On MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE

Words on a rock ‘n’ roll trash horror classic

It’s taken Stephen King’s MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE thirty years to get any sort of authentic respect and I don’t even think it’s quite there yet. Thing is, I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it and, as it features a full soundtrack by iconic Aussie rockers AC/DC, heard it. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating and virtually every other critic of the period saddled it with the same sort of sneering disdain.

To be an 11 year old boy in 1986 and stand up and say “FUCK YOU! I LOVE MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE!” took courage. I ran the risk of spinning into the roll of cinematic social outcast, shunned by my peers and ridiculed by my pals.

But I’ve never really been one to give a gear what anyone else thinks about me so what the hell.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is a hubcap headed, gas spitting 1986 sci-fi action trash classic; the first and – if you believe his publicly uttered promise since then – only film to be directed by one of the most influential and Important fantasy/horror fiction writers in history. The film was indeed one of the worst reviewed studio pictures of its time and it has since been either ignored, reviled or smarmily dismissed. And while the diesel powered shocker is indeed nowhere near a decent creeper and is a pretty odd choice for one of the major forces of literary fear to choose as his maiden film voyage, I think it’s a fascinating example of the working class hero King aesthetic in full, perversely amplified effect and truly believe that there’s more going on in the picture than perhaps even its director understood.

Continue reading “On MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE”

On WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?

A look at the shattering 1976 Spanish horror film

I first watched the 1984 Stephen King-penned horror film CHILDREN OF THE CORN with my parents on cable when I was 10 and even at that relatively easy-to-please age, its punch-pulling pedigree was obvious. Here was a film with a shocking enough opening sequence (I especially winced at the bit where the creepy kids pushed the beefy chap’s knuckles into the blender) and with a pair of solid enough lead actors in Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton and propelled by the grim concept of small town kids locked on murdering everyone over 18. But the film was utterly undone by juxtaposing the eeriness of the killer tots with an inner look at their religion and societal structure and was totally torpedoed by an FX heavy ending complete with a silly corn-creeping demon.

It’s understandable that CHILDREN OF THE CORN shrugged and sunk its inherent horror deep into the weeds because, well, that’s kinda what American horror movies did in the 1980s. This is not to necessarily dismiss 80’s American horror films outright, because I generally like them for what they are – lighter in tone, conventional, accessible and slick. But a movie about kids killing their parents and all adults within their sight-line needs to cut deeper to the bone. It needs to have the courage of its convictions. King’s own original short story played with suggestion and shadow to unnerve effectively. The film adaptation aimed to wrap the terror up with a tidy bow to please the multiplex set. The result is a picture that is neither fish nor fowl.

Continue reading “On WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?”

On GRAVEYARD SHIFT

An appreciation of the undervalued 1990 Stephen King adaptation

With every movie-going human being tripping over their toes to ladle love and money on the lavish remounting of Stephen King’s gargantuan novel It, it’s nice to see that the veteran master of literary arcana’s source material still has the power to suck in the pundits. If you believe the hype, It (or at least the first part of It that has thus far seen release) might just be the most financially successful horror movie in history. Critics are hot for the movie too and, to be fair, It is a beautifully produced and faithful realization of the 1986 book, improving on the limitations of Tommy Lee Wallace’s flawed but effective 1990 TV miniseries and providing a wealth of scares, both of the slow-creeping and jump-out-of-your-skin variety.

But the problem with It is that the picture – which reframes King’s initially 60s-set tale in the 80s – feels kind of…forced. Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things is the poster child for this wave of Regan-era pop culture fetishization, a greatest hits of that decade’s horror and fantasy movie tropes and it all works. Because of the show’s success, it’s clear that IT was re-designed to ride those small-screen coattails, going so far as to its casting of Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard. And because of that, IT sort of left me a bit cold. It felt fabricated, calculated. It’s a fairly safe blockbuster entertainment, goosed-up gore be damned.

Now, come with me as I dial-back the clock to 1990 and the release of the King-cribbed Graveyard Shift. The ’80s saw a boom of lower-budgeted films that licensed King’s short stories, fleshing them out to varying degrees of success. King himself directed one of these cinematic expansions, 1986’s Maximum Overdrive and while King has since rejected that film (his first and last as a director) as a coked-up folly, I adore the picture. In fact, I tend to love most of the King films blown-up from his short stories (Creepshow, Silver Bullet, et al). Truth be told, I actually find King the writer at his strongest in the short story format. His novels – while expertly constructed and realized – tend to be bloated affairs that are not always suited to cinema.

Continue reading “On GRAVEYARD SHIFT”