Awfully Good: Maximum Overdrive

Early word is that the new IT remake is one of the better Stephen King adaptations. So of course we're going to take a look back at one of the worst...

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Director: Stephen King
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington

A mysterious comet flying close to Earth causes all machines on the planet to come alive and turn on their human owners.

There's been no shortage of bad films based on Stephen King's work. From costly Hollywood disasters like DREAMCATCHER to low budget schlock like GRAVEYARD SHIFT and LAWNMOWER MAN to an unending supply of disappointing TV shows and miniseries. (Who else was traumatized by the terrible CGI in THE LANGOLIERS?) Most of these failures fell on the shoulders of the filmmakers rather than the author. However, considering he conceived, wrote, directed and even cameos in it, King has no one to blame for MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE but himself and a Tony Montana-sized pile of cocaine. No joke. Here's what King has to say about his directorial debut:

"The problem with that film is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn't know what I was doing."

And that makes complete sense once you watch the movie.

Windows 8 in a nutshell.

There's actually a lot of potential in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. The plot, in which a group of disparate people are stranded at a truck stop while the world's machines gain sentience and turn against them, is a great Twilight Zone-esque premise. And King does occasionally use it to gruesome effect, when electric knives begin cutting their owners, soda machines shoot cans through people's heads, steamrollers run over nearby children, and an arcade game electrocutes a young Gus Fring. However, the main mechanical antagonists are an army of eighteen-wheelers that terrorize the Dixie Boy Truck Stop, fittingly led by Spider-Man's nemesis, the iconic Green Goblin truck. The idea of people being held hostage by large vehicles may sound silly, but King goes all in. By the time the trucks start executing people via machine gun in order to get their diesel refueled, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE may have won you over.

It's as if Stephen King knew that something would someday happen to Gus Fring's face.

All that mayhem may be fun, but the film's characters (and their subsequent actors) are painfully, painfully bad. Emilio Estevez makes the bold choice to go "Rebel Without A Spark Plug," saying every line with a slow raspy drawl that comes across more "mentally deficient" than it does "James Dean." His relationship with Laura Harrington is one of cinema's most bizarre love stories: The two meet and immediately are in love, with her dubbing him "the hero" for no reason and falling in to bed together. (I had to rewind to make sure I didn't accidentally skip three or four scenes of their courtship.) There's also a newlywed woman (played by Lisa Simpson, Yeardley Smith) who's so annoying you'll be rooting for the killer trucks. Pretty much the only actor who comes across okay is future Commissioner Gordon Pat Hingle as a the slimy owner of the truck stop, but only because his southern accent is so indecipherable you can't even understand what he's saying.

Green Goblin finally gets revenge on the costume designer who made the Power Rangers suit from SPIDER-MAN.

The worst part about MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE though is the campy tone, which is jarring both for the subject matter and for how completely different it is than anything else King has ever done. I don't know if it was all the drugs, but it seems like King wasn't sure if he wanted to make a satire, a thriller or a horror movie, and directed different scenes to be each. Some parts, such as a child's head exploding via construction equipment, are straight up horrific, while Giancarlo Esposito getting fried by Pac Man is shot like it belongs in a comedy. And then there's the crucial scene where Emilio Estevez interrogates someone about a much-needed stockpile of weapons, which for some reason is shot in a bathroom where the other character is taking a very loud, very realistic-sounding dump while talking to Estevez. (Not sure what genre King was going for there.) And for an author who's a pro when it comes to story structure, the film is sorely lacking in a real climax or exciting conclusion. All the characters just decide to leave via an underground tunnel they knew about the entire time. The end.

"So then Harry tells Peter that he needs Spider-Man's magic blood to cure his… No, I'm serious. Stop laughing."

Luckily, King does have one ace up his sleeve, something so great that I still recommend MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE to this day. And that is the soundtrack/score by AC/DC. The band didn't just contribute a few songs to the soundtrack. Their entire album "Who Made Who" is the soundtrack to MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE and it really makes all the difference. This movie may be a narcotics-fueled dumpster fire that Stephen King still regrets to this day, but if you have to watch a truck mow down innocent people, at least you get to hear Angus Young shredding guitar while everyone dies.

This is the correct response to any score NOT composed by AC/DC.

"Come here, sugar buns. This machine just called me an asshole!" An acting tour-de-force from Emilio Estevez, King himself and others.

The best mayhem and kills via machine.

None, but I'm sure Emilio Estevez pumping trucks full of hot fuel will do it for someone.

Take the highway to hell! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:
  • A machine kills someone
  • You can't understand Bubba
  • Yeardley Smith is annoying
Double shot if:
  • Someone says "We made you!"

Thanks to Scot and Raquin for suggesting this week's movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Extra Tidbit: An accident on set with one of the remote-controlled lawnmowers ended up partially blinding director of photography Armando Nannuzzi. He sued for $18 million.
Source: JoBlo.com



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