Project Shanks Monday Night Movie: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

By John Baggett
PSDC Movie Dude

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written a Monday Night Movie article and after a long absence I decided it was time to resurrect this series. If you don’t remember this series, sometimes I would write about a really good new movie that was off the radar, or something personal to me, or sometimes it was something just ridiculous and stupid. For this triumphant return, I’ve clearly chosen the latter.

So, what do you get when you combine a director’s chair, an incredibly coked up Stephen King, and a shitload of AC/DC? You get Maximum Overdrive!

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The movie opens in OUTER SPACE (just imagine I did that in an epic, echoey voice). We get an exposition dump that the Earth has passed through the tail of a comet. The tail of said comet gives off plot energy that causes things to come alive, like vehicles, vending machines, lawn mowers, electric knives. The story takes place in somehow not Castle Rock, Maine, but rather in Wilmington, North Carolina. We see inanimate objects come to life, including an ATM which calls the man using it, played by Stephen King, an asshole, which is something critics would do to him after this movie opened.

Most of the action of the film takes place at a truck stop run by Commissioner Gordon…I mean, Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle). Hendershot is laying out his demands for his new short order cook, Bill (Emilio Estevez), a college educated recent parolee in need of employment, that he is to work nine hours but only clock in for eight. When Bill protests, Bubba reminds him that since he is on parole, he owns Bill’s ass and if he doesn’t bend to his will, he can try to send him back in dutch with the state of North Carolina.

In other parts of town, things are a real horror show. A baseball game becomes deadly thanks to a soda machine turning into a cannon, killing the coach of one of the teams, and maintenance equipment starts running down other players. Luckily, young Deke Keller (Holter Graham), is able to get out alive and as he bicycles through his neighborhood, seemingly stalked by a blood covered lawnmower and a driverless ice cream truck, he decides to head to the truck stop where his dad, Duncan (J.C. Quinn), works.

 The truck stop horror begins after Happy Toys driver Handy (Frankie Faison) brings his shiny rig, complete with a giant Green Goblin face on the front of his truck, comes in. Handy exits the truck with the keys, but it doesn’t stop the truck, and the others around him, coming to life. In the kitchen, high-strung Wanda June (Ellen McElduff) is attacked by an electric knife that springs to life and slices her arm. Bill bashes it to death with a hammer, but the nightmare is about to get much worse.

The rest of our assorted cast of characters includes bad girl drifter (driftress?) Brett (Laura Harrington), who will naturally serve as the love interest for Bill. There is pervy bible salesman Loman (Christopher Murney), mechanic Brad (Leon Rippy), and recently married couple Curtis (John Short) and Connie (Yeardley Smith), who barely make it alive after nearly being killed by a series of vehicles on the road and in there parking lot. They must all band together to stay alive, but surprisingly not everyone is cooperative. Thankfully, Bubba has a basement full of secrets that will help the humans take down the machines and remind them who made who.

Maximum Overdrive, based on the story “Trucks,” is the only film that one Mr. Stephen King, author extraordinaire, has helmed as director. Which is pretty surprising considering it’s not the worst directed film I’ve ever seen. In fact, in terms of King adaptations, it’s on the upper middle scale of films based on his material. It’s not the only film he’s been involved with, he has written the screenplay for quite a few adaptations and most of them were painful to sit through. King is a great storyteller, but an awful screenwriter. (Watch Storm of the Century if you don’t believe me.)

The film was somehow not well received when it was released in 1986, receiving two Razzie nominations for Worst Actor – Emilio Estevez (not deserved) and Worst Director – Stephen King (probably deserved). The Razzies actually ended up both going to Prince for his performance and direction in the film Under the Cherry Moon. King admitted years later that he was “coked out of his mind” and had no clue what he was doing. King also earned an $18 million lawsuit against him from director of photography Armando Nannuzzi following an on set accident that resulted in the loss of his eye. Between the on set accidents (plural), King’s lack of skill and raging coke habit, and both audiences and critics destroying the film, bringing in a total of $7.4 million against a $9 million production budget, King vowed to never direct another film.

Despite being a coked up maniac on set, I think that time has been kinder to this film. If being on coke made you a bad director, Martin Scorsese wouldn’t have made a single memorable film after Mean Streets. Now, I’m not saying King made some kind of masterpiece here. No, not at all. He rightfully deserves all of the damning that he received from audiences, critics, and, ultimately, himself. Yet, I also think there is quite a bit of charm to this blunderfuck of a movie.

Yes, it’s poorly written. Yes, it’s goofy as shit. And yes, it couldn’t be more dated if it tried. But, it’s also fun as hell. It’s a movie about fucking 18 wheelers that came to life and try to run over Emilio Estevez to an all AC/DC soundtrack. It’s 96 minutes of stupid, but it’s a stupid that almost seems gloriously self aware. Sometimes a bad movie knows it’s a bad movie, so it revels in its idiocy, thus no longer making it an actual bad movie. The Room is a bad movie because it does everything wrong and refuses to acknowledge it. Maximum Overdrive is a movie about giant trucks that come to life and go on a murder spree. Honestly, I could sit there and nitpick the movie for its flaws, but at the end of the day, I would be the asshole because this thing was never trying to be art. It was the height of big, dumb, loud movies and they don’t get much bigger, dumber, and louder than this one.

In a way, I hate that this film was such a bust and King never made another film. I think once he sobered up and with another two or three trials, he could have made something brilliant. Or, we could just sit back and remember that this is the man that prefers the movie version of The Shining that he wrote starring the guy from Wings over the version that Kubrick made that pretty much mangled the book, but was the greater cinematic nightmare. Yeah, he probably made the right call.

Maximum Overdrive is an objectively bad movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching and not a shitload of fun. I laughed from start to finish and had a big dumb smile on my face when it was over. Sometimes we need films like this in our lives. I know I do. I mean, I thought Spotlight was a fantastic, nearly flawless film, but I don’t want to watch it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s too heavy. That is the time for movies like this. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I urge you to get on the highway to hell with Stephen King and the well behaved Estevez brother and take a 90 mph drive towards joy.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Follow John on Twitter – @TrapperJohn1210

Here’s The Thing – Get Off Your Butt. Do Something

By Stephen Thomas
PSDC Funnyman and Brad Pitt Doppelgänger

I’m Stephen Thomas with Here’s The Thing.

Was having trouble coming up with a topic for today, so I decided to do what I always do in that situation. Procrastinate mightily, while snacking on bacon and watching reruns of Cheers. After that, I got right to work. Actually, after that I took a nap and visited the water closet, as I’m sure you can imagine. After THAT though, I got right to work. [Read more…]