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Film / Maximum Overdrive

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"Honey! Come over here, sugarbuns! This machine just called me an asshole!"

Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 horror film written and directed by Stephen King, based on his short story "Trucks" from the Night Shift collection (other stories from which were adapted into Cat's Eye, which was also produced by Dino De Laurentiis). The same short story was later adapted into a Made-for-TV Movie in 1997.

The movie centers around people trapped in the Dixie Boy truck stop outside Wilmington, North Carolina, surrounded by homicidal trucks and other machines which have become animate and dangerous from radiation produced by a comet close to earth. The cast includes Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Frankie Faison, Leon Rippy, and Yeardley Smith.

King later admitted that he was coked out of his mind while making this film. This explains a lot.

This film contains examples of:

  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: Camp Loman's response to be pursued by the Green Goblin truck is to simply run without actually getting out of the truck's path. Naturally, he gets run down by the truck and knocked into a ditch.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original story only focused on the rest stop and the people within as the vehicles all of a sudden attacked and it ended on the scene where the people of the rest stop are forced to load gasoline onto the vehicles (and the narrator hits the Despair Event Horizon because he believes that now the machines will enslave humanity and force it to keep them running until it dies off). In contrast, the movie shows more places being attacked and then has the survivors attempting to escape from the rest stop and succeed.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The attempt at Doing In the Wizard by having aliens being behind everything ends up raising more questions than it answers:
    • How do they control the parts that aren't electronic?
    • Why does their "Alien Ray" affect some vehicles but not others?
    • Why would they care if the machines get gas? They could have easily just jumped to another vehicle or some machine that didn't require it.
    • How do the aliens know Morse Code, what an "asshole" is, or even "fuck you"?
  • Adaptation Title Change: Maximum Overdrive is an adaptation of a short story called "Trucks".
  • Agony of the Feet: An animated electric knife attacks Wanda June and cuts into her foot.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The aliens take control of vehicles and other machinery and make them attack humans for seemingly no reason.
  • America Saves the Day: Inverted in the end. It is a Soviet "weather satellite" which destroys the UFO hiding in the comet causing all the trouble.
  • Anyone Can Die: Dozens are killed as early as the first few minutes, among which is Duncan, Deke's father and one of the truck stop employees. Midway there's Camp Loman, the hypocritical fundamentalist bible salesman Brett hitched on, and at the climax Wanda, Bubba and a few others bite the dust, too.
  • Artistic License:
    • There's a lack of consistency in exactly what machines can come to life. Some mechanical items should be "alive" but aren't (like cars and the mechanical parts of the arsenal of weapons), and some things that really shouldn't be alive are (the side-view mirror moving, the valve on the gas refill truck, the swivel for the small military car's machine gun). The most explanation provided for why this is the case is a radio station reporting that "some machines are waking up slower than others."
    • The soda vending machine in this movie is shown shooting out cans of soda as projectiles at the Little League coach and then across the field at the kids. In real life, the machinery inside soda and snack machines is only capable of dropping products down into a chute, not shooting them at high velocity across a field. Even if a soda machine was to dispense all the sodas at once, it would only cause a pile-up and possible jam at the very worst.
  • Asshole Victim: The bible salesman and later Hendershot.
  • Attack Of The Killer What Ever: Trucks, household appliances, you name it.
  • Big Badass Rig: Natural for a film with 18-wheelers, but special mention for the Happy Toyz truck.
  • Bad Humor Truck: One of the vehicles patrolling the suburbs is a blood-smeared ice cream truck.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Bubba shooting rockets at two 18-wheelers who try to run down Brett, Billy, Connie and Curt.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The first solo death scene belongs to the black customer (played by Giancarlo Esposito) in the arcade room.
  • Bond One-Liner: During Hendershot's Big Damn Heroes moment after blowing up the garbage truck pursuing Bill, Brett, Connie and Curt:
    Bubba: Fuckin' truck's supposed to be depoted. That one's depoted for sure!
  • The Cameo:
    • Bandmembers of AC/DC appear briefly on a speedboat in the bridge scene.
    • Stephen King appears briefly as the man using the ATM in the opening.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The M60 that arrives on the cart has a 100 round ammo box. The M60 fires 600 rounds per minute and hoses down the truck stop for 30 seconds. It would have been out of ammo and no threat after 10-12 seconds of sustained fire.
  • Car Fu: This is the default attack of the vehicles that don't have weapons attached.
  • Chainsaw Good: As Deke rides his bike through the suburbs, a man with a chainsaw stuck in his throat can be briefly seen.
  • Closed Circle: The truck stop, since it is surrounded by murderous vehicles.
  • Construction Vehicle Rampage: After the coach and most of the team are killed by the vending machine, a road roller smashes down the backboard and crushes a kid.
    • Then there's the bulldozer that turns up later and pushes Hendershot's car into the diner and later on crushes the newlyweds' car.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The boy who just arrived knows Morse code.
  • Cool Mask: The Green Goblin mask on the Happy Toyz truck.
  • Death by Materialism:
    • When the truck stop's arcade room starts going crazy, a guy in there starts collecting all the coins the machines spit out. Staying there, he gives an opportunity to one of the cabinets to hypnotize and electrocute him.
    • Brad leaves behind the rest of the cast to take a ring from a corpse, and is then flattened by the Happy Toyz truck.
  • Death of a Child: The attacks by the vending machine and the steamroller caused some child deaths. Averted for Deke.
  • Destination Defenestration: During the bridge scene, one poor sod is shown flying through a windshield. And into another car through its window.
  • Destroy the Product Placement: A Semi-trailer prominently labelled with a Miller beer logo is blown up with a rocket in a wide shot giving you a full view of the ad before it explodes.
  • Doomed Hurt Guy:
    • Duncan Keller. He gets diesel sprayed into his eyes and is temporarily blinded. He attempts to leave while barely having any vision and drops his keys. His blindness results in him jot being able to see a sentient truck barreling towards him until it's too late to get out of the way.
    • The Bible salesman. An entire sequence is dedicated to the characters trying to get to where he's lying injured and they fail. It only succeeds in wasting time.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Connie might be constantly whining and screeching at the top of her lungs, but she has a point about Curtis stranding them with everyone else at the Dixie Boy does them more harm than good, getting their car (the only vehicle at that point in the movie that hadn't tried to kill anyone) destroyed.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In stark contrast to the original short story it was based on, the movie ends with Bill, Brett, Curtis, Connie, Deke, Handy (the driver of the Green Goblin truck) and a few others happily sailing off to the safety of an island, while the Soviets save the day by shooting down the UFO hiding near the comet that caused all the trouble.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: When the truck that was chasing Connie and Curt drives off the road, it catches fire in mid-jump and explodes completely when it stops.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: When the military vehicle starts honking its horn, Deke recognizes that it's using Morse Code.
  • Evil Is Hammy: While not necessarily evil, as the worst things we see him do are take advantage of employees who are on parole and bluntly tell a small boy his father was killed by a truck with no empathy at all, Bubba Hendershot is the film's human antagonist and Pat Hingle clearly had a ball playing the part as evidenced by his chewing of the scenery just about every time he shows up.
  • Eye Scream: Duncan gets an eyeful of gasoline, and loses most of his eyesight.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Bubba puts on a welcoming demeanor, but he's a Bad Boss to his employees.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The mask on the Happy Toyz truck has them, since its red pupils are aligned with the vehicle's headlights.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Wanda June. After a day that consists of getting her arm cut by the electric knife and watching the trucks take over the Dixie Boy; she finally snaps and falls under the delusion that because humans made machines, they should automatically listen to her out of principle. She tries to put this into play twice and it fails to work. The latter costing her her own life.
  • Groin Attack: A baseball coach is on the receiving end of one at the hands of a vending machine using soda cans as ammunition.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The pneumatic starter of the tow truck at the gas station that Curt and Connie stop at.
  • Homicide Machines: The vending machine scene is one of the most memorable instances of this. But there's also the meat slicer and the lawnmower and certain other appliances besides.
  • How Many Fingers?: Said to Duncan after he got gasoline into his eyes.
  • I Call It "Vera": Billy calls his straight razor "Mother's Helper".
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: As with the other Stephen King films. A special case here, as he also directed the movie and even appeared in its first trailer, rambling about how Only the Creator Does It Right and promising that he's "gonna scare the hell outta you." By his own later admission, a lot of this was the coke talking.
  • Large Ham: Wanda June, as she gets crazier. "WE! MADE! YOU!!!"
  • Marionette Master: Stephen King on one of the posters holds the cast on his strings.
  • More Dakka:
    • Hendershot's gun collection in the truck stop's basement at one point serves this purpose for the protagonists, giving them a chance blow up some of the vehicles.
    • At one point, the trucks call an armed military vehicle for assistance when they need to coerce the cast to give them gas.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: While the survivors on the gas station are able to escape to a location with no vehicles, the overall Alien Invasion was stopped off-screen by the Russians destroying the spacecraft with a Kill Sat.
  • Papa Wolf: Duncan Keller. Once it's become apparent machines have turned on man, he immediately tries to get to his car to leave, despite being barely able to see and his co-workers attempting to stop him, to look for his son. He states he's GOTTA find his boy to make sure he's okay. Hendershot threatens to fire him if he leaves while on the clock, which Duncan brushes off and call him a "fat fuck" which results in him almost getting clobbered.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Kind of a weird partial example. There's no actual interfacing of differing technologies per se, but the weird alien radiation which animates the Earth's gadgets does endow those gadgets with some unexpected abilities — such as the ability to see/sense humans, or to move independently even with no built-in means of locomotion. In the short story, at least, the animate trucks were entirely supernatural.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Aside from the occasional use of "Psycho" Strings (appropriately provided on electric guitar), the soundtrack is entirely made from AC/DC songs.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Adios, motherfucker!
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: At one point, drunk Wanda freaks out and goes to outside to yell "WE! MADE! YOU!" at the circling vehicles.
  • "Psycho" Strings: Used a lot early on whenever a machine strikes, later used for some Jump Scare moments. Done with electric guitar. By AC/DC.
  • Recycled In SPACE: Maximum Overdrive is George A. Romero's Zombie trilogy WITH TRUCKS!!
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The trailer uses "Chariots of Pumpkins" from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
  • Robotic Undead: Trucks and other machines come to life after a mysterious comet passes overhead granting them not only autonomy but also intelligence and malevolence.
  • Scenery Gorn: At one point, Deke slowly rides his bicycle through the streets of a neighborhood littered with bloody, butchered corpses. Even with the incongruous rock soundtrack, it's one of the more effective and properly disturbing parts of the film.
  • Self-Deprecation: Combined with Creator Cameo.
    Stephen King: This machine just called me an asshole!
  • Sex Dressed: When the bulldozer and army vehicle arrive, Bubba and Wanda come rushing out of a room with him buckling up his pants and her zipping up her shirt.
  • Sex God: Brett notes that Billy "sure makes love like a hero".
  • Shout-Out:
  • Signature Style: Bill's "the comet is a broom" speech is typical King.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Bubba Hendershot runs a truck stop that mostly employs people on parole allowing him to force them to work more hours than he has to pay them for. If they refuse, then he can get his friend who is on the state patrol to arrest them and send them back to jail. Billy theorizes that Bubba also sells guns on the side when his gun cache is found.
  • Squashed Flat: One of the junior baseball players is flattened by a steamroller.
    • A loader dozer also does this to the newlyweds' car.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: When the vehicles eventually drive into the truck stop, everything starts to blow up spectacularly. Justified as one of the trucks that smashes into the Dixie Boy is hauling a load of liquid oxygen, which is quite combustible.
  • Taking You with Me: The animated machines have absolutely no qualms about sacrificing themselves — or each other — if they can kill a human or two in the process.
  • Title Drop: Brett tells Bill that she was hitchhiking to Florida "before every machine in the world went into maximum overdrive".
  • Too Dumb to Live: The guy who gets his truck stuck on the bridge after it goes up. When he realizes what's happening, rather than try to jump to either side of the bridge while he still has time, he tries to back up, plummeting into the water below.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Lampshaded by Wanda ("We made you!").
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Released in 1986, the film takes place during June 1987.
  • Uncle Tom Foolery: When the arcade machines go nuts, the black man's response is "Yo mamma!" even though it doesn't make any sense. Basically the '80s equivalent of having a black person show up and say "You go girl" or "Oh no, you didn't!" just because the white filmmakers think its funny.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Wanda certainly seems to think this of the trucks.
  • Vanity License Plate: The license plate on Hendershot's car reads "BUBBA", after his first name.
  • Vengeful Vending Machine:
    • A man is struck twice in the nuts and then on the forehead by soda cans that shoot violently out of a vending machine. It's unclear, but likely, that he dies from the second blow. Shortly after, various kids are struck by the cans and some of them die (or are knocked unconscious for the steamroller to finish off).
    • In the beginning, there is a scene where a cameoing Stephen King gets called an asshole by an ATM.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A scene has various kids killed (by rapidly-thrown soda cans from a Vengeful Vending Machine and, most iconically, by a steamroller running over one) while they are playing baseball.
  • Your Head Asplode: This happened to the steamroller victim, but it was cut.
    • Rumor says that George A. Romero—no stranger to screen gore himself—actually threw up at this scene when invited to a test screening.