Over his illustrious career, Stephen King has written over 60 novels. Hollywood has adapted many of these books into movies, mini-series, and television shows. To date, however, King has only directed one movie himself. But that one movie was the absolutely bonkers, Maximum Overdrive. Think Terminator, except about a quarter of the IQ points. If you grew up in the 1980’s, there’s a good chance you watched Maximum Overdrive at a sleep-over. Odds are pretty good that you won’t find this King movie on anyone’s list of the best adaptations of his work. But is Maximum Overdrive ‘so bad, it’s good’?
As a mysterious comet catches the Earth in its tail for several days, all the planet’s machines suddenly come to life. And they plan to wipe out humanity. In a small town in North Carolina, a handful of survivors barricade themselves in gas station. Surrounded by a growing army of circling trucks, the survivors fight to survive until the comet passes.
Maximum Overdrive Operates Best at Maximum Stupidity
Let’s get one thing out of the way – Maximum Overdrive is a really stupid movie. Absolutely nothing about the movie’s plot makes logical sense. When an electric knife not only turns itself on, but actually ‘jumps’ at its victim, you know exactly what kind of movie you’re watching. The less said about the army Jeep that somehow operates its mounted machine gun, the better. Yet despite massive leaps of logic, Maximum Overdrive’s first 30 minutes or so border on inspired lunacy. How can you beat a lawnmower chasing a boy down a deserted suburban street? With a pop machine that kills by launching pop cans, that’s how.
How can you beat a lawnmower chasing a boy down a deserted suburban street? With a pop machine that kills by launching pop cans, that’ show.
Not quite as gory as some of its 80’s counterparts, Maximum Overdrive still has its moments. Younger horror fans may even be surprised by where King’s willing to go in his directorial debut. A young baseball player, a steamroller, and an exploding head manages to be gross and just a little bit funny at the same time. Where Maximum Drive falters a bit is in its second half. King front-loads his movie and inevitably lets things drag. This is the kind of movie that needs to keep things chugging along ‘lest audiences start to think too much about it. Once the climax arrives, Maximum Overdrive runs out of gas. It’s abrupt, anti-climatic, and disappointing given the movie’s opening.
And Starring … AC/DC
Outside of Emilio Estevez, Maximum Overdrive features a handful of veteran character actors and unknowns. And Poor Emilio. After the highs of Repo Man and The Breakfast Club, Estevez makes an adequate hero, though he often looks bored. Of course, we know Estevez is the hero because other characters occasionally remind us. Maximum Overdrive overloads on exposition and some gems of dialogue. Among some of the better quotes, Laura Harrington – playing the feisty love interest – informs us that Emilio makes “love like a hero”. Batman alum, Pat Hingle, repeatedly refers to everyone as ‘Bubba’. Bad movie lovers will find the dialogue delightfully cheesy.
As a bonus, Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, proves she’s just as annoying onscreen as she is voice-acting.
Of course, King himself makes a brief, but humorous, cameo. Though AC/DC isn’t actually in the movie, they’re present in spirit. The Aussie rockers provided the entire soundtrack, including the title track. On the one hand, AC/DC’s raunch party rock doesn’t seem like the obvious first choice for a horror movie. Still it was the 1980’s and AC/DC provides the perfect backdrop for King’s silly ‘cheesefest’. Besides, ‘Who Made Who’ was one of the band’s better songs. And King even works the song title into a riotous piece of hammy dialogue. you can’t beat that. As a bonus, Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, proves she’s just as annoying onscreen as she is voice-acting.
Maximum Overdrive a ‘Sleepover’ B-Movie Classic
Most of Maximum Overdrive works at the level of a 12-year-old’s imagination. It’s about what looks ‘cool’, rather than what makes sense. Does it make sense that the movie’s main villain, the ‘Happy Toyz’ truck, has a giant goblin face covering its grill? Not really. But it looks cool. Characters either stand still or run in a straight line when in danger. Nothing makes sense, but it’s illogical in B-movie, entertaining fashion. If you had to make a bad movie, this is mostly how you do it. Had King ramped things up at the end, Maximum Overdrive would be a cult classic. And maybe it’s not as dumb as it appears. After all, you could argue that the movie foresaw the potential horror of smart home technology.