Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen King|
|Produced by||Martha Schumacher
Dino De Laurentiis
|Screenplay by||Stephen King|
by Stephen King
|Editing by||Evan A. Lottman|
|Distributed by||De Laurentiis Entertainment Group|
|Running time||97 minutes|
Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American action-disaster-horror-science fiction film written and directed by novelist Stephen King. The film starred Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington and Yeardley Smith. The screenplay was inspired by and loosely based on King's short story, Trucks, which was included in King's first collection of short stories, Night Shift.
Maximum Overdrive is Stephen King's only directorial effort, though dozens of films have been based on King's novels. The film contained black humor elements and a generally camp tone, which contrasts with King's sombre subject matter in books. The film has a mid-1980s hard rock soundtrack composed entirely by the group AC/DC, Stephen King's favorite band. AC/DC's album, Who Made Who, was released as the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack. It includes the best-selling singles "Who Made Who", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and "Hells Bells".
The film was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Director for Stephen King and Worst Actor for Emilio Estevez in 1987, but both lost against Prince for Under the Cherry Moon. In 1988, Maximum Overdrive was nominated for "Best Film" at The International Fantasy Film Awards. King himself described the film as a "moron movie" and stated his intention to never direct again soon after. In a 2002 interview with Tony Magistrale for the book Hollywood's Stephen King, King stated that he was "coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn't know what [he] was doing." In spite of this, King stated in the same interview that he "learned a lot from the experience," and would "like to try directing again sometime."
On June 19, 1987, Earth passes through the tail of a rogue comet, Rhea-M. In Wilmington, North Carolina, machines suddenly come to life, attacking humans. The town's drawbridge suddenly begins to lift, spilling vehicles and killing several people.
A trucker pulls off the highway at the Dixie Boy truck stop. The trucker is Handy, who drives for Happy Toyz and has a huge green face mounted on the front of his truck. While filling the truck with diesel, another man named Duncan notices that the flow of fuel has stopped. He peers into the nozzle and is suddenly sprayed in the eyes, blinding him.
Meanwhile, Bill Robinson, a recently paroled prisoner from the State Penitentiary, starts his first day as the short order cook at Dixie Boy. He meets his new boss, Hendershot, who is the owner, and discovers he forces parolees to work extra hours for no pay. Hendershot threatens to send Bill back to prison if he does not work extra hours "off the clock".
The truck stop waitress, Wanda June, is injured when an electric carving knife turns itself on and cuts a gash on her arm. Bill tends to her wound, then smashes the knife with a hammer. In the video game room, a thief has been stealing change and prizes. He is hypnotized by a game, which then electrocutes him when he touches it.
Meanwhile, at a little league baseball game, the coach goes to buy sodas for his team. The machine shoots the soda cans out at high speed, hitting him several times, killing him. The machine fires more cans at the players, who begin running away. Deke Keller, a catcher and Duncan’s son, puts on his catcher’s mask when the cans start flying. A steamroller breaks onto the field and runs over one of the players. Deke sees that there is no operator, so he jumps on his bike and races off.
On a deserted freeway, a female hitchhiker, Brett Graham, is riding with a Bible salesman, Loman, who keeps making inappropriate passes. Trying to get a station on the radio, Brett hears a vague, static filled news announcement, about "unexplained events," and issuing an urgent message to get away from all the roads and highways. Brett grabs the steering wheel, forcing Loman to pull into the Dixie Boy when he refuses to stop. As Loman rants at Brett the Happy Toyz truck starts up by itself. It tries to run the pair down, but narrowly misses them.
On another back road, a newlywed couple, Curtis and Connie, are driving toward their honeymoon destination and looking for gas. They pull into a local garage to find the mechanic dead and they are almost run down by a driverless tow truck, which crashes into the garage. As the newlyweds hug, the truck starts up again, but they manage to drive away.
Back at the Dixie Boy, Bill finds the Happy Toyz truck cab empty. Brett then notices there is no traffic at all. In town, Deke sees many have been killed by machines in their own homes. He hears a garbled radio broadcast about machines all over the world killing people. He hides from a driverless ice cream truck, which simply drives by. A runaway lawnmower briefly chases Deke, but he outruns it easily and heads for the Dixie Boy and his father.
Duncan tries to leave Dixie Boy to look for his son, despite protests from Bill and threats from Hendershot. Zeke’s trash truck then runs over Duncan, killing him as he is walking across the parking lot. It then collides with Loman’s car and covers it in trash. Loman races out to confront the driver, only to realize no one is driving. The Happy Toyz truck starts up and chases Loman, finally knocking him into a nearby ditch. Steve and Handy carry Duncan’s body back inside and put it in the basement with the body of the video game thief. With phones and radios out of order, the group debates on what to do next, when all of the trucks start up and begin to circle the main building, trapping them inside.
Back on the deserted highway, Curtis and Connie see a convoy of trucks. Suddenly one of the trucks, an older model, tries to cut them off and chases them. Curtis is able to cause the truck to crash into a highway embankment, destroying it. He sees the Dixie Boy and heads toward it, hoping to find a phone there.
The couple discovers that the truck stop is under siege by the circling trucks. When Curtis attempts to drive through a gap to reach the diner, their car is hit and is flipped over. Bill and Brett run outside and rescue them. As they run back to the building, Hendershot walks out with an M72 LAW rocket launcher and blows up two trucks with it. Bill asks Joe about the weapons and Hendershot tells Joe to be quiet.
Bill asks Joe about the weapons again while they are in the bathroom. Bill and Brett go to the basement and discover a large stash of weapons. Hendershot appears and threatens to send Bill back to prison for snooping around, but Bill arms himself and warns Hendershot not to interfere. Bill confides in Brett about his criminal past and that Hendershot does not seem to take the situation seriously.
Deke sneaks closer to the truck stop, but cannot get through the culvert under the highway due to a grate welded over the opening.
Brett notices a bright green light in the sky and guesses that Rhea-M is responsible. Bill suggests traveling to an island where there are no machines and hiding there until it is over. Wanda June flips out and rants at the circling semis, yelling "We Made You!", but Bill pulls her back inside before a truck can run her down. The machines then shut down the power to the diner and the trucks continue circling the building.
Later, everyone hears an injured Loman screaming from the ditch where he landed. Bill and Curtis volunteer to rescue him. Carrying weapons as well as rope and a sleeping bag, they run past the trucks, which are starting to run low on fuel, to a nearby shower building. They lower themselves into a nearby sewer leading to the ditch and Loman.
Deke manages to find a loose grating and crawls through the pipe to the creek where Loman is. He finds Loman, but the Bible salesman seems dead until Deke tries to leave. Loman threatens to kill Deke if he won’t help him. Bill and Curtis arrive and free Deke from the now-dead preacher just as a dump truck attempts to run them down. They leave Loman behind and slip back into the drainpipe, which is then blocked by the truck. They eventually make it back to the shower building and run back to the Dixie Boy, with Bill blowing up another truck with the LAW rocket launcher. Bill at first refuses to tell Deke where his father is, but Hendershot blurts out that Duncan was killed by one of the trucks. Deke is devastated, while everyone is angry at Hendershot for being so insensitive.
The next morning, most of the trucks have run out of gas. Two new vehicles arrive, a large bulldozer and a M274 military truck with a mounted M60 machine gun. When the bulldozer pushes Hendershot’s car into the building, Hendershot retaliates by firing a rocket at the bulldozer, temporarily disabling it. At the same time the military vehicle opens fire on the Dixie Boy. Hendershot and three truck drivers are gunned down. Wanda June again becomes psychotic, picks up the LAW, and heads toward the military truck. It shoots her and she fires the rocket launcher into another truck. The Mule then begins beeping its horn. Deke, knowing Morse code, translates the message as "Someone must pump fuel. They will not be harmed. All fuel must be pumped." The power comes back on and Bill turns on the pumps, despite Brett's protests not to trust the trucks. Bill points out that they have to do it.
Over most of the hot day, Bill, Brett, Deke, Curtis, and a few others take turns refuelling the hundreds of trucks that arrive to refuel. When the fuel runs out, Bill tells the semi he was fueling and the trucks all blow their horns. A tanker truck pulls forward, pushing Bill toward the underground tank access, so they can continue the refueling.
Exhausted by the hard work and the heat, Handy makes Bill take a rest, telling him that they are working on an escape plan through the basement to an outside drainage pipe. Bill guesses at possible explanations for the events. He thinks it’s a race of aliens using the comet to wipe out humanity, having the machines do the dirty work - "brooms cleaning the house". Sometime later, Bill walks outside to talk to another truck driver filling up the trucks and quietly drops a grenade into the Mule’s cargo deck, destroying it. The refueled trucks begin circling the Dixie Boy once again.
That night, the survivors escape through the drainage pipe. They make a run for the open ocean and an island with no machines. When the trucks realize the Dixie Boy is empty, they destroy the building with a series of explosions. Bill leads the survivors along the back roads to a local marina and a sailboat that can take them to the island.
At the marina, they find a sailboat, but one of the truck drivers is distracted. He pauses to steal a diamond ring from a woman caught in her car window. As he is admiring the ring, the Happy Toyz truck pulls up quietly behind the driver and then runs him down. Bill runs from the boat, destroying the truck with another M72 rocket launcher.
Bill, Brett, and the rest of the survivors sail away from the marina to safety. A disclaimer in the final shot reveals that two days later a Soviet ‘weather satellite’ destroyed a large UFO orbiting Earth with a laser cannon and several nuclear missiles.
- Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson
- Pat Hingle as Bubba Hendershot
- Laura Harrington as Brett Graham
- Yeardley Smith as Connie
- Ellen McElduff as Wanda June
- Frankie Faison as Handy
- Leon Rippy as Brad
- Christopher Murney as Camp Loman
- John Short as Curtis
- J. C. Quinn as Duncan Keller
- Holter Graham as Deke Keller
- Barry Bell as Steve Gayton
- Patrick Miller as Joey
- J. Don Ferguson as Andy
An array of vehicles and electronic devices are featured as antagonist characters, brought to life from the comet passing by Earth. A number of semi-trailer trucks appear as a gang who invade the truck stop. They are led by a Happy Toyz Co. White-Western Star 4800 truck which has the face of the Green Goblin from Spider-Man mounted on its grill. Most of the trucks are destroyed in the film.
Various other vehicles appear in brief roles. A military M274 Mule truck armed with an M60 machine gun and a Caterpillar D7G bulldozer appear in the truck stop to aid the trucks. A 1979 Rex 700 road roller attack a group of baseball players, running one over. An arcade game electrocutes a patron at the truck stop. A 1974 Chevrolet stepvan ice cream truck makes several appearances in the film, but is destroyed at the end. An aircraft similar to a Piper Seneca is seen chasing Deke briefly and then it is shown impaled through the roof of a school bus near the end of the film. The tow truck that nearly runs over Curtis and Connie was a 1968 White 9000. The older model semi-truck that chases them is a 1962 Mack B-61.
The Dixie Boy truck stop
The Dixie Boy truck stop was a full-scale set constructed ten miles west of Wilmington, North Carolina, on U.S. Route 74/76. The exact location was just outside of Leland, North Carolina. It was convincing enough that several semi truck drivers tried to stop in and eat there; some even tried to refuel. Eventually the producers had to put up several signs informing the truckers the set was fake and not a real truck stop. The producers also put announcements in local newspapers saying that the Dixie Boy was just a movie set.
After filming wrapped up (and the set had been partially demolished by explosives), some locals bought the set of the Dixie Boy and transformed it into a working truck stop. It was fully functional for three or four years until it went bankrupt and was torn down sometime in the late '80s. Some signposts for the Dixie Boy still exist.
Accidents on set
When filming the scene where the ice cream truck flips over, the stunt did not go according to plan and almost resulted in an accident. A telephone pole-size beam of wood was placed inside so it would flip end over end, but it only flipped once and slid on its roof, right into the camera. Gene Poole, dolly grip on the film, pulled the cameraman out of the way at the last second.
A second incident, this time leading to serious injury, occurred on July 31, 1985 while filming in a suburb of Wilmington, North Carolina. A radio-controlled lawnmower used in a scene went out of control and struck a block of wood used as a camera support, shooting out wood splinters which injured the director of photography, Armando Nannuzzi. As a result of this incident, Nannuzzi lost an eye. Nannuzzi sued Stephen King on February 18, 1987 for $18 million in damages due to unsafe working practices. The suit was settled out of court.
The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 17%. In Leonard Maltin's annual publication "TV Movie Guide", the film is given a "BOMB" rating. Two Razzie Award nominations were given out, to Emilio Estevez for Worst Actor and Stephen King for Worst Director.
John Clute and Peter Nichols have offered a modest reappraisal of Maximum Overdrive, admitting the film's many flaws but arguing that several scenes display enough visual panache to suggest that King was not entirely without talent as a director.
In a recent interview discussing the TV version of Under the Dome, King admitted that Maximum Overdrive was the worst adaptation of his work.
- DE LAURENTIIS REJOINS THE RANKS--AT EMBASSY: DE LAURENTIIS: EMBASSY Friendly, David T. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 16 Nov 1985: e1.
- "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Box Office Mojo. 1988-07-05. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
- Maximum Overdrive Awards page at the IMDb
- Thomas, Bob (1986-07-23). "'Selling' his movie is a new chore for author Stephen King". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
- Magistrale, Tony (2003). Hollywood's Stephen King. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-312-29321-5.
- Clute, John and Peter Nichols. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1993. ISBN 0-312-09618-6
- Maximum Overdrive at the Internet Movie Database
- Maximum Overdrive at Box Office Mojo
- Maximum Overdrive at Rotten Tomatoes
- Happy Toyz - an extensive fan site, named after the writing on the side of the villainous "Green Goblin truck". Features the script for the film, stills and various trivia.
- Green Goblin Head - Official Home of the Original Maximum Overdrive Green Goblin Head.
- Entry on RetroJunk.Com