Friday, 08 January 2010
Let me tell you a little story. When I was in the fourth grade, Maximum Overdrive was unequivocally the greatest movie in the history of the world. It was big, it was loud, it was incredibly gory, and it was on TBS three nights a week. But only after I happened to find a VHS copy at a local department store did my love for the flick turn into a flat-out obsession. I'd spend every waking moment watching, rewinding, watching, rewinding, and watching again, even dragging my parents in front of the TV at one point -- thankfully they didn't read too much into my fascination with '80s-era video carnage.
So the passion continued. I'd bring the film to a friend's house and, being a bunch of impressionable twelve-year-olds, we'd all get a huge kick out of it. Shortly thereafter, we began playing "Maximum Overdrive" in the backyard, imagining that we were being chased by homicidal big rigs or, taking the concept one step further, pretending the army's whole fleet of attack helicopters was trying to gun us down. Then Halloween rolled around, as it invariably does every October 31st, and the opportunity laid before me was simply too good to pass up: Maximum Overdrive would be the subject of my scary story due on All Hallow's Eve. I don't recall if I actually called it MO, though I wouldn't be surprised considering that I dabbled in plagiarism from time to time during my grade school years. (As did everyone.) In any case, I do remember borrowing several heavy plot points from what was then my all-time favourite film. But more on that later. For now, let's begin this review proper.
Trucks come to life, proceed to eliminate every living thing in sight, and wreak havoc on a quaint North Carolina truck stop. That's the premise behind horror novelist Stephen King's one and only directorial endeavour, starring a young Emilio Estevez, an old Pat Hingle, and a comatose Laura Harrington. Now I've always said that North Carolina is a damn scary place in and of itself, what with its myriad Venus Flytraps (the official state carnivorous plant) and the Carolina Shag (the state popular dance), but throw in a few homicidal big rigs and a gaggle of dull-witted, slack-jawed, gun-toting rednecks (is there any other kind?), and the place becomes exponentially more terrifying.
As explained in the film's opening sequence, Earth has just entered the tail of a mysterious rogue comet and will apparently eat its dust for the next eight days, five hours, twenty-nine minutes and twenty-three seconds. Although that might sound like an astronomer's wet dream, we soon learn that all is not quite right in the land of granite and longleaf pines. Due to the comet's sinister green aura, machines across the globe have begun acting in increasingly disturbing ways. At first the incidents are relatively minor: a bank machine calls Stephen King an asshole, electronic billboards flash the words "FUCK YOU" to unsuspecting passersby, vending machines spew out change like their flashy Las Vegas brethren, and soda machines go berserk at a local Little League game. You know, the type of stuff FOX News would be all over.
Soon, however, the incidents exit the world of the adorably benign and enter the world of the downright nasty: before too long we've got one case of blindness by way of gasoline, one case of arcade cabinet electrocution (that's one pissed-off Star Castle console), and one severe electric kitchen knife attack. Sweet...
But that's all small beer compared to the public relations disaster about to befall the peaceful rolling hills of Wilmington, North Carolina, because every family sedan, tow truck and eighteen wheeler in the county -- from a 1966 Autocar garbage hauler to an insidiously malevolent Step-Van ice cream truck -- will soon come roaring to life with the sole intent of completely and irrevocably annihilating every human being in sight, no questions asked. (Try explaining that on a tourist brochure.)
Still, perhaps the most ominous of our diesel-fuelled enemies comes in the form of a black, 1978 White Western Star with a massive Green Goblin face mounted on its front grille. It even comes complete with a Happy Toyz Co. trailer painted with all sorts of diabolical-looking clowns, as if the whole 'homicidal big rig' bit wasn't already enough to make you crap your Calvin Kleins.
But, in any event, the patrons and employees of the Dixie Boy Truck Stop find themselves smack dab in the middle of the ensuing nightmare. Oh, and in case you hadn't yet made the connection, big rigs = bad, therefore truck stop = oh-God-please-don't-let-these-bad-machines-team-up-and-kill-us-all-in-an-orgy-of-blood-and-severed-body-parts, 'natch. Emilio Estevez and the other goofballs thus have to deal with our main mechanical antagonist, Mr. Goblin Face, along with an increasingly angry mob of his fuel-injected companions who circle the truck stop day and night, only occasionally taking a break to run down a few helpless Homo sapiens. (Gasoline-eyed man and Mr. Foul-Mouth Bible Salesman immediately come to mind.)
King once wrote, in a book I once pretended to have read and then threw away, that "the mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is the worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most basic instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized." Never one to stray far from his philosophies, King riddled Maximum Overdrive with an exorbitant amount of jolting images, including more than a few lifeless bodies, a bloodied Golden Retriever choked to death by a toy car, and -- most memorable of all -- a rampaging steam roller flattening a helpless Little Leaguer (complete with horrified screams and an incredibly vile crunching sound.) Nasty shit.
That's not to say the film is particularly scary, because it is not. But even with all the cuts those bastards at the MPAA imposed, you'd still be hard pressed to find a nastier horror flick from the time period. This is, without a doubt, every prepubescent male's idea of the quintessential horror film. An eerie premise, buckets upon buckets of blood, the obligatory sex scene (however awkward and T&A-less it actually is), and enough profanity to permanently desensitize even the most conservative of viewers. Oh, and did I mention the film's soundtrack is by AC/DC? And I'm not just talking about the opening theme, either: the famous Australian rockers wrote, produced, and recorded the entire musical score. While that means we're treated to an impressive collection of their trademark tunes, including "Hells Bells," "Shook Me All Night Long" and "Shake Your Foundations," it also means that whenever the machines go on a bloody, diesel-soaked rampage, we get to hear the theme from Psycho belted with reckless abandon through a set of Gibson SGs. "Bramp, bramp, bramp, BRAMP!"
Click the pic to watch the trailer!
And whatever came of my fourth grade English story, you ask? Well, after sitting through most of my classmates' well-crafted tales, all of which featured spooky subjects like haunted houses, ghosts, and diabolical mad scientists, I looked at my story full of trucks and flying pop cans and, though it pains me to say it, I had as near a complete mental breakdown as my young mind could fathom at the time. I ultimately refused to read the story in front of the class -- out of fear of being booed all the way back to my seat -- and sat there with my eyes glued to the floor as the teacher read it for me with none of the emphasis and oomph a story of this particular genus needs in order to work. So the glorious premiere, uhh, wasn't.
And then he gave it a C.