THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Directed by Stephen King
“It perfectly captures the 1980s as it finds that elusive balance between gore, cheese, and horror.”
Some people bitch that Stephen King has never got his due film-wise. Sure, he’s had Andy Dufresne’s Redemption, The Mist, The Green Mile, and Stand By Me among others. All solid movies and solid adaptations. Yet when it comes to horror, his bread and butter work, the list gets as thin as John Waters’ mustache (minus the always awesome Misery). In the Mouth of Madness might be the best true Stephen King movie ever produced even though he had nothing to do with it. IMDB claims that he’s got over 140 writing credits, which means his batting percentage sucks.
One of those few movies that worked is Maximum Overdrive, which is one of the best B movies ever made. It perfectly captures the 1980s as it finds that elusive balance between gore, cheese, and horror. That’s something that isn’t easy to do. It’s not perfect (no where close), but it damn it, it at least succeeds in creating a worthwhile movie to dig. More than that, it’s the one movie no one can bitch about getting screwed up by the Hollywood system as it’s the truest adaptation of any of King’s work. Why? Because King did it himself. It’s his movie, directed and written by, for better or worse, meaning this was his vision, his grand and elaborate dream of cinema magic coated in blood! It’s what he wanted. At least at the time. Do a little research and King notes that this isn’t exactly his Citizen Kane. His ego was sky high and perhaps he sampled a little too much coke.
However, you can’t think about what he was thinking or wasn’t at the time. We only have the movie. And though it’s dumb and messy, it works well like that. It plays like a drug-fueled, sloppy orgy of violence and chaos, which usually creates an indication that the film blows like Linda Lovelace. However, being this was the 1980s, I’d say it gives the movie character. It gives it an odd vibe that could never been recaptured if they tried. With that said, the characters here aren’t exactly revolutionary. Everyone plays a certain stereotype except for the villain, who isn’t much of a character. Because the Hans Gruber of Maximum Overdrive is a semi-truck, which is a little like Transformers, minus the talking, racially stereotypical robot. Instead, we get a silent badass killer truck with the Green Goblin’s face glued to it. I don’t know how, but it works.
Speaking of character, this is the second straight column to feature an Emilio Estevez movie. Honestly, that’s not on purpose, but perhaps subconsciously this is an elaborate Internet scam to help revive his career. Well, probably not, but while last time Estevez was at fault for Freejack’s failing, Maximum Overdrive shows his strengths and why someone give him Freejack. He can carry a movie. He’s damn good here as the punk cook who’s got some hero buried in him. Essentially, he’s playing the same role as in Repo Man, only less punky. For whatever reason, he worked well as the young rebellious thug who hated everything about life. He never looked like a dude who could kick someone’s ass, but that’s why he’s an actor. He doesn’t have to.
I’d go through and analyze the plot, but what’s the point. It just sounds silly as mysteriously, earth’s manufactured material turns on its creator, causing fear and panic to run wild as everything from cars, to lawn mowers, to vending machines starts killing folks. The world quickly crumbles, making this the goofiest apocalyptic movie ever. However, that’s what I love about it. I love the fact that King never holds back and makes this a grimy, dirty flick. I love the level of gore here, and the fact that even though we sort of care about the characters, the tone of it all means no cares who lives or dies. Plus, how could anyone care when AC/DC provides the soundtrack. When a dude in a schoolboy suit gives a music score, it kinda indicates that you sit back, shut up, and watch some truck kill a lot folks. Don’t ask dumb questions, just know it’s ok to laugh when people get dead.