Along with The Return of the Living Dead in a midnight movie double feature, Maximum Overdrive was my first experience with what I would come to know as the cult classic; a movie so exquisitely unique, and yet still with a universality that resonates with those weird enough to get it.
For me, childhood was all about MonsterVision every Saturday night on TNT. I would stay up late watching Joe Bob Briggs host a slew of old horror movies. He cracked jokes, asked trivia, and provided viewers with the “Drive-In Totals,” a list of what he believed to be the high points of the movie.
In honor of MonsterVision, I would like to begin this movie review with my own list of “Drive-In Totals.”
Within this 80s classic, we have:
- one comet emitting an ominous green light
- an entire soundtrack comprised of AC/DC
- multiple deaths by watermelon
- a gremlin-faced truck of toys
- Emilio Estevez
- death by arcade game
- death by soda machine
- one creepy ice-cream truck with the jingling tune of “King of the Road”
- six rocket launches
- one grenade
- and the death of a bible salesman.
This film was Stephen King’s only attempt at directing, he himself has described it as a “moron movie.” He adapted the screenplay from a short story he wrote entitled, “Trucks”. King has said that working on the film was a “learning experience” while shortly after proclaiming he would not direct again. While the movie may not be what King had intended, it will forever be a cult classic.
The film opens on an image of the Earth as seen from space. The Earth appears to be surrounded by a mysterious green gas. A prologue pops up that introduces the viewer to the strange world of Stephen King, explaining that the Earth will be caught in the tail of a passing comet for the next eight days as of June 19th, 1987. We first realize something is amok as the camera opens on a shot of the 1st Bank of Wilmington in North Carolina. Pedestrians walk about with their daily business as the sign above the bank’s entrance flashes the time and weather, 9:48 and 79°. The temperature fades from the sign and is instead replaced by the word “FUCK,” and then in a flash, the word “YOU.” Just after this, viewers are treated to a cameo by King himself. As a fan, I often find myself playing a game of Where’s Waldo when watching a Stephen King movie as there’s typically a cameo. When King approaches the bank’s ATM and inserts his card, text appears on the screen declaring “YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE.” This leads to one of the most iconic lines of the film as King calls to his off-screen wife, “Honey, come on over here sugar-buns…this machine just called me an asshole.”
Cue AC/DC’s “Who Made Who” as the opening credits roll on a heavily trafficked movable bridge that splits in the middle, rising up on either side and sending traffic screeching backwards down the incline. In all his genius, King places AC/DC’s van on the bridge near a truck full of watermelons. When the bridge rises, maximum damage ensues while watermelons smash into various windshields as well as into those individuals who were not swallowed up by the bridge. At this point, machines have clearly taken over and they’re pretty pissed off at humanity.
Cut to a lone truck on an empty highway. This is no average truck. Mounted on the grill is the huge head of a green goblin with pointed features, a maniacal open-mouthed grin, and red eyes. The side of the truck reads “Happy Toyz – Here comes another load of joy.” We follow the goblin truck to the primary setting of the film, the Dixie Boy truck stop. Here is where we meet our hero, Emilio Estevez a.k.a Bill Robinson. Emilio is a parolee working for truck stop tyrant, Bubba Hendershot. Played by Pat Hingle, Bubba is reminiscent of a real Boss Hogg type character. Basically, we know he’s going to die, and we can’t wait to see it. The truck stop is complete with a restaurant, bar, and game room. In an especially 80s death scene, a man playing video games in the arcade finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time for a machine take-over. The StarCastle game shakes as electric squiggles of light appear to emanate from the arcade machine in some of the most 80s B-movie special effects I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. The scene is intense in sound and color. It overloads your senses in a way similar to the horror of Susperia, and while this film is campy, Stephen King still reveals nuances of suspense.