Sunday, August 11, 2013

REVIEW: Maximum Overdrive

Maximum Overdrive
Director: Stephen King
Year 1986

Maximum Overdrive is a ridiculously fun and entertaining film which blends horror, action, comedy and science fiction, into one total package which thrills to no end. Directed by the legendary horror novelist and first-time filmmaker Stephen King, the movie takes an airy approach to the material, opting to engage in a campy interpretation of some rather extraordinary events. Basking in a tongue in cheek attitude, yet played entirely serious, Maximum Overdrive is a curious gem which goes against the grain and the stereotype of its famous author and creator. In its unorthodox approach the film plunges forward into a mad-cap world filled with interesting characters, otherworldly situations, and absurdly dark filled humor. As Stephen King's one and only attempt at film-making, I have to say that he came and went with one hell of a bang.

The film opens to a string of strange events where machines begin to rise up and attack their human creators. Coinciding with the appearance of a mysterious rogue comet which is passing the Earth, the planet is suddenly and violently thrown into chaos as man and machine clash, sending humans on a crash course to extinction. Surrounded by an army of various vehicular monstrosities, a small group of survivors hold up in a truck stop as they desperately try to come to terms with these most unexpected turn of events. Armed with their wits and a few surprises in the form of fire-power, the motley group band together in order to survive this nightmarish reality. A reality where creations hunt their creators.

Emilio Estevez plays the role of Bill Robinson, a troubled youth whose rotten job at a gas station is about to get a whole hell of a lot worse. Estevez is exceptionally great in this role as he plays off of the campy elements of the film with sincere affection and validity. Bare in mind that there is nothing Oscar worthy in his performance, but it is the sheer fact that he gives the material respect and injects a sense of fun into the proceedings without bogging it down with the usual camp trappings and unintentional winks to the audience. He is immersed and engaged in this world through and through, and it does wonders for allowing the viewer to get wrapped up in all of the shenanigans and come along for the ride. Estevez plays a great underdog in the flick and his enthusiasm helps to up the fun factor tremendously, without pushing the movie and his performance into camp territory.

Of course this is not a one man show and the assortment of characters that inhabit this movie are as diverse as they are amusing. Laura Harrington plays Brett, a drifter who just so happens to be at the truck stop the very instant the shit hits the fan. She's feisty and highly capable, and her role in the film is quite a substantial one as she is paired with Estevez's character as the story begins to escalate. Another great paring of the flick is Yeardley Smith and John Short as the newlyweds, Connie and Curtis. These two are a riot, as they bicker and react to all that is going on, often plunging into some rather comical and memorable moments. It was also interesting to see Short's Curtis character grow, from a quiet and conservative guy with a nagging wife, to a daring badass, of course also with a nagging wife. The rest of the cast is equally impressive with Pat Hingle playing the scumbag owner of the truck stop Bubba Hendershot, Ellen McElduff taking on the role of the spirited waitress Wanda June, Christopher Murney playing the sleazy salesman Camp Loman, and Holter Graham taking on the role of the young heroic kid Deke Keller. All in all, it's not hard to see why this movie is so damn enjoyable and the cast nail their roles to perfection.

As for the tone and atmosphere of the film, it is a mixture of foreboding moments and whimsical adventure. Stephen King infused the soundtrack of the movie with the very distinct sound of the rock band AC/DC, giving the production a strangely catchy soundscape to display its carnage and comically infused antics against. It is an unusual mixture that I'm sure isn't for everyone, but for myself I found the combination to be extremely entertaining and tons of fun. In fact the soundtrack is so vivid against the imagery in this film that I find myself replaying the movie in my head whenever certain AC/DC songs come on the radio. With this whimsical approach, you lose a great deal of horror from what is essentially a horror driven story, but in the end the added absurdity only amplifies the charm of the movie.

The main location of the film, centered around the truck stop, is also another asset of the production. I've always been a fan of George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead and the fact that an ensemble cast of characters are trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by the walking dead, and essentially we have that same plot playing out in Maximum Overdrive. Instead of zombies though, we have massive trucks and various machines attempting to overcome our main characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed that interesting twist on the genre staple. The combination of that and the added dark humor of the film is enough to get my attention, and when you add that with the extremely realized characters of the movie you've got yourself the perfect ingredients for one hell of a good time.

Maximum Overdrive is a demented amalgam of genre film elements that combine to make an irresistible hybrid flick that entertains more than it horrifies. Unique and unfaltering, this obscure gem opts to tread lightly on the horror aspects of its story and instead focus on its more outlandish and diverse world. With its Rock interlaced soundtrack and adventurous nature, Maximum Overdrive comes off as a sci-fi adventure more than anything and that's alright by me. Having not read the short story, Trucks, that it is based on, I had no preconceived ideas on what the movie should or shouldn't have been, allowing for me to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

What really makes this film work though is the inclusion of a highly capable cast that is as colorful as the movie's premise. As the film veers from its horror origins, it relies on its lively characters to take the reigns and steer it to its course, and from that perspective it succeeds tremendously. Across the board the cast carries the film, as the story focuses on their trials and tribulations as they struggle to survive this most unusual turn of events. It is a peculiar choice on director Stephen King's part, seeing that he is an almost exclusively horror-centric writer, but in my opinion the gamble paid off for I am always and will forever be enthralled with this camp classic. Maximum Overdrive is without a doubt.....

What are you looking at weirdo?

God NO! Not her melons! Not her beautiful melons!

What do you think you're doing you little shit? WE MADE YOU!!!!

Now that's a crotch shot!

Your hat looks stupid. Look who's talking.

The crew couldn't stand how Emilio sipped his tea.

And so began Emilio's life long fear of clowns.

Hey! Fuck you too buddy!

Say hello to Bubba's big friend!

Curtis! I have to take a pee!!!!!

So that's where all the powdered donuts went you little sneaks.

Who knew that Wanda June was a fan of opera? Sing it girl!


Bubba sure does love him some rockets.

This guy is a real prick!

Damn! That goblin truck needs some Visine Drops.

I would kill to see this price the next time I get gas!

Well there goes the neighborhood. WE MADE YOU!!!!!!

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