Whether you look back at Maximum Overdrive fondly or not, you do have to admit it was one of the most misleadingly marketed films of the 80’s. By the end of this obvious B movie affair, the only question left is if the cheesy laughs and kick ass soundtrack will carry the film for you or not. Unfortunately for yours truly, this flaming truckload of cheesy goodness switches its gears in the second half and runs out of gas. Luckily for Maximum Overdrive, Lionsgate has backed up the Special Features truck and unloaded a solid two hours of supplements, which when coupled with a decent video and audio transfer, makes this Worth a Look for sure.
"I’m gonna scare the HELL out of you!!!"
I honestly don’t think there is a writer with a worse movie track record out there than Stephen King. I wouldn’t say his novels are brilliant, but I will say that some do come close in the horror genre. But when it comes to film, the man seems to be his own worst enemy. While to me the pinnacle of this would be his ABC miniseries of The Shining, as far as the big screen is concerned, look no further than 1986’s Maximum Overdrive. Based on his short story Trucks, King (for some unknown reason) decided this was to be his directorial debut. As a child, I distinctly remember the TV ads where King told me himself that he was going to direct a film so frightening that he was "gonna scare the HELL out of you!!!” And being at an impressionable age, I believed him. In fact, that commercial was so burned into my memory that when I became old enough to watch horror films, this was probably among the first five I saw. I immediately recognized that I had been sold a bill of goods and would be leery of all King adaptations in the future.
We instantly know we're in the 80's as we are introduced to Bill Robinson, played by none other than 80's brat packer Emilio Esteves. Now, my thoughts of Esteves and his seemingly forced stoic bad boy image are: if you’ve seen one of his performances, you have seen them all. And that is no different here. His ex-convict turned gas station attendant is so wooden and one dimensional, if someone just blows in his general direction, he will tip over like a cardboard standee. But this is no horror film with deep and troubled characters. No, this is a B movie in every regard. And if you don’t believe me, look at Bill’s maniacal, cigar chomping boss Hendershot (Pat Hingle). This dude is hamming it up to such a degree he makes J. Jonah Jameson seem like the kinda guy you might want to consider doing work for. Yup, there's no doubt about it. Maximum Overdrive lays on the cheese pretty thick way before a comet passes earth and possesses all machines.
As a child, this wasn’t jiving with what King had promised in that commercial. But grown up me knows what to expect from King at this point, and is loving the camp. Specifically, the soda machine that bludgeons kids playing baseball, a killer steam roller that mows kids down, and a cigarette machine that rips off its owner and gives away all of its merchandise. Oh yeah, and then the trucks come to life, including a huge semi with a crazy looking Green Goblin face on it! All of this is done with the kind of wonderful brutality that makes a B movie great. Then you add AC/DC. Yes, one of my favorite bands AC/DC. And I'm on board baby!
Unfortunately for Maximum Overdrive, everything comes to a screeching halt as Bill, Hendershot, and a dozen others are trapped in the gas station while the trucks (led by the Green Goblin of course) surround them until they fill them up. Because the possessed trucks still need gas? I guess? It is at this point Maximum Overdrive drops its B movie fun and becomes a stereotypical confined in one area film. I am now instantly reminded of other movies I hate in this genre like Legion, and films of that nature. Nobody does the genre better than George A. Romero in Day of The Dead and really, no one else should try. This is where it is glaringly apparent that King just doesn’t have the skill to set up a shot, never mind direct a scene that has the slightest bit of suspense. He wants to create these over the top deplorable characters, but then expects you to want to spend a significant amount of time with them locked in the truck stop. Characters like the one played by Yeardley Smith start grating on me, and it feels like we are locked in the truck stop with these annoying and/or detestable people. Then some of them last for the entire film. Isn’t the rule that they are supposed to go out in gruesome ways? Not to King apparently.
It is apparent that neither the studio, nor King himself, was prepared for how much of a misfire this would turn out to be. Back in the 80’s King’s name was almost infallible, and this proves that eventually everything catches up to you. It cannot be overstated how mis-marketed and ill-conceived Maximum Overdrive was at the time. In fact, my initial impression growing up was a reaction to that. But today I would tell myself to calm down, and try to meet this film at it most juvenile level. And in doing that I believe you will see Maximum Overdrive as I see it today, a crass rock concert that is a fun ride with some kick ass music.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lionsgate finally brings Maximum Overdrive to Blu-ray with the standard slip cover to hard cover casing. Enclosed lies a single BD-50 Blu-ray with no additions. No DVD or Digital copy on this one, folks. Once popped in, we are brought straight to the main menu, and are ready to rock from there.
Maximum Overdrive roars its way onto Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 encode that suffers a bit from its production values. Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and shot on 35mm, Maximum Overdrive enjoy a substantial amount of clarity and detail. Close-ups fare the best, revealing a great deal of blemishes and strands of hair. Wider shots don’t fare as well, coming across quite soft, with establishing shots getting the worst of it. Darker scenes, like when they save Deke, suffer from the same softer quality. Explosions pop off the screen in a blaze of glory, proving there is nothing like the real thing. Black levels are done surprisingly well, only having a few moments of crushing. Like in the sewer scene for example; skin tones consistently run a little on the hot side, especially in daytime scenes. Despite all of its problems I was mostly pleased with the presentation here and don’t see why any fan wouldn’t agree.
Lionsgate rocks your house with this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is sure to boo your DVD copy off the stage. Now, if I told you anything other than, "this score sounds awesome," wouldn’t you be disappointed? Well fear not, folks -- because AC/DC has never sounded better than on this mix. From the great songs, to the psycho riff played on the electric guitar, it is all expertly recreated, flowing from your fronts into your surrounds. Explosions hit with a hard punch of bass as the LFE Track comes roaring to life with bass response that impresses for the time this film was made. Speaker separation is moderate but effective in scenes such as someone firing a rocket launcher at the trucks. Dialogue is clear and audible while at a decent volume. This mix might not be the most dynamic, but it is a damn fun one that is sure to satisfy and leave you asking only one question…. Where the hell is “Highway to Hell” in this movie?!
Stephen King is a great author of some classic horror novels. His writing has lent itself to the screen with mixed results for sure, but has had its fair share of classic films such as Carrie and The Shining. Maximum Overdrive doesn’t belong in the same sentence as those films. It lacks suspense throughout, has unlikable characters that we are expected to spend too much time with, and an ending that is abrupt to say the least. But damn is it fun at times. Its goofy carnage is hilarious and gruesome all at once. Its incompetence has a gleeful charm that can only be seen in a guilty pleasure kind of way. And if you feel the same way about Maximum Overdrive and have been awaiting its arrival on this format, I don’t see how you could be disappointed. Its decent video transfer and even better audio mix make it Worth a Look, and all the bonus features are just icing on the cake.