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Maximum Overdrive (#110 of 2)

Summer of ‘86: I Ran All The Way Home: Stand By Me, Take One

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Summer of ‘86: I Ran All The Way Home: <em>Stand By Me</em>, Take One
Summer of ‘86: I Ran All The Way Home: <em>Stand By Me</em>, Take One

Five years ago, I wrote a piece for House Next Door entitled “Boys Do Cry.” Its subject was movies at which men could cry with impunity. Keep in mind this was before John Boehner figured out that manipulative crocodile tears would do for him what they’ve done for women since Eve; society still frowned upon male bawling, especially about movies. Since I expected to be the only person “man enough” to admit shedding tears at celluloid, I chided our male readers, writing “if you’re a real man, you’ll chime in with your own choices.” My goal was to mock and deconstruct stupid macho bullshit codes by confronting one of them directly. I was warned the experiment could backfire, but just like a man, I didn’t listen. You can read the comments section under “Boys Do Cry” for the results of my pig-headedness. I mention it here because the last film in that piece’s list was Stand by Me.

Based on The Body, a novella from the same Stephen King work that would later yield The Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil (Different Seasons), Stand by Me was the second King adaptation appearing in the summer of 1986. Another story from a different collection became King’s directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive. King described Overdrive as “a moron movie,” which made 16-year-old Odie moronic because I kinda liked it. While some of the directorial choices are intriguing, Maximum Overdrive feels made by someone with a head full of raw steak.

Summer of ‘86: Maximum Overdrive

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Maximum Overdrive</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>Maximum Overdrive</em>

The trailer for Maximum Overdrive begins with a voice: “Hi, my name is Stephen King.” A bearded man steps out of shadows. Behind him, we see a giant Green Goblin head. “I’ve written several motion pictures,” King says, “but I want to tell you about a movie called Maximum Overdrive, which is the first one I’ve directed.” We then get our first shot from the film itself: Giancarlo Esposito, bathed in orange-red light, staring down at the camera and saying, “Wowwwww….”

Alas, there is very little wowwww in Maximum Overdrive, but it is not as bad as its reputation. Watching it now, you are more likely to find the movie dull than truly terrible. Its kitsch is not delirious, its actors try hard with bland characters, it had a large enough budget for adequate special effects. It is not, in other words, the 1986 equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space or Blood Feast.

The year before Maximum Overdrive hit theatres, Stephen King appeared in an American Express commercial. His face had certainly been well known to fans before (he acted in Creepshow in 1982), and he was already suffering some of the pains of celebrity, with his house in Maine frequently besieged by people seeking autographs and souvenirs, but the amusing commercial increased his visibility exponentially. The opening, in which King descends a gothic staircase with a candle in hand, now seems like a bad wish: “Do you know me? It’s frightening how many novels of suspense I’ve written. But still, when I’m not recognized, it just kills me.” (His 1987 novel Misery would offer a very different opinion about being recognized.)