Monday, November 5, 2018

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) (Vestron Video Blu-ray Review)


Label: Lionsgate/Vestron Video
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 98 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Stephen King
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher MurneyDragon

I grew up a fan of horror, the kid of a mother who was a rabid reader of the books of Stephen King, my earliest memories of being scared were looking at the covers of King's books as they lay on the coffee table in the living room, barely able to read the synopsis on the back covers, and still having nightmares about them without even having read them! The first of the Stephen King movie adaptations to get under my skin was Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976), which was a late-night TV viewing when I still in the single-digits. The next was Tobe Hooper's TV mini-series adaptation of Salem's Lot (1979) when it originally aired on TV, when I was six. So, the stories of King's have been scarring me from when I was knee high, but it was in when I was thirteen that I saw a trailer for Maximum Overdrive, the one with Stephen King himself addressing viewers with the music from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, saying that if you want something done right you ought to do it yourself, apparently he was still sore about Kubrick's The Shining! The fact that the 'King of Horror' Stephen King was going to adapt and direct one of his own stories for the very first time seemed like a big deal to me, when he pointed at me from the screen and said "I'm going to scare the Hell out you!" I believed him.

I never was able to convince my parents to take me to see it at the cinema but I eventually caught up with it on VHS, and while it wasn't the terrifying experience King promised I did find it very entertaining, but in an unintentionally funny sort of way. The film  brings to mind Romero's NOTLD in that in has a vague cosmic origin, the Earth is passing through the tail of a rogue comet, the night skies are bathed in an unearthly green glow, and for some reason electronic devices and trucks become sentient and begin killing humans in a myriad of ridiculous ways, beginning with a fun drawbridge scene with loads of smashed watermelons. If you watch close you can catch a glimpse of out demented President's former wife Marla Maples screaming her head off. 

The hero-ish guy here is Bill (Brat Pack-er Emilio Estevez, The Breakfast Club) a short order cook at the Dixie Boy truck stop, a place run by Southern blowhard Bubba (Pat Hinge, Commissioner Gordon from Tim Burton's Batman). Things at the truck stop start going sideways when one of the truck stop employees is blinded after being sprayed in the eyes with diesel fuel while refueling a rig, a short time later a waitress is attacked by an electric carving knife that is out for blood! At a nearby baseball field a little league coach is killed by a soda machine that machine gun fires it's 12oz aluminum ammo, nailing the coach right in the head, leaving behind a bloody welt. The baseballers are then chased off the field by a driverless steamroller that mows down one of the kids! Also figuring into the main cast is a cute hitchhiker (Laura Harrington, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension), and a pervy bible salesman, and a bunch of redneck truck stop employees and regulars. Eventually they all find themselves holed-up inside the truck stop, made prisoners by driverless semi-rigs that encircle the business, forcing the humans to pump gas and occasionally running one down when they get too sassy for their own britches. The semi-rigs seem to be lead by a ominous black rig with a fiberglass head if the Green Goblin hanging off the front end. 

Honestly, King turned out to be a bit of a shit director, admittedly high AF on cocaine and drinking mouthwash to get his alcohol fix during filming, so it doesn't seem like he was in full control of his faculties, the end result is funny and a bit oddball. Now, oddball isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when I was a teenager, which I was when I saw this, so it has some serious staying power courtesy of nostalgia, and three key components that made this a movie I watched on the reg: is was from the mind of Stephen King, it featured the music of AC/DC, and the face of the Marvel's Green Goblin on the front of  truck, I was a huge fan of all three things at the time, heck, I still am! 

This came out at a time prior to Marvel realizing the potential profitability of their comic properties, they licensed the likeness of the Green Goblin to Stephen King for Maximum Overdrive, which as I stated was part of the reason I loved it as a kid. That big green face with red-glowing eyes looked so damn cool, sure, it makes little sense but it is cool. The gore here is fun but not as depraved as King had originally planned, including a much bloodier scene of that kid being flattened by the steamroller. A popular urban legend has long told that Stephen King himself was sitting on a gorier R-rated version of the film, but with this release that seems to have been exposed as a myth, unfortunately.

Emilio Estevez is a man of few words, he seems to going for the strong but silent type hero, but he seems more wooden than stoic, but at least he's not over-the-top bad, but in this film that might have been a viable option. Pat Hingle is awesome as the cigar-chomping redneck that runs the truck stop, who keeps military grade weapons in a basement for some reason. Then there's Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) who is even more nerve-grating than I remembered as shrill-voiced newlywed, her voice ringing out the name of her husband Curtis throughout the film. The best acting in the film comes from kid Deke, played by Holter Graham, he's the most sympathetic and least annoying of the bunch, riding through the aftermath of suburban carnage on his BMX, spotlighting some of the most ridiculous kills in the film when he sights the corpse of a dog on the side of the street, having apparently choked to death on a R/C controlled car that's lodged in it's throat! There's also numerous corpses who seem to have been killed by their Sony Walkmans, not sure how that works, but there you go.

The film has a strange internal logic, if electronic and motorized vehicles are now sentient why is it that there are no cars killing people, how does the fuel truck turn it's own valve release wheel, and how does that gun-mounted utility cart turn it's own gun and fire? You will find yourself asking these questions, but I have to tell you that they're just not that important, Maximum Overdrive is hardly the only 80's horror movie to be more silly than frightening, but it has that strange 80s charm that allowed you to enjoy it as the slightly inept movie that it was, the fact that it has Stephen King behind the camera was just another selling point that makes it a little easier to swallow, it's just a fun 80's horro movie, it's not that hard to figure out.  

Audio/Video: Maximum Overdrive (1986) arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate as part of their Vestron Video imprint, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 2.35:1 scope widescreen. The image is generally soft looking, sourced from a dated HD master this did get some new color correction from Lionsgate, but blacks are weak and fine detail and clarity are uneven and limited even at the best of times. I'm not sure what the source of this HD Master is but the image is generally free of debris and blemishes, I wouldn't be surprised if the at least some of the images issues goes right back to the source, the way it was shot originally, but it's fair to say the film has always look bad on home video, this new Blu-ray is a sight better but far, far removed from the best the HD format has to offer. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA with both stereo and surround options, the surrounds has more power and depth, the AC/DC score comes through with all the riff-power you were hoping for, even there Psycho-inspired stinger sounds great. The use of the surround channels is fairly limited, but the track is solid, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Lionsgate comes through with a wealth of extras, this is a movie with loads of stories to be told, and thankfully we get quite a few of the stories here. Sadly Stephen King opted not to take part n the extras, as is his usual thing, but what we do get is quite satisfying, beginning with two audio commentaries, the first with Writer Tony Magistrale, Author of Hollywood’s Steven King, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. The pair discuss the film but also go deep into all the King adaptations, it's a lovely chat filled with conversation about all things King. The second commentary is more a fan commentary, with actorcmedian Jonah Ray and Blumhouse Film Executive/Shockwaves Podcast co-host Ryan Turek, they affectionately riff on the film in a MST3K sort of way, they're not great at it, but it is a fun alternative to the other commentary. 

Producer Martha De Laurentiis shows up for “Truck Stop Tales”, a 16-min interview, discussing the film and the production in North Caroline following Fierstarter, how this was a total Stephen King vision. She also goes into acquiring AC/DC for the score, shooting the drawbridge scene, working with the cast, and the difficulty of all the driverless big rigs, and how the gore was cut down by the MPAA. She also addresses the "I'm gonna scare the hell out of you!" trailer starring King, the box office failure and critic scolding, and the cult-status of this and other films That she and Dino De Laurentis made in the 80's.

The 10-min “Rage Against the Machines” is an interview with actress Laura Harrington who played the love interest for Emilio, discussing her early career, not being a reader of King's work, working with an Italian crew who worked very differently than American film crews, pointing out that in Italy they don;t film with live sounds so the crew would talk during takes, which was disorienting. She also talks about the terrifying stunt work in the film, acting against Emilio and meeting his friend Tom Cruise in the process.

Actors John Short and Actress Yeardley Smith appear in the 19-min “Honeymoon Horrors”, they discuss getting their roles, Smith who plays the voice of Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons has such a distinct voice, she played one half of the annoying honey mooners a bit to well, her shrill Southern-affected voice drove me nuts! They both discuss the humidity and crawling through the sewer tunnels, the filthy truck stop, and a few of the precarious stunts they were involved with. Yeardley also goes into how she thought this was gonna be her big break-out scene, and how the film broke it's own rules, which the audience didn't appreciate it. 

Actor Holter Graham gets a 17-min interview in “A Kid in King’s Court”, describing his early career, audition for Stand By Me, not getting it but landing a role in Maximum Overdrive, meeting Dino De Laurentis, rehearing a muddy scene with King, shooting the steamroller chase and the soda machine scenes.

I always love the special effects extras, and this is a great one, a 16-min special make-up effects artist Dean Gates speaks about getting the gig while he was working on Invasion USA with Tom Savini. This being the first film he was lead on, creating the cool special effects of the film, detailing and addressing the infamous steamroller scene, there's a version of it with the kids head bursting like a blood-filled balloon. Shooting both gory and more restrained versions of a few scenes, why the gunshot squibs in the film are so "juicy", and how the write-up in Fangoria for the film which highlighted his work really launched his career.

A very cool extras is the “The Wilmington Factor”, interviews with the local production technicians who worked on Dino De Laurentis productions in the area, how their sleepy little town was transformed into a vibrant city by the influx of Hollywood productions, how it became the norm to see movie stars in their city, and how later local politicians soured the cinema-making gold rush by removing tax incentives.

"I'm Gonna Scare The Hell Out Of You!"
- Stephen King

The last of the new extras is “Goblin Resurrectus” featurette, detailing the restoration of the Happy Toyz Goblin seen in the film by video store owner Tim Shockey, plus the 7-min “Who Made Who?”, an Interview with Murray Engleheart, Co-author of AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll, who speaks about AC/DC's music in the film, how it came at a crucial point in their career, somewhat reviving the band. I love that he's sporting a Lazy Cowgirls t-shirt, another great Aussie rock band. 

The disc is finished-up with 9-min of Behind-the-Scenes Footage, a still gallery, Theatrical Trailer and some TV spots. The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, housed in a slipcase with the same artwork. 

Special Features: 
- NEW: Audio Commentary with Writer Tony Magistrale, Author of Hollywood’s Steven King
- NEW: Audio Commentary by Actor and Comedian Jonah Ray and Blumhouse Film Executive Ryan Turek
- NEW: “Truck Stop Tales” Featurette – An Interview with Producer Martha De Laurentiis (16 min) 
- NEW: “Rage Against the Machines” Featurette – An Interview with Actress Laura Harrington (10 min) 
- NEW: “Honeymoon Horrors” Featurette – Interviews with Actor John Short and Actress Yeardley Smith (19 min) 
- NEW: “Maximum Carnage” Featurette – An Interview with Make-Up Effects Creator Dean Gates (17 min) 
- NEW: “A Kid in King’s Court” Featurette – An Interview with Actor Holter Graham (17 min) 
- NEW: “The Wilmington Factor” Featurette – A Look Back at the Filming of Maximum Overdrive with Members of the Production Crew in North Carolina (30 min) 
- NEW: “Who Made Who?” Featurette – An Interview with Murray Engleheart, Co-Author of AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll (7 min) 
- NEW: “Goblin Resurrectus” Featurette – The Restoration of the Happy Toyz Golbin (10 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage (9 min) 
- Still Gallery (9 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- TV Spots (1 min) 

It pleases me to see Maximum Overdrive get a U.S Blu-ray, the transfer is not as "wow" as I would have hoped but the wealth of extras are quite wonderful, making this an overall excellent release of a much loved bad-film. Maximum Overdrive is not a good movie, but it's an awesome bad movie, sloppily made and poorly assembled, but with enough blood, carnage and lunacy to keep me coming back for more, year after year, this sucker is highly recommended.


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