Maximum Overdrive [1986]

"I'm gonna scare the hell out of you," intones Stephen King in the trailer for his sole directorial effort, the much-maligned Maximum Overdrive. While the end result doesn't live up to that boast, this sci-fi/horror tale isn't as awful as it's been described. King's script (based on his short story "Trucks") focuses on the patrons of a North Carolina truck stop, which comes under attack by a convoy of trucks and other machines animated by Earth's passage through the tail of a "rogue comet." King's fans, tired of half-baked screen adaptations like Cujo and Children of the Corn, expected a horror home run from Maximum Overdrive and instead got an old-fashioned drive-in movie filled with car crashes, cheapjack gore, and fart jokes. Needless to say, they stayed away in droves; the film's failure helped ruin producer Dino De Laurentiis's DEG Films and forced King to sheepishly claim that he had created a modern-day Plan Nine from Outer Space. While the film is torpidly paced and often amateurishly acted, it's no worse than any direct-to-video thriller, and King's ear for dialogue occasionally shines through the gloom. Emilio Estevez and Pat Hingle register as a heroic cook and his black-hearted boss, respectively; the cast includes Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson's voice), Giancarlo Esposito, and Marla Maples (!) as a victim. Anchor Bay's letterboxed print is the R-rated theatrical version; the film was cut extensively after receiving an X rating for violence. The original trailer and a thorough biography on King are also included. --Paul Gaita

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