Shock-O-Rama: Maximum Overdrive (

By:Chuck Francisco
Date: Saturday, December 15, 2012

Normally one of my duties as the author of Shock-O-Rama is to use this space to espouse the virtues of lesser known cinematic endeavors. Putting quill to parchment, I sing the praises of slashers and demons and ghosts. While it's true that I'll be doing that again today, I have to also be honest from the start. Maximum Overdrive is a lackluster film. It's over wrought, heavy handed, uneven, and poorly paced. It doesn't offer any sort of character arc. Its resolution feels squishy, inconsequential. And yet, admitting all of this, it's still a damned fun flick. Years later, Stephen King would admit to being "coked out of his mind" while directing this film (his only directorial role); let me tell you why you should watch it despite that. 
Every film needs a solid score. The soundtrack is a pivotal piece in allowing the viewer's emotions to be played like a harpsichord. It's fitting to be discussing this in the wake of a new Middle Earth film's release, as Howard Shore's accompanying music is masterful. But a director must take great pains in selecting the right composer to fit his cinematic vision. Incredible fortune smiles upon Maximum Overdrive, as King invites his favorite band to score his movie; AC/DC. Nine powerful rock songs by the popular band adorn the soundtrack, including three originally pieces, and three of their most recognizable tunes (You Shook Me All Night Long, For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), and Hells Bells). As a throw away Easter egg to the band, in the bridge accident scene, a van with the AC/DC logo can clearly be seen.
Deconstructing the situation a bit here yields something we could interestingly compare to the best kind of zombie film. We've got argumentative characters who are trapped in a marginally safe space, and have a chance for survival, if it weren't for their own self serving human natures. Outside of their safe zone is a threat to their whole group (killer trucks in this case), and yet they still cannot overcome their built in prejudices and stereotyping to band together. That's the blueprint to a smart zombie film, with the trappings of King's short story Trucks traced over it. Variations are drawn in, additions made, but at the end of the day, the parallels are unmistakable. So zombie enthusiasts, Maximum Overdrive is your sort of shindig (minus the biting and headshots).
The kills are creative and brutal though. Gore hounds take note, as a man is killed by a vending machine that fires cola cans like cannonballs at his crotch and head. A woman is mauled by a lawn mower which has now taken on a life of it's own (in real life, an on the set accident with the radio controlled mower claimed the eye of a crew member). And as gigantic trucks who can control themselves are the primary antagonists, you can imagine the crushingly splatterific deaths visited upon those caught out in the open. If that isn't enough, a steam roller pays a visit to a baseball game, causing a massive splatter effect which censors made King cut out of the theatrical version.


The "big bad" truck is sculpted into a Green Goblin mask, which partially works in giving him a personality to directly face off against Emilio Estevez. Oh, that's right, Maximum Overdrive comes equipped with that patented Estevez magic. Do you enjoy Might Ducks, The Breakfast Club, Freejack, or Young Guns? That's cool, but I doubt it has any bearing on whether you'll enjoy this flick. It does however, meet the "Estevez quotient", which states that if a tough looking Emilio is in your film, ladies who where teenagers in the 80's will most definitely enjoy something about it. 
I can't sit here and claim this is a great movie that all cult fans need to see; it's not and I already promised I wouldn't. What Maximum Overdrive lacks in subtle, substantive filmmaking, it more than makes up for in charm. It's stupid fun. It has an endearing, doofiness to it, which we're allowed to indulge in from time to time. The dangers to our cinematic health come only in drinking too deeply of these waters. So, take a quick swim in this entertaining dumbassery, then towel off to watch something more important or serious. Your inner Emilio fan can thank me in secret; I won't tell.


And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out on Twitter.