As someone who has loved Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive for more than 30 years now (I wrote about it HERE a few years back), the recent Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray for what I consider to be the ultimate cult film of the 1980s is an absolute treasure trove of awesomeness for fans and newcomers alike. The special features dive into literally everything you could want (minus an interview with King and Maximum Overdrive star Emilio Estevez), from the casting to the effects to how producers Dino De Laurentiis and Martha Schumacher (De Laurentiis) helped establish “Hollywood East” in Wilmington, North Carolina, and even follows the story of how the Green Goblin head came to be restored back in 2011.
I won’t really dive into the story of Maximum Overdrive, because chances are, if you’re reading this site, you are probably already pretty familiar with King’s tale of killer trucks that terrorize a truck stop in the south after a comet triggers an event that causes all the machinery in the world to come to life. Starring the aforementioned Estevez (who was in peak “Brat Pack” mode at the time), as well as Laura Harrington, Pat Hingle, Yeardley Smith, and John Short, Maximum Overdrive marks King’s one-and-only time at the helm of a feature film. And yeah, I know he gets a lot of crap for that cocky video teaser where he says, “If you want something done right, you ought to do it yourself,” especially considering the fact that this is after we’ve already seen some incredible King cinematic adaptations come out over the years (Carrie, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and Christine, just to name a few), but considering the film he was making and his approach, it feels in line with everything we see in the film, for better and for worse.
One thing you can never accuse Maximum Overdrive of being is subtle; it has about as much subtlety as a semi rolling through a nitroglycerine plant, but that’s what I love about it. It’s bold, it’s brash, it has swagger—amplified by the various AC/DC tunes pumping throughout the film’s iconic soundtrack—and it even calls its own director an asshole in his opening scene cameo and also haphazardly tosses a watermelon at Marla Maples during the chaotic bridge scene. And sometimes, as a fan of the genre, you want to drink champagne, and sometimes you just wanna get sloppy drunk and chug some Old Milwaukee’s Best. And Maximum Overdrive is like the horror genre’s equivalent of Old Milwaukee’s Best. It ain’t pretty, but it sure as hell gets the job done.
So, say what you will about Maximum Overdrive, because the movie does have its fair share of issues, but it’s never boring, it never pretends to be anything that it isn’t, and at the end of the day, it offers up an endless barrage of movie magic tricks that I still think are rad and hold up to this very day. I’m grateful that those of us who have grown up loving this odd duck of a cult classic can finally celebrate Maximum Overdrive properly, courtesy of the new Vestron Video Collector’s Series release. The film itself looks incredible, as I’ve been watching it on DVD for decades now, so I really love how much this HD version really makes this feel like a new movie (I picked up so many details in just the production design elements to Maximum Overdrive in these first three viewings of this Blu-ray that I am so excited to be able to go back and dig in again and again).
As far as the special features go, similar to the film it’s celebrating, there is A LOT going on here. We get two Maximum Overdrive commentaries, and admittedly, I only have had time to give the one with Jonah Ray and Ryan Turek a go so far, but their enthusiasm for MO is palpable and entertaining to listen to. In “Truck Stop Tales,” Martha De Laurentiis is interviewed about her involvement in the film and how the project came together with Stephen King at the helm. She gives a great interview, but I noticed a few random black screens during this doc, but overall, it’s really great. A fun tidbit she shares in this is how King had AC/DC songs written into the script, proving he knew from the very beginning he wanted the powerhouse group to be involved with Maximum Overdrive, so it’s a good thing for all of us that it all worked out. And as Martha points out, Stephen made movies for the audience, and that’s exactly what King does with the film that he has gone on to dub a “moron movie” (I’d beg to differ on that title, but that’s an entirely different conversation right there).
For “Rage Against the Machines,” we catch up with Laura Harrington, who came down to Wilmington from New York, and she shares some stories about working with Stephen and Emilio, including how one day she went boogey boarding with Emilio and Tom Cruise. She also talks about the Italian film crew that worked on Maximum Overdrive that didn’t really know about how American filming went, and so because most of their films were dubbed at the time, they would just speak over scenes because they didn’t realize how that would affect things. In “Honeymoon Horrors,” both Yeardley Smith and John Short talk about their involvement with the movie, both just coming of off Broadway. Their affection for their time spent on Maximum Overdrive is evident, and I must say, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Lisa Simpson say, “F--k yeah!” Both actors also talked about the uncomfortable conditions of the MO shoot, but how everyone still came together to make the best of it, which was just lovely to hear.
“A Kid in King’s Court” focuses on Holter Graham, who plays the plucky and lucky baseballer Deke, whose dad falls victim to one of the killer trucks at the Dixie Boy. He reminisces on how it was an audition tape he had made for Silver Bullet (another De Laurentiis production) that led to him coming aboard Maximum Overdrive, and shared his memories from the surreal first meeting he had with Dino, where the famed producer was sitting on a throne. Graham also shares a fun factoid about the soda cans from the scene where the machine goes crazy at the baseball field, discussing how they were made of foam. Something else that was really cool was that apparently during production, Graham got to go to a midnight showing of Repo Man with Emilio, which is something I am supremely jealous of.
“Maximum Carnage” celebrates the work of Dean Gates, the special effects wizard behind all of Maximum Overdrive’s ambitious gore and blood gags. He talks about how he had been working on Invasion USA with Tom Savini when he got Maximum Overdrive, and that it was the first time he was the guy in charge of everything. Gates also discusses MO’s overly juicy squib hits, and how he had wanted to take the guy in the backyard with the chainsaw gag even further, but wasn’t allowed to. Effects fans will really enjoy hearing a lot of what Gates has to say here, as he also digs into the infamous steamroller scene, and how in one take the dummy head popped so it looked like brains went flying everywhere, and on another take, they loaded the dummy with blood bags for a gnarly result. He also reveals that the coach’s head gag used a technique from Dick Smith, and how if you watch very closely, you can see in one of the frames of Maximum Overdrive the mirror trick that they used for the truck hit stunt. This is easily one of the best segments on this release.
There’s another mini-doc called “The Wilmington Factor” that dives into the history of this sleepy town in North Carolina that became known as “Hollywood East,” which was largely due to the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (Firestarter came first, then Maximum Overdrive, and more just followed suit from there). We get interviews from several crew members as well as reporter Ben Steelman, so for anyone curious in production history, this one is a good watch. With “Who Made Who?”, author Murray Engleheart delves into AC/DC’s involvement in the soundtrack for Maximum Overdrive. As someone who grew up listening to AC/DC, and am still pretty sure that the only reason my mom agreed to take me to see this movie in theaters is because of the band being front and center, I do feel like some of this material could have been included elsewhere, as it’s a pretty brief discussion overall.
The final featurette included on this release is “Goblin Resurrectus,” which is centered around film fan Tim Shockey, who restored the Green Goblin to all its glory and now tours with his repurposed masterpiece to shows all over the US (I had the distinct pleasure of seeing it for myself first-hand at Flashback Weekend in 2013). He talks about how he was running a video store at the time, and how his brother saw an ad in the paper about the Green Goblin head, and he encouraged Tim to buy it. The thing was in rough shape, so in 2011, he decided it was time to restore it. He spent two years getting it back in shape, and the results are glorious. I’m glad we have guys like Tim around who realize the importance in preserving horror history, so it’s cool to see his efforts lauded here.
As a whole, if you love Maximum Overdrive, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better celebration of this sweaty slice of trucksploitation than what we get in this Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray. It’s a gorgeous presentation of the film, and the special features are thoroughly entertaining (again, I would have loved to see something from Estevez or King, but that’s just me being a bit nitpicky). I know it’s a release I’m going to spend a lot of time enjoying in the future, and I think it’s been lovingly put together precisely for all of us who grew up embracing Maximum Overdrive’s wacky, over-the-top shenanigans since the 1980s (plus, it makes for a helluva introduction for newcomers to boot)—just a really excellent Blu-ray all-around.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 5/5