Maximum Overdrive (1986)

When asked why he never directed another movie after 1986's Maximum Overdrive, Stephen King simply said "Watch Maximum Overdrive". Most people accept this line as a simple admission of failure from King but I want to watch this movie and let it wash over you like a warm bath and tell me it's not, in fact, the exact opposite. King was dropping the mic with this masterpiece. I think. Or not. But hey, it did heavily feature AC/DC, so whatever. Check out the trailer below and then continue on to our spoiler-filled review to see where we (I, but it's an official A-Z Horror stance) land on this one. 

Reviewed by: Jake

 
 

Plot Synopsis

The movie begins with some on-screen text explaining that the Earth passed through the trail of a comet, causing machines to go berserk and attack humans. Next thing you know, Stephen King himself is on-screen in a cameo where an ATM is calling him an asshole. Fast-forward a little bit and a small town little league team is being attacked by a soda machine and all sorts of other mechanical contraptions. Not even five minutes into the movie, and a little kid gets flattened by a steamroller. One of the kids escapes the carnage on his bike but discovers that everything has gone south in the neighborhood due to the mysterious machine-induced mayhem. 

 We've got the biggest balls of them all...

We've got the biggest balls of them all...

Meanwhile, over at the Dixie Boy truck stop, a group of travelers, patrons and employees are trapped by a group of homicidal semi-trucks. Among them is our apparent hero, Bill, played by Emilio Estevez. While the group is holed up in the truck stop, more and more vehicles begin to arrive, circling like vultures and removing almost any hope of escape. The group learns that the machines are converging on the gas station because they are beginning to run low on fuel. This only makes them more violent and dangerous as they begin ramming into the building to show they are not fucking around. Some of the trapped humans are killed in the process, but eventually, the proprietor, Bubba (Pat Hingle), reveals a massive, military-grade stockpile that has enough firepower to allow the group to fight back. Emilio blows a gap in the circling trucks with Bubba's rocket launcher, allowing time for the survivors to escape towards the docks, where they board a boat to head off towards an island with no machines, where they will ostensibly be safe. It's not until Bill faces off with the leader of the trucks one last time that the group is able to sail to safety.

 
 Emilio's rollin' thunder... He's pourin' rain...

Emilio's rollin' thunder... He's pourin' rain...

 

What the fuck did I just describe? This movie is set to AC/DC. Let's just talk about that. 


What the Movie Does Right

AC/DC. This movie does AC/DC, which is one of the most correct things a movie could possibly do. In fact, Stephen King wanted AC/DC for this movie so hard that he approached them about being in the film. That obviously didn't happen but the silver lining there is that they wrote multiple full-fledged songs and released an album called "Who Made Who" that is effectively the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack. Like pretty much any AC/DC album, it kicks ass. 

 
 

Seriously, just set any movie to an AC/DC soundtrack and it will be a better film. It's not a hard concept, and for that I love this film. 

Another glorious thing about Maximum Overdrive is its unique, machine-driven mayhem. We joked on the podcast about how The Happening is pretty much the same film but with plants replacing the machines. While that's obviously highly reductive and we would never do such a thing because we are professionals, I will say that I highly prefer Emilio Estevez blowing up semi-trucks that look like the Green Goblin than Mark Wahlberg running from the breeze... This is all to say that Maximum Overdrive is largely the perfect summer movie, and an incredible watch with company and a healthy supply of alcohol. It's a movie that is so bad it's good, and that's ok. What do you really want during the summer, anyway? Surely you don't want a cerebral drama. SURELY. 


What the Movie Does Wrong

I'm having a hard time finding the right things to put in this category because, considering what I just wrote, a lot of the things that would traditionally make a movie "bad" are actually a boon for this film in all of its "good bad film" glory. There's plenty of shit on display here, but almost all of it creates a stew that is enjoyable. I mean, look at this. It's objectively garbage, but how can you not enjoy that?

 Green smog's flashin' across the sky... You're only young, but you're gonna die...

Green smog's flashin' across the sky... You're only young, but you're gonna die...

Something the movie actually does wrong is grossly under-use Emilio Estevez. It's a strange film when you think of it with this in mind. His character is referred to throughout as a "hero" but e really doesn't have a ton of screen time until the final third, and he certainly doesn't do anything heroic until well after he's assumed that title. Word on the reason for this is that King wanted to cast fuckin' Bruce Springsteen as his male lead but the producers would not allow it, resulting in lost interest in the project and what I can only assume was some drama on the set, most likely coming from a coked-out-of-his-gourd King. 

Speaking of cocaine being a hell of a drug, King apparently couldn't figure out what he wanted the reason for the machines going haywire to be. As mentioned, the movie begins by mentioning the Earth passed through the trail of a meteor. It ends with a similar explanatory card, but this time it mentions UFO. What?

And in the spirit of keeping this thing mercifully short, one final thing I'll comment on in this section is the unmitigated, ear-piercing annoyance of two of the female characters in this film. Yeardley Smith AKA Lisa Simpson plays an incredibly annoying newlywed, Connie, and everytime she opens her mouth you want to run for cover. Not to be outdone, however, the Dixie Boy diner waitress, Wanda Jane (Ellen McElduff) is as bad as it gets. Her overacting is legendary. I actually kind of like it because, again, the spirit of the movie demands it, but holy shit, listen to this:

 
 

Ratings (1-10)

Story: 2 - The thing keeping this mess from being a 1 is that it's actually fairly unique. That being said, this is a movie that actively confuses itself, beginning with an explanation of the craziness as being Earth passing through the trail of a meteor and ending with something about a UFO in conjunction with said meteor. Classic diversion, aliens...

World-Building / Immersion: 4 - There's just enough going on here in terms of crazy shit on screen to keep you from losing interest. The AC/DC obviously helps as well, but this is basically a movie with no world that does not demand your attention for enjoyment of the film. 

Scare-Factor: 2 - This is more of a dark comedy than a horror film, but those who came before us accepted it and I am happy to carry the banner forward. That being said, it's not scary. 

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - AC/DC. Also exploding semi-trucks. 

Overall: 7 - In perhaps the best example of synergy yet to grace the ratings section of our reviews, this is a movie that is so much more than the sum of its parts. It's a good bad movie, and it is a hell of an enjoyable experience. Pop this on some summer night with friends, pizza and plenty of booze and you will have a blast. Guaranteed. And crank it up. Rock & Roll ain't noise pollution.