Our review of Maximum Overdrive (Fox Release), published October 22nd, 2004, is also available.
Who made who?
By the time 1986 rolled around, many a movie had been made from Stephen King's books. Brian DePalma had directed Carrie, and the dismal Children Of The Corn had been produced. King was a hot commodity in Hollywood, and everyone wanted to make the master of terror's stories into feature length films. Adopting the "if you want something done right…" attitude, King put down his pen and picked up a camera to direct his first, and last, movie, Maximum Overdrive. A horror tale about what happens when machines, a comet, and lots of explosives come together, Maximum Overdrive starred Emilio Estevez (Repo Man, Wisdom), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon from the Batman films), and the group AC/DC scoring the whole mess. Anchor Bay presents Maximum Overdrive for minimum terror!
Facts of the Case
Maximum Overdrive is the Andretti family's worst nightmare. I imagine they fled the theater in terror, prophesizing this as a sign of the apocalypse. On the other hand, Unabomber and overall enemy of technology Ted Kaczynski probably shrugged his shoulders, smirking and grumbling to all in earshot, "See, I told you so."
Maximum Overdrive gives us some opening titles about a rogue comet that's passing by earth. For the eight days it's zooming by us, we're caught in its tail (as shown by some nice Green River-looking mist swirling around the planet). The very first face we see is a close-up of King himself, yelling to his wife that the ATM machine just called him an "asshole." Twisted irony reveals this to be the most frightening scene in the whole film.
From there we start to see machines and motors running themselves. Drawbridges raise on their own, soda machines attack thirsty consumers, and electric carving knives start up with horrific results. "Who made who" indeed. Only Stephen King could find terror in everyday household appliances. There's even a scene where a giant watermelon is menacingly thrust at an innocent bystander. When killer produce is hurled at the audience, it can mean only one thing: the pandemonium has begun!
Meanwhile, a group of hicks (led by Estevez) has been surrounded by killer trucks and machines at a local truck stop. The automobiles are possessed by an alien force that wants only one thing: a good waxing. Or something like that. Or maybe they just want to run everyone down and turn them into human pancakes. Does it matter? For the love of God, they're evil! They must be destroyed! They must be stopped! They must…wait, what if we just wait and let 'em run outta gas?
Old Steve doesn't let us off that easy, and neither does Maximum Overdrive.
Note to Stephen King:
I'm sure that Stephen King was really excited just before he started directing this turkey. "Praise be," I suppose he crowed, "I'm gonna get to make a real Hollywood movie!" It's a good thing King was already a best selling horror author or he'd have been in big trouble.
Actually, it's not really King's directing that bogs down this film (though it doesn't help). He's apt enough as a director. What really runs Maximum Overdrive into the ground is the story. I hate to say it, Steve, but trucks driving themselves just aren't scary. Okay, maybe it is, but when you throw in a lot of overacting, some ho-hum effects, and Emilio Estevez into the mix, well…it just ain't gelling.
But I digress. There are some good things about Maximum Overdrive. I especially enjoyed the opening scene where a drawbridge opens itself, causing a mass domino effect with all the cars. There's also a funny sequence (and if anyone tells you it's scary, they're high on white-out) where a soda machine takes out a little league coach by shooting coke cans into his crotch. What a way to finish off your final moments on earth. After that treat, a little leaguer is bumped off by a runaway steamroller.
Pat Hingle hams it up with his portrayal of a yahoo truck stop manager, a weenie you know will get terminated faster than a TV critic giving a bad review of The Sopranos. Hingle struts around the truck stop, chewing his cigar while acting like a second rate Tom Arnold.
Who among you can forget the Goblin truck? This is probably the most recognizable feature from this film, and the best acting you'll see though out its 98 minute running time. The main baddie is a toy truck with a very large face on the front that looks a lot like The Green Goblin from old "Spiderman" comics (hmmm…I smell a lawsuit). If there were anything creepy or scary about this film (and believe me, there isn't), the Goblin truck would be it. But it's not, so let's move on.
Finally, there's the group AC/DC, whom King hired to score his picture. Usually you'd never hear me say kind words about AC/DC. Whoever the lead singer is, I find his voice to be the equivalent of listening to my grandfather chew aluminum foil (umm…it's a long story). For Maximum Overdrive, their songs actually work. Maybe it's because of the whole heavy metal/HEAVY metals combo, I'm not sure. In any case, the songs and score prove to work well against the backdrop of cars and killing.
Maximum Overdrive is presented in 2.45:1 anamorphic widescreen. For a long time horror fans have been forced to watch this film in a cruddy pan and scan version that cropped out much of the picture. Finally Anchor Bay has released a widescreen version that looks excellent. Colors were generally bright and lush with blacks being very solid. There was only the slightest bit of compression, and a few out of focus shots, but nothing major. A very well done job by the boys of Anchor Bay.
Audio is a new remix of the original 2.0 soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1. Though it's nice to have a 5.1 remix, the sound is not as fantastic or impressive as I'd thought it would be. Due to how old the movie is, the track sounded somewhat distorted when cranked up, and the mix was not as even as I'd liked. The 5.1 track is certainly better than the 2.0 track (also included on the disc), but as far as remixes go, this is relatively weak. Dialogue was somewhat clear with some hiss, and the AC/DC score is not as aggressive as it could be. Anchor Bay has done the best they could do, and it's not a lot.
Extra features are slim to none, but the one supplement that we do get ranks higher on the entertainment scale than the film itself. Back when Maximum Overdrive was being promoted, the studio apparently thought it would be fun to have King introduce the trailer to the unsuspecting audience. I'm pretty sure that whomever the executive was that came up with this idea got fired after this trailer was shown to the boss. Mr. King may be a master at writing books about supernatural terror and unparalleled evil, but have him say more than two words and he sounds like a second rate version of Bill Gates. The trailer alone is worth the price you'll pay rent this film. Also included is long bio about King, including some quotes about his experience making Maximum Overdrive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Maximum Overdrive is really a very silly movie. For this reviewer's tastes there was nary a scare to be found, which was funny as it was directed by the "master of terror" himself. Also, how exactly does one become that "master of terror"? Was there an opening somewhere that I wasn't aware of? Maybe there was a want ad that I missed somewhere. Either way, Maximum Overdrive is very low on the fright meter. I'm sure that if I was standing in the middle of a freeway and saw a semi barreling towards me at a zillion miles an hour I might be a tad apprehensive (i.e., peeing my pants like a terrified six year old), but show it on screen and it's not very effective. As much as AC/DC does a fine job with the music, it's hard to have any tension when a rock band that wears Scottish outfits is yelling in the background.
The acting is generally atrocious, especially Yeardly Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons), who plays a shrieking newlywed bride. I find it hard to believe that anyone would marry her, as all she accomplishes throughout the film is high pitched screeching. If the husband were smart, he'd have offered her up to the Truck Gods as a sacrifice ("Oh Holy Ones, we give you this annoying woman to stick in your radiator"). The rest of the cast just overacts, mumbling and bumbling their way through the film. There's even the typical small town Flo-like sassy waitress who constantly smacks her gum. It's like a demented episode of Alice.
Maximum Overdrive is fun enough for a single viewing, but I can't really recommend this as a purchase if you haven't rented it first. The transfer is very good by Anchor Bay and the audio mix is mediocre. Apparently there was supposed to be an Elite version of this that was to include a commentary track by King, but apparently that never came to pass. This can still be mindless fun if you don't take it too seriously. Years later there was another version of this film made under the name Trucks. Never saw it, can't comment on it.
The jury is still out, but I think it's leaning towards guilty. Anchor Bay is acquitted of all charges for bringing Steve's first and only directing attempt to DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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