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July 25, 2010

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol 2: Maximum Overdrive

(Like this poster? Buy one for just $7 here!)

When I think about cheese as it pertains to cinema, Maximum Overdrive is one of the first films that comes to mind. I first encountered famed author Stephen King's directorial debut (which was also the last feature he directed) via the greatest program in the history of television - MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs. Watching the movie, with Joe Bob's commentaries on King's cameo (which couldn't be shown on TV at the time) and the soundtrack by AC/DC, was one of the first times I can remember loving a movie while thinking it was one of the worst things I'd ever seen.

If you don't know the story of Maximum Overdrive, it's one of those perfect cases of a whole lot of talent producing something completely ridiculous. King put together a screenplay based on his short story "Trucks" (later adapted into another movie under that title), got a cast and crew led by '80s star Emilio Estevez together, got his favorite band to do the entire soundtrack, and seemingly had everything under control. Except his own demons, that is. In recent years, King has stated that he "was coked out of his mind" for the entire production, and that he "didn't know what he was doing". That probably explains some of the accidents on set (a stunt gone wrong cost the director of photography an eye!) and might explain the early film scene in which a killer Coke machine takes down a little league coach and his team.
The premise of Maximum Overdrive is simple. For some astronomy-based reason, all battery powered and/or electrical items on earth (plus some other basic mechanical items like gas pumps) develop minds of their own. Vengeful, violent minds to be exact. After a few introductory scenes, the meat and potatoes of the film takes place at the Dixie Boy Truck Stop, where parolee turned short-order cook Bill Robinson (Estevez) is forced to become a hero against a herd of angry semis, led by a black, goblin-faced rig from "Happy Toyz". We know Estevez' character is the hero of the story because a) he's the only person in the movie who looks like an actor, and b) the heroine, Brett (played by Laura Harrington), continually calls him "a hero".

Meanwhile, trucks circle the truck stop. I think that's my biggest "problem" with Maximum Overdrive as an actual film. The first segment of the film is full of great gags, from King's cameo at an ATM Machine to the aforementioned Coke machine massacre (my personal favorite scene) and some hijinks involving Curt and Connie (the latter of whom is played by Yeardley Smith, who went on to voice Lisa Simpson), a couple of newlyweds trekking along the road to doom. But when the movie stops at the truck really does seem to stop.
There are occasional gags that work at the truck stop, like former "Commissioner Gordon" Pat Hingle popping out of the basement with a missile launcher and a waitress screaming "WE MADE YOU!!!!" as if she took acting lessons from Pieces star Lynda Day George. But there's a huge lull as the trucks circle and the rugged crew sits around going "Hey, what we do now Stephen?". The final scenes - including an obnoxious drive through and the menacing goblin truck with glowing eyes - further prove my belief that this (like any other movie I dislike) should have been a road movie, with the characters racing from place to place with the trucks in pursuit. (Yes, I know it's not feasible, but I WANT MORE HORROR ROAD MOVIES, alright?)

But really, by the time the lulls hit in, you know what you're getting from Maximum Overdrive, and should be in a forgiving mindset. I mean, you've already seen future character actor Giancarlo Esposito get fried by a video game and a little kid ride around on his bike while people hang dead from their windows and sprinkler systems taunt him. You've heard Lisa Simpson whine and scream "CURRRTIISSSSSSSS!!!!!" a hundred times, and you should know whether you're in for the rest of flick or not based on your tolerance of that alone.
Maximum Overdrive is a cinematic disaster, but it is generally delicious. If you want ridiculous semi trucks, unnecessary bulldozers taking on children, and a bit of Angus Young's guitar mimicking Bernard Herrman, ain't no better flick to see. Congratulations must be offered to Stephen King, because what once was one of his greatest errs now lives on as a treat for B-movie lovers everywhere.

(BTW, that is 100% John Carpenter's score from Halloween III playing during the Maximum Overdrive trailer! LOVE IT.)


Anonymous said...

Totally love Maximum Overdrive!!
"Honey! C'mon over here, Sugar-buns. This machine just called me an as***le!"
BTW, How do I become one of your Midnight Warriors?
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Shut the door, I love Maximum Overdrive! Definitely a topper on the "so bad it's fucking awesome" list. I usually only catch it when it's on TV so I haven't actually seen the whole thing in a while. This makes me want to watch it again.

P.S. Totally agree on the MonsterVision point, too. I was actually thinking of doing a post on my blog about that show!

The Mike said...

@Pete - The Midnight Warriors is generally something I do monthly where I ask a question/pose a topic and let people send in responses that I post or link responses on their blogs. You can check out posts tagged with Midnight Warriors to get a glimpse of how it's worked. I have a feeling I'll be starting up another round in a couple of weeks.

@Girl - Thanks! One of the great regrets of my young life is not having watched more MonsterVision...and I watched a lot of MonsterVision.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh....I see how Midnight Warriors works...pretty cool! I will definitely participate next time around!
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

See, but if you admitted to other people that you watched MonsterVision, then you were kind of a square because that meant that you spent your Saturday nights watching TV.

I emailed Joe Bob Briggs during the MonsterVision days and he actually wrote me back a couple of times. He even sent me a signed photo! Okay, I have to write something about this now!

: said...

Hell, yeah, I it's a piece of crap. And -- like the rest of you -- I love every second of it.