs verbally taunt the human race. The worst has yet to come… Draw Bridges, house hold appliances, sharp electric kitchen objects, remote control cars, video arcade games, gas pumps, soda machines, bulldozers, steamrollers, airplanes, ice cream trucks, lawn mowers, military vehicles and most and worst of all, eighteen wheeler mac trucks… “HELL’S BELLS.” That’s right, mother truckers, it’s Maximum Overdrive. The master of Horror, Stephen King’s first film to ever direct. As he states in the preview… He just wanted to see Stephen King done right, and if you’re going to do something right… You have to do it yourself.”… The words of a (and THE) King. He then goes on to state… HE IS GOING TO SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU (as Mr. King points directly at us, the viewers. This film asks the question burning question… “who made who?” as one waitress named Wanda answers with her last few breaths… “we made you! You pa-yuky thangs! We… made… you!!!!”

This film has been the victim of many mixed feelings among reviewers, even the King, himself. Some even claim that the film Trucks is Maximum Overdrive part 2 or a re-make. This in fact is pure fiction. It is not true in the least… re-make or sequel. Stephen King took the original idea from his short story Trucks (from the Night Shift anthology, an awesome read I might add) and expanded it to everything ran off of electricity in general. Later, someone else came along and did an adaptation for the original short story of Trucks. In no way, shape or form are the two films associated with each other, besides that one was based off of the original idea of the other by the Author/ Screenplay Writer/ Director. The Master of the macabre… The King. Yes, you will read plenty of literate praise by me but face it, he deserves every bit. He has been around for decades and his stories will continue to be. This, in my opinion, is one of my personal favorites.

Just the idea in itself. As most of his stories are high on a fiction level (as with this one in particular), his characters are always believable. Yet, even a story of such high Fictional influence such as this could very well come true if you really think about it. A comet from space passes over the earth and somehow infects the electricity and wired objects around the world. Some are sharp and deadly, some are armored with weapons (built by the government) and some are just dangerously enormous in size and weight that can travel at a high amount of speed and crush anything in it’s path. These inanimate objects have already actually killed many in reality around the world in the hands of humans. Think if they thought for themselves. As Fictional as it may seem, this could very well happen, who knows. That in itself, is something to think about… What if…

Stephen said that working with the machines during filming was harder than working with any of the human actors. Some would not start when they were supposed to and this was a minor problem. The trucks to me, put on a brilliant performance themselves. The MPAA stamped and X rating on the film when it came back because of the infamously painful “steamroller” scene, which was supposed to show the crushed remains of the teenage victim. I hope to find that restored print someday. Stephen had no choice but to remove it.

The acting is awesome throughout for the most part. The Martian/ Estevez team is no stranger to Stephen King adaptations. The only non participant in the tribe is the “Sheen” section. Emilio’s father, Martian Sheen also starred in Firestarter and The Dead Zone. Esteves’ character is pretty much the hero throughout the film. He is even claimed to be by the “road twitch” with the crush on him. Pat Hingle 9who also starred in Stephen King’s own made for television version of The Shining) did a brilliant job of playing the public bastard number one throughout his life in the film. He took no sh*t and dealt orders with the greatest of menace. Christopher Murney plays the roll of a contradicting bible salesman peddling the power of prayer and preying on the ass of younger women.

He is indeed a sick character. Ellen McElduff (who also starred in an early episode of Tales From the Darkside) does a cute and brilliant job as the southern belle in distress. I can’t hear her repeat “”Is he dayead?” or “I think their dayead…” or “Curtis?! H’ are you dayead?!” enough times. Laura Harrington ( of The Devil’s Advocate, Dead Air and The Dark End of the Street) did a deliciously wonderful job as the sexy girl hitching her way to Florida with a straight razor and a perverted bible salesman. The film opens with a cameo by the King himself, in which he utters that famous opening line…”Honey! Come on over here, Sugarbuns… This machine just called me an Asshole.” After the electronic money spitter repeats itself enough times to cover the screen, the soundtrack that accompanies the entire film (provided by none other than one of King’s favorite bands, AC/DC) kicks in to start the world dominant chaos.

Who Made Who was released especially for this movie, along with a soundtrack with previous recordings. Hell’s Bells, Sink the Pink, DDT, You Shook Me All Night Long, Ride On and For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) thunderously jam throughout the duration of this maximum carnage and maximum chaos, but most (and best of all…) maximum King feature.

The Gore Score is at a brutal ten and should have been thirteen plus if it wasn’t for the cutting board. There are plenty scenes of human roadkill, diesel gushing in eyes, brutal smacks to the head (and other various parts of the human anatomy) with loaded soda cans (in a relentless soda machine pegging off of most of a childrens’ baseball team and their coach), an electric kitchen knife attack, a dead dog by remote control car, gaping and rapid bullet hits and a North Carolina drawbridge massacre. There is also an evil drive-through speaker that warns “Humans here” repeatedly in a half robotic and half demonic voice.

Over all, this is absolutely a film to check out. It is pure King as his best. I can’t complain of a single aspect of this morbid joyride of electrically induced carnage. With that being said, I highly recommend this film of fully powered plowing and human race slaughtering machinery… and give this film, Maximum Overdrive, FOUR (FULLY SELF POWERED AND PROPELLED) HORNS UP.

Until next time, this was Jay… Keep one foot in the grave, one fist in the guts and your eyes out for gore… Later.

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