Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Maximum Overdrive


Notes: Karl-Lorimar Films. 97 minutes.

Emilio Estevez
Pat Hingle
Laura Harrington
Christorpher Murney
Yeardley Smith

Diector: Stephen King
Writer: Stephen King

Introduction: The earth is passing through the tail of a comet. On precisely June 19th, 1987, at 9:47 A.M. the earth will be shadowed for eight days, five hours, 29 minutes and 23 seconds. This attempt to start the movie with a scientific beginning only partially succeeds. The machines that fail first seem to be semi-amusing. The ATMs even swear at their operators. But the bridge is the first major disaster caused by the comet’s influence. ACDC provides the theme music for the green goblin truck.

Head Goblin Truck: A toy truck pulls into the gas station to refill. It is amusing that this truck will later be the vicious leader that torments the occupants of the gas station, or what seems to be the location of the last stand for mankind. We meet the hero of the film, Emilio Estevez, who is a criminal on work release. He is the first to kill a machine gone badóthe electric knife. The camera takes us to a man considering himself lucky: he is on the receiving end of a broken cigarette machine that spits out free cigarettes. He stuffs himself with enough cigarettes to kill ten men and then is killed by an arcade machine.

Attack on America: A baseball game, the most American thing in the movie, is not even safe. A coach wants to buy his players, 12-year-olds, some pop after a good game — big mistake. He is knocked unconscious by high-speed sodas that fly from the machine. A couple kids are also wounded by the killer caffeine projectiles and another is killed by a steamroller. A bible salesman is thrown into the mix with a hitchhiking honey. He speaks of the end of the world. To add an innocent aspect to this potpourri of American culture, a newlywed couple is chased to the sanctuary, Dixie Boy Truck Stop. Our sole survivor from the youth baseball team rides his bike through a slaughtered city. A dog is choked by a remote-controlled car, a man strangled by earphones and a woman killed by her hair dryer. Nothing is safe, not even the ice-cream truck.

Cigar Smoking Pa Fights Back: The owner of the truck stop decides to protect himself with a rocket launcher, firing against one of the circling trucks. One of the exploded beasts is filled with toilet paper that litters the parking lot of the truck stop. Luckily, the owner has a whole arsenal to save the tormented few.

“We made them — We MADE YOU,” the waitress screams at the trucks that have seemingly multiplied to the hundreds.Disciples: We are forced into religious connotations when we see a painting of the last supper. It is not clear where this painting is hanging in the truck stop. However, it does make us consider these final members of society as modern disciples trying to combat the machines that the world created and used for so many years. The machines stand at bay until they need something from their human counterpartsófuel. They call in a machine gun truck which promptly shows the humans who has the real power by mowing a few of them down. The young boy who finally made it to the truck stop is the communication link between the machines and man. This connection is Morse Code.

It’s Feeding Time: In a horrific moment of role reversal, the trucks force the humans to become their slaves. They are forced to pump gas until their hands are raw with blisters and the underground silos are empty. The trucks still demand more. One gently nudges Emilio over to the filling cap and forces him to fill the tanks. In a moment of faulty film making, the truck’s hand operated valve is turned by the machine itself.

Diseased Home: Our hero theorizes about the possibility of Alien influences. He claims that a prospective home might not look so good if it were littered with rats. So what would you do? “They send in their star house cleaners. They send in their broom to sweep us all up. That’s what these machines are — a broom to sweep us all away.” So the unruly disciples decide to leave the sanctuary for a safer haven. They head out the sewer drains to go to make an escape to an island with no machines.

Humans Here: After the humans leave, the trucks plow through the walls of the gas world. A bulldozer even knocks down a giant gas station sign in the shape of a globe. There is no question about it now, the machines want the earth. Each human carries a loaded gun to defend himself from the malicious machines. The young kid destroys a talking fast food menu that is attempting to draw attention to the humans. Then the ice cream truck is destroyed. Finally, the humans make it to the marina where the sail boats are located. A greedy disciple is caught in the headlights of the green goblin truck when he pauses to take a ring from a dead lady. Our hero finally kills the evil truck and they all escape into the night sky.

Russians Save the World? To reaffirm our hero’s theory, the movie ends with an explanation that a “UFO was destroyed by a Russian ‘weather satellite’ which happened to be equipped with a laser cannon and class IV nuclear missiles.” The Earth is safe once again from the creature-machines they had created. The young wife pukes to put a punctuation point on the story.

A classic ’80s movie, Maximum Overdrive provides full-throttle entertainment. King plays with a modern Frankenstein monster. He turns things we trust and love into vicious killers, ones that will even kill children. The continual use of seemingly innocent machines (ice cream truck, pop machine and toy truck) to kill is what makes this movie successful as a horror movie. Once again, the machines ran out of power/gas and were forced to recruit human help. Had the UFO not been shot down by Russian forces, it is easy to see that the machines would have eventually run out of human slaves to fuel them and dwindled out of existence. We would turn to the Amish for our future Earth.

–Jake Nonis

Robot Films