Viking Night: Maximum Overdrive
By Bruce Hall
June 29, 2016
Have you ever noticed how everyone seems to think everyone else’s job is easy? Just try complaining about something that’s happening at your job, and tell me if you can finish a sentence before everyone around you is giving you answers. Why don’t you just do this? Why don’t you just to that? It doesn’t matter whether the person speaking is a meter maid or a submarine commander; everyone knows how YOU should be doing YOUR job. So of course, at some point Stephen King decided that he should be directing movies. Hindsight is 20/20, so let me point out that when the most prolific and celebrated writer in American history says “I have no idea how to direct a major motion picture, but I’d sure like to try it anyway,” nobody is going to tell him “no.”
Certainly not Legendary producer Dino de Laurentiis (who’d worked on previous King adaptations like Firestarter and Dead Zone). The idea was to come up with an adaptation of King’s short story “Trucks,” a typical King yarn regarding a ragtag group of survivors trapped inside an interstate truck stop while homicidal machines plot to kill them. The deal was sealed and presumably, (judging by the finished product) 72 hours later, Maximum Overdrive was belched into existence. I say this with an air of wonder because while this is a very bad film it’s still better than it SHOULD be, and it still has an absurd, almost genial charm to it.
It’s hard to watch, but it’s also hard to look away. It makes no sense, it has no coherent narrative to speak of, and the character relationships feel pretty arbitrary. As of this writing, it stands at 17 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. The words “Maximum Overdrive” has become synonymous - with the few who even still remember it - with Maximum Suckage. Make no mistake, this film comes by its reputation honestly - but it’s still a little unfair. At the end of the day - despite his later claims of being super high on coke the whole time - Stephen King made exactly the movie he said he wanted to. The only question is why? Why take what was a dark, atmospheric horror tale and turn it into an aggressively dumb, low budget redneck slasher movie with literal monster trucks?
Well, I’ve never used cocaine, but if Mr. King was telling the truth, that was some seriously strong shit. Maximum Overdrive isn’t just bad, it’s bad in confounding and glorious ways that make me happy it exists, even if I have zero desire to ever see it again. So that you may know why, I’m now going to explain the plot, what there is of it. Please don’t blink or you’ll end up a paragraph down and miss it entirely:
A mysterious comet crosses the earth’s orbit, enveloping the planet for seven days. The radiation basically causes Judgment Day, and all the machines rise against their human masters. But instead of it being awesome, like it is in The Terminator, the tone is more of a cross between They Live and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.