Release Date(s)1986 (October 23, 2018)
Studio(s)De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector's Series)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Maximum Overdrive is a difficult movie to properly get across to anybody who wasn’t around for its original theatrical release or its subsequent mainstay on cable TV throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. In no way, shape, or form can it be described as a good movie, but in spite of itself, it’s immensely entertaining in a way that I’m sure wasn’t anyone’s intention when it was originally released in 1986. In a story about a group of people trapped inside a southern-fried truck stop, surrounded by murderous trucks, lawnmowers, steam rollers, and other pieces of deadly machinery, it’s clear that the film was always bound for some kind of greatness.
Loosely based upon Stephen King’s short story Trucks and featuring a hard rock soundtrack by AC/DC, King took up the reins on the film for his first and only time as a director. After years of adaptations of various qualities, as well as working with filmmakers like George A. Romero, it seemed to be the right time for him to direct his own work for a change. Looking at the film under a microscope today, it’s surprisingly not as totally inept as some folks make it out to be. It’s solidly-executed with decent visuals and plenty of good special effects, but with a mix of poor and over-the-top performances, appallingly unlikable characters, and a constant lack of logic, it makes for a infamously peculiar question mark on the career map of Stephen King himself.
At the time, King was (self-admittedly) having drug and alcohol-related problems, which managed to infiltrate his work. Even his novels seemed to be extra inventive, dishing out more than simple tales of vampires of telepathic young women. He has since gotten himself clean and sworn off directing forever, but Maximum Overdrive is evidence of a man who likely felt invincible to some degree, as if he could do anything. That said, he still managed to pull off a movie that, while plagued with problems, still found an audience to support it. Featuring Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, and early roles for Yeardley Smith and Leon Rippy (as well as blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Marla Maples), Maximum Overdrive continues to amuse with its vast amount of cult appeal.
Maximum Overdrive makes its North American Blu-ray debut via the Vestron Video Collector’s Series. The transfer appears to be an older one, but a good one nonetheless. Grain isn’t all that intrusive, but nothing ever appears scrubbed or smooth. Depth and detail are fairly strong with deep black levels and good contrast. The color palette isn’t overly potent as there isn’t a variety of bold hues to begin with, but the neon green of the Green Goblin-adorned truck is as robust as ever. Skin tones appear natural, and the overall presentation is stable with only minor scratches here and there leftover. The audio is presented in two options: English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 DTS-HD, the latter of which is the film’s original soundtrack, as well as subtitle options in English, English SDH, and Spanish. I personally prefer the 2.0 track as that’s how I’m accustomed to hearing the film. It’s a decent stereo experience with AC/DC’s music buried in back for the most part, but always ever-present. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, which is a good thing because even during its quieter moments, it was sometimes difficult to discern on VHS. Sound effects lack real impact, but there are some nice instances of panning and ambience.
Where this release truly shines is its abundant extras selection, almost all of it brand new and culled together by Red Shirt Pictures. There’s an audio commentary with author of Hollywood’s Stephen King Tony Magistrale and Michael Felsher, which is a frank but entertaining discussion about the history of adaptations of Stephen King’s material; another audio commentary with actor/comedian Jonah Ray and Blumhouse film executive Ryan Turek, which is more of a fan commentary; Truck Stop Tales, a 16-minute interview with producer Martha De Laurentiis, who shares her insight into working with Stephen King and how the film’s production progressed; Rage Against the Machines, a 10-minute interview with actor Laura Harrington about her character and her work in the film, mentioning that she wasn’t a Stephen King fan before taking the role; Honeymoon Horrors, an 18-minute interview with actors John Short and Yeardley Smith, both of whom share plenty of great stories about working on the film and how grateful they were to do it; A Kid in King’s Court, a 17-minute interview with actor Holter Graham, who talks about working with King and Emilio Estevez, relating how he was also up for parts in Silver Bullet and Stand by Me at the time; Maximum Carnage, a 17-minute interview with special make-up effects artist Dean Gates, who goes into detail about those infamous MPAA cuts; The Wilmington Factor: Hollywood East Meets the King of Horror, a fantastic 30-minute documentary about the filmmaking community of Wilmington, North Carolina, featuring interviews with the film’s construction manager Jeffrey Schlatter, local newspaper reporter Ben Steelman, wardrobe supervisor Jayme Bednarczyk, best boy Jock Brandis, constructionist and grader Don Blanton, grip Joseph D’Allesandro, and assistant art director Rod Schumacher; Who Made Who?: AC/DC Meets Maximum Overdrive, a new 7-minute interview with Murray Engleheart, co-author of AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll about the band’s involvement with the soundtrack and how it helped revive their slumming careers; Goblin Resurrectus, a new 10-minute interview with Tim Shockey, owner of The Goblin Project who rebuilt and restored the Green Goblin head from the film; 9 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage; an animated still gallery containing 64 behind-the-scenes photos, set photography images, and promotional materials; the film’s original theatrical trailer in HD; and 2 TV spots. Although there’s no involvement from Stephen King himself, this is still a hugely satisfying and entertaining set of bonus materials, particularly the documentary and interviews.
After a few years of being out-of-print on home video in the U.S., Vestron Video rescues another highly-requested cult title with Maximum Overdrive, producing an excellent Blu-ray edition of it with a nice transfer and a mess of terrific extras. For many of us who spent our youth watching the movie on TV with Joe Bob Briggs on T.N.T.’s MonserVision program, it’s likely to be an exceedingly exciting release. Aimed at them in particular, it comes highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons