Peter’s Retro Movie Reviews: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

September 30, 2011

Maximum Overdrive movie posterby Peter Nielsen

This week marks the end of my trucker-themed reviews and the start of the horror theme that will last all through October and since Maximum Overdrive has trucks in it and is written and directed by Stephen King, I thought it would be appropriate as a sort of “lead-in” to the October Spooky Flix Fest. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far and haven’t been put off too much by this sub-genre.

There are, of course, lots more to be explored and I’ll give you a few examples before we move on with our main feature of the week. There’s the arm-wrestling vehicle Over the Top starring Sylvester Stallone, the post-apocalyptic action-thriller Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior with Mel Gibson and also a thriller from 1940 called They Drive By Night co-starring Humphrey Bogart, just to name a few. And on that note it’s time to lean back and enjoy the wondrous and strange world known as the mind of Mr. Stephen King…

The movie opens on a shot of the Earth surrounded by a green mist and we get this little build-up:

“On June 19th 1987, at 9:47 AM EST, the Earth passed into the extraordinarily diffuse tail of Rhea-M, a rogue comet. According to astronomical calculations, the planet would remain in the tail of the comet for the next eight days, five hours, twenty-nine minutes and twenty-three seconds.”

This machine just called me an ass-hole!

This machine just called me an ass-hole!

We then cut to a shot outside a bank at an ATM-machine where a man is trying to make a withdrawal. The man is Stephen King himself, making a small appearance and after getting insulted by the machine, he calls over his shoulder to his wife: “Honey! Come over here sugar-buns. This machine just called me an ass-hole!” And then the soundtrack by AC/DC kicks in! We’re barely five minutes into the damned thing and I’m loving it already!

Apparently the comet is making machines come “alive” and act on their own. The lights at rail-road crossings go on and off at will, draw-bridges opens without warning, lawn-movers goes on killing sprees and an ice-cream truck drives around killing people.

A funny little detail about the ice-cream truck is that the melody it’s playing whilst driving around, is “King of the Road” by the country singer Roger Miller. It’s not all too obvious but it’s there. I’m sorry, but it just appeals to the twisted part of my mind that there’s an ice-cream truck driving around with delusions of grandeur.

See, now you went and made it mad...

See, now you went and made it mad…

Ok, so let’s go to the “Dixie Boy Truck Stop” and meet some of our main characters. Emilio Estevez from Breakfast Club, Stakeout and Young Guns 1 & 2 plays a young man who’s had some trouble with the law in the past and is now doing community service, I guess, by working at the truck stop. He’s basically a good guy who’s just made some stupid choices.

His name is Bill and he’s getting kind of a raw deal by the owner Mr. Hendershot, who is a bonafide douche-bag! He cares nothing for his employees other than the amount of work he can squeeze out of them. Pat Hingle (Batman 1-4, The Gauntlet, Falcon & the Snowman) plays this character brilliantly. You just want to smack him hard over the head sometimes. Not that it would help much though…

Nope... they're not linedancing!

Nope… they’re not linedancing!

The hitchhiker Brett arrives together with the travelling salesman Camp Loman. Brett has caught a ride with Mr. Loman who is coming on to her like a bull in heat. Her response is: “If you don’t get your hand off my leg, you’re going to be wiping your ass with a hook the next time you take a dump!”

A tough little lady!

She’s played by Laura Harrington (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Devil’s Advocate). As I was re-watching Maximum Overdrive the other night, I was looking at Camp Loman, wondering why I recognized him, and then it dawned on me… The Last Dragon… He was Eddie Arkadian in The Last Dragon. It’s Christopher Murney playing yet another memorable character. He’s a slime-ball, that’s for sure, but I can’t help liking him none the less…

Also joining the party are the newly-weds Curtis and Connie, respectively played by John Short and Yeardley Smith. If you think you recognize her name, well, you probably do, but I suspect not for her roles in The Legend of Billie Jean or As Good As It Gets, but rather as the voice of Lisa Simpson.

King of the Road

King of the Road

So… this is our main cast! All except for one! The truck! The iconic Green Goblin-truck! The leader of the trucks! As ridiculous as the idea of sticking a giant head on the front of a truck is, it’s still a stroke of genius, cuz let’s be honest here… If you had that bearing down on you, wouldn’t you be terrified? I sure would! Not to mention that behind that grinning green face is a couple of tons worth of good ol’ truck just waiting to squish you like a grape.

Together with numerous other rigs, it keeps circling the truck stop and thus keeping the people trapped inside. It’s kind of mind-grating the way they just relentlessly keep circling… never stopping, never tiring! Unless, as Bill points out, they run out of fuel, of course. Yeah, right! As if the machines hadn’t thought of that. They want the humans to fill them up! Couldn’t they just refuse, I hear you say? Well, it’s kind of hard and also stupid to refuse when they’re using a bulldozer and a small armed vehicle as a means of persuasion.  Man the pumps everyone!!

Maximum Overdrive is based on one of Mr. King’s short stories called “Trucks” from the collection “The Night Shift”. I’ve read and enjoyed that one too, but seem to remember it being a lot darker than the movie adaptation. In 2000 another adaptation was made simply named Trucks, but although it was ok, I still liked Maximum Overdrive way better. It’s the kind of movie where you park your brain in neutral and enjoy the hell out of it! Oh… and bring popcorn!

So, my friends, on that blare on the horn I’ll end my trucker-movie theme. If you want, you can join me next week when I’ll be talking about a little ghost story from 1988 called… Nah, I’m not telling! You’ll just have to wait and see!

Until next time…

Peter Nielsen Bio

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