31 Horror Movies in 31 Days: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Italian uber-Producer Dino De Laurentiis basically wrote a blank check to author Stephen King when he requisitioned him to be the director of this kitschy, submental miscarriage. King is not Wolfgang Petersen and therefore, the technocratic rampage with machines, car and other appliances is not ferociously helmed but it is a geek show of some grisly deaths (the steamroller splatter over a little-league player is from the Troma playbook). The sentient drawbridge is a lavishly orchestrated set piece but the watermelon smashes are too fatuous. Did Gallagher consult on the proper method?

King’s cameo as a bank patron who is called an asshole by the ATM is not on the tier of Hitchcock. Whereas the movie would probably be straining for a raucous cocktail, metal band AC/DC really accelerates the film to new heights with their soundtrack of rock tunes (“Who Made Who?” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”). The grinding score whenever an electronic device attacks is too strident though. It’s headache-inducing after awhile. A soda dispenser ejecting cans is more campy than nail-biting (especially when the first one is a groin shot). For a movie with such a ripe premise for mass hysteria, the film is a tedious chore.

Not to mention, the cast is chockfull of nuisances such as a prolix bible salesman and the newlywed Connie (Yeardley Smith’s high-pitched yells are nails on a chalkboard). You applaud at the truck stop waitress’ demise because she is such a dunderhead when she is attempting to rationalize with machines that “we made you.” Emilio Estevez is a gritty protagonist but his rebellious-parolee streak can only carry the film to a certain degree. It’s pretty regretful that King mostly concentrates on vehicular manslaughter when any machine could be possessed by the comet. Nuclear missiles? Planes? Trains? A more nuanced director could coax the apocalyptic dark laughter from these scenarios but King is utterly maladroit with the pungent possibilities. I have a negative kneejerk reaction to any film that resorts to excretory sound effects for potty-humor.

Rating: 1 out of 5

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