|Directed by||Stephen King|
|Screenplay by||Stephen King|
by Stephen King
|Produced by||Martha Schumacher|
|Edited by||Evan A. Lottman|
|Distributed by||De Laurentiis Entertainment Group|
|Box office||$7.4 million or $3.5 million (North America)|
Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American comedy horror film written and directed by Stephen King. The film stars 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 the author's first collection of short stories, Night Shift, and follows the events after all machines (including cars, trucks, radios, drones, arcades, vending machines, etc.) go sentient when the Earth crosses the tail of a comet, initiating a worldwide killing spree.
The film is King's only directorial effort, though dozens of films have been based on his novels or short stories. It contained black humor elements and a generally campy tone, which contrasts with King's somber subject matter in books. The film has a mid-1980s hard rock soundtrack composed entirely by the group AC/DC (King's favorite band), whose 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".
Maximum Overdrive was theatrically released on July 25, 1986, to generally negative reviews from critics. It was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Director for King and Worst Actor for Estevez in 1987, but both lost to Prince for Under the Cherry Moon. In 1988, Maximum Overdrive was nominated for "Best Film" at the International Fantasy Film Awards. King disowned the film, describing it as a "moron movie", and considered the process a learning experience, after which he intended never to direct again.
As the Earth crosses the tail of a comet, previously inanimate machines suddenly spring to life; an ATM insults a customer (King in a cameo) and a bascule bridge rises during heavy traffic, causing all vehicles upon the bridge to fall into the river or collide. Chaos sets in as machines of all kinds begin attacking humans worldwide. At the Dixie Boy Truck Stop just outside Wilmington, North Carolina, employee Duncan Keller is blinded after a gas dispenser sprays diesel in his eyes. An electric knife injures waitress Wanda June, and arcade machines in the back room electrocute a customer. Cook and paroled ex-convict Bill Robinson begins to suspect something is wrong. Meanwhile, at a Little League game, a vending machine kills the coach by firing canned soda point-blank at him. A driverless roller compactor flattens one of the fleeing children, but Duncan's son Deke manages to escape on his bike.
Newlyweds Connie and Curt stop at a gas station, where a brown tow truck tries to kill Curt, but he and Connie escape in their car. Deke rides through his town as humans and even pets are brutally killed by lawnmowers, chainsaws, electric hair dryers, pocket radios, RC cars and an ice cream truck. At the Dixie Boy, a black Western Star 4800 sporting a giant Green Goblin mask on its grille runs over bible salesman Camp Loman after a red garbage truck kills Duncan. Later, several big rig trucks encircle the truck stop.
Meanwhile, a Mack truck pursues Connie and Curt, but they make it crash off the side of the road as it explodes. They arrive at the truck stop and try to pass between the trucks, but their car is hit and overturns. Bill and Brett Graham, a hitchhiker, rush to help them, but the trucks attack them. The owner Bubba Hendershot uses M72 LAW rockets he had stored in a bunker hidden under the diner to destroy many of the trucks. Deke makes it to the truck stop later that evening and tries to enter via the sewers, but is obstructed by the wire mesh covering the opening. That night, the survivors hear Loman screaming in a ditch, and Bill and Curt sneak out to help him by climbing through the sewers. Deke finds Loman and believes he is dead, but he suddenly jumps up and attacks Deke. Bill and Curt rescue Deke, and a truck chases them back into the pipe.
The next morning, a Caterpillar D7G bulldozer and an M274 Mule drive to the truck stop (the former pushes Hendershot's Cadillac inside). The angered Hendershot uses the rocket launcher to blow up the bulldozer, but the Mule fires its post-mounted M60 machine gun into the building, killing several people, including Hendershot and Wanda. The Mule then demands, via sending morse code signals through its horn that Deke deciphers, that the humans pump the trucks' diesel for them in exchange for their lives. The survivors soon realize their own machines have enslaved them. Bill suggests they escape to a local island just off the coast, on which no motorized vehicles are permitted. While the crew is resting, Bill theorizes that the comet is actually a "broom" operated by interstellar aliens that are using Earth's machines to destroy humanity so the aliens can repopulate the Earth. During a fueling operation, Bill sneaks a grenade onto the Mule vehicle, destroying it, then leads the party out of the diner via a sewer hatch to the main road just as the trucks demolish the entire truck stop. The Green Goblin truck pursues the survivors to the docks, managing to kill trucker Brad when he falls behind. After Bill destroys the truck with a direct hit from an M72 LAW rocket shot, the survivors then sail off to safety. A title card epilogue explains that two days later, a UFO was destroyed by a Soviet "weather satellite" conveniently equipped with class IV nuclear missiles and a laser cannon. Six days later, the Earth passes out of the comet's tail, and the survivors are still alive.
- Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson
- Pat Hingle as Bubba Hendershot
- Laura Harrington as Brett Graham
- Yeardley Smith as Connie
- John Short as Curtis
- Ellen McElduff as Wanda June
- Frankie Faison as Handy
- Leon Rippy as Brad
- Christopher Murney as Camp Loman
- 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
- Giancarlo Esposito as Video player
- Stephen King (cameo) as ATM man
- Marla Maples as 2nd woman
Trucks used in the film
- Western Star 4800 (The Green Goblin truck) This particular truck was originally a coal hauling truck that worked in Canada. It regularly made runs with multiple trailers across the Trans-Canada Highway, and was procured mainly because of its powerful engine, which sounded more menacing than other truck models of the era.
- White 4000
- White 9000
- White 9000 T
- White-Freightliner WFT
- Mack Ultra-Liner
- Mack B-61
- GMC Brigadier
- International Harvester CO-4000
- Rex SP 700
- Mack R-685 T
- Diamond Reo C-116 Apollo
- Autocar A64 B
The film was the first to be made by Embassy Pictures after it had been bought by Dino De Laurentiis. Principal photography began in early May 1985, in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, as De Laurentiis operated a large studio complex in the area. De Laurentiis chose North Carolina because it was a "right to work state," meaning that he could hire non-union crews, which would greatly cut down on production costs.
It would be the directorial debut of writer Stephen King, who had a three picture deal with De Laurentiis. In a 2002 interview with Tony Magistrale for the book Hollywood's Stephen King, first-time director King stated that he was "coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn't know what [he] was doing". On-set translator Roberto Croci didn't remember King's cocaine use, but recalls him drinking from early in the morning until late at night. "I never saw. I didn't. But I did know that he was drunk. That 6 o'clock in the morning we have a roll call and he's drinking beers. And by 8:30, he's on his 10th beer.
At a fan screening in 2021, Jock Brandis, the film's gaffer, told the audience that King rode a motorcycle from Maine to Wilmington, so he could ride alongside semi-trucks on the highway. He wanted to get a better feel for how terrifying big-rigs could be when in close proximity, and to better know their loud sounds and movements. When King arrived at the studio on his bike for the initial production meeting, the security guards wouldn't let him through the front gate because they did not believe he was part of any production taking place on the lot. His appearance was disheveled, and he was rambling on about a film he was to direct involving killer trucks that had come alive due to a space comet. He was granted access to the studio lot after Brandis pointed out that the plates on his motorcycle were from Maine. Brandis, a Canadian gaffer who had worked with De Laurentiis on David Cronenberg's adaptation of The Dead Zone, was tasked with many jobs not normally given to a film gaffer. De Laurentiis erroneously believed Brandis could speak Italian, and would be able to bridge the language gap between Italian cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi and the local crew. Nannuzzi had previously worked in Wilmington with De Laurentiis on Cat's Eye, and would struggle with communication throughout the film, often nodding and replying "yes, yes, yes," to every question. Along with being the production's chief lighting technician, Brandis procured many of the trucks used in production, most of which still featured names from actual local businesses on the cabs and trailers. Brandis is also featured in the opening scenes of the film, driving a 1968 Ford F-Series dump truck over the Isabella Holmes draw bridge when it opens.
Stephen King originally wanted Bruce Springsteen to play the role of Bill Robinson. Springsteen was unknown by De Laurentiis, so De Laurentiis personally hired "Martin's (Sheen) son," Emilio Estevez. It is believed De Laurentiis's insistence that Estévez participate in the film was when Stephen King became disillusioned with the production. King did try to create a positive environment for the crew, at one point renting out an entire theater to screen classic films such as "Godzilla" and "Night of the Living Dead." He provided free refreshments and personal commentary during each film. King would also participate in golf cart races on the studio lot during down time.
Many wardrobe and special effects choices were made by De Laurentiis personally. During a dailies screening of Laura Harrington's first scene, De Laurentiis became upset that she was wearing jeans. A new scene was written so she could change into something more revealing for the rest of the film.
The "Dixie Boy Truck Stop" set was built alongside of US-17/74, just across the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a purpose-built location, existing specifically for the film. The land is now a privately owned storage area.
All of the interior scenes were filmed at De Laurentiis' Wilmington-based studio facility, which at the time was called "DEG," or De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. One of the iconic Green Goblin heads from the cab of the Happy Toys truck remained on the studio lot until the mid-90's, when it was sold to a private collector.
While shooting the scene when a lawnmower comes alive in a residential neighborhood, cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi was struck in the right eye, his "shooting eye," by a large splinter of wood that had become lodged in the blade. According to camera assistant Silvia Giulietti, "We were shooting a scene where a lawnmower—the machine that cut the grass—was following a boy to kill him. And we put the camera on the ground with piece of wood beneath. To wedge, okay? I remember that Armando Nanuzzi ask to Stephen King, "Can we take out the blades?" But Stephen King say, "no, no, I like to see them." Armando say, "But we don't see them in the shot." But Stephen King say, "No. No. Better that you let it." The special effects department had also suggested removing the blade for safety reasons, but King continued to insist that it remain, so the scene could appear more life-like. Nannuzzi was helicoptered from set and then flown to a hospital in Raleigh where he eventually lost his eye. Production was halted for brief period, but Nannuzzi returned to finish the film. After the film was released, Nannuzzi sued King, De Laurentiis Productions, and 16 others involved with the film for US$18 million. The suit was filed in New York, as King and many of the other defendants often did business in that state. The case was later settled. Nannuzzi continued to work on films after his accident, but believed he would never again be considered for large budget projects, as producers wouldn't want a cameraman with no depth perception. He returned to Italy, where he worked until his retirement in 1998. He died on May 14, 2001.
During some of the studio production work, Wilmington was grazed by Hurricane Gloria. Winds and rain were very heavy, and the crews created a competition to see who could move from stage to stage without being blown over. Production was eventually halted again for a brief time while the storm passed and the studio lot could be assessed for damage.
Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that "by making the machines' malevolence so all-encompassing — so amoral — Mr. King loses the fillip of retribution in better horror films. For the most part, he has taken a promising notion — our dependence on our machines — and turned it into one long car-crunch movie, wheezing from setups to crackups." Variety called it "the kind of film audiences want to talk back to, the kind that throws credibility out the window in favor of crass manipulation. Unfortunately, master manipulator Stephen King, making his directorial debut from his own script, fails to create a convincing enough environment to make the kind of nonsense he's offering here believable or fun." Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "As long as King is tinkering with his crazed machines, the film sustains a certain amount of ominous tension, but as soon as the author turns his attention to his actors, the movie's slender storyline goes limp ... Worse still, the movie never really builds up any momentum or jars us with unexpected jolts of horror." Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Rick Kogan gave the film 1 star out of 4 and called it "a mess of a movie", further stating that "King's direction is heavy handed and his dialogue hackneyed and stiff." Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post wrote that the film "is like sitting alongside a 3-year old as he skids his Tonka trucks across the living room floor and says 'Whee!' except on a somewhat grander scale", and added that as a director Stephen King "proves that he hasn't got an ounce of visual style, the vaguest idea of how to direct actors or the sense that God gave a grapefruit."
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 15% based on reviews from 13 critics. On Metacritic the film has a score of 24% based on reviews from 8 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade D+ on scale of A to F.
In Leonard Maltin's annual publication TV Movie Guide, the film is given a "BOMB" rating. Two Golden Raspberry Award nominations were given out, to Emilio Estevez for Worst Actor and King for Worst Director.
John Clute and Peter Nicholls 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.
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Master manipulator Stephen King
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