You know I may be the only movie critic out there that actually likes this movie, but I wear that as more of a badge of honor than a scarlet letter. I don’t get why everyone seems to hate this movie. Seriously folks, you’re watching a killer truck movie called Maximum Overdrive! KILLER TRUCKS. What are you expecting, On the Waterfront for God’s sakes?
Of course, we all know that Maximum Overdrive was Stephen King’s directing debut. We also know that the critics were less than kind to this flick, which is probably why he hasn’t directed another movie since (Come back Steve, we miss you!), but I gotta tell you, Maximum Overdrive is a lot of fun. It’s a down n’ dirty popcorn movie and if you check your brains at the door, you’ll have a blast with it.
I happen to enjoy me a good killer car movie every now and then. King wrote Christine, which was made into the greatest killer car movie of the 80’s by the master, John Carpenter. In Maximum Overdrive, King ups the ante by having all the machines of the world go kill crazy after a mysterious comet passes over the Earth. (This along with Night of the Comet were among the very few entries in the “Comet Paranoia” craze that swept mid 80’s horror films.) Instead of just ONE classic car running down people and turning them into pancakes, there are a thousand killer diesel semis (led by a truck with an oversized Green Goblin hood ornament) running by themselves and running down pedestrians left and right. The trucks eventually seize control of a gas station where the film becomes Night of the Living Trucks and the trucks force the humans to keep their gas tanks filled. Of course, there’s only one man who can save the day…
Look, you’re either the kind of guy who wants to see Emilio Estevez blow up driverless trucks with a bazooka while AC/DC plays constantly in the background or you aren’t. (Originally, King wanted Bruce Springsteen to star. Can you imagine how THAT would’ve turned out?)
As a director, King has a workmanlike style and keeps the lovey dovey bullshit to a minimum. He knows we came to see people getting run over by killer trucks and in that respect, he certainly delivers. He also shows a knack for black humor during the film’s early scenes of carnage. The scene where the Little League coach gets a Coke can to the groin by a demented soda machine and the part where a ballistic bull dozer flattens a kid on a bike is some of the best examples of ingenious death and destruction ever seen in the 80’s. Other scenes of machines on a rampage also have a kick to them like when a bank sign reads “Fuck You”, a drawbridge opens by itself and causes a bunch of cars to tumble into the river, a video game electrocutes it's player, a maniac fuel pump blinds it's attendant with spurting gas, an electric kitchen knife goes berserk, and a killer RC car deep throats a German Sheppard.
I will admit the film does slip gears every now and then whenever someone tries to figure out WHY everything is happening (like the annoying waitress who screams, “WE MADE YOU!” like a zillion times), but I’ll be damned if this movie isn’t consistently entertaining. It may be dumber than a bag of used spark plugs, but it’s one of the few unabashedly fun King outings.
Despite the critical bashing, it was still remade a decade later as a TV movie, Trucks.
Love interest Laura Harrington gets the best line of the movie when she tells a lecherous salesman, “If you touch me again, you’ll have to wipe your ass with a hook when you take a dump!”