Resin Heroes

After the fact: A youth spend seeing movies on cable



Stand by Me

Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a whole lot of movies in the theater growing up. To be sure, some years we’d see a few, but some years none at all. But it’s not like we missed seeing anything we wanted to see, we’d just have to wait a while to see it on “tape,” which in my peer group was pretty common.

Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China

In 1986 there were some truly great movies released like Aliens, Platoon and Stand By Me. And some alright ones that none-the-less were very popular like Top Gun and ”Crocodile” Dundee and some that would become cult-classics like Big Trouble in Little China, One Crazy Summer and Maximum Overdrive. But the only movies that I actually saw in the theater that year were Transformers the Movie and Flight of the Navigator.

That’s right — when I could’ve been seeing things like Aliens or Stand by Me in the theater, two films that I still watch every year, instead me and a friend rode our bikes to go see the big-screen version of a TV cartoon and one I went with my brother and his punk friends to see for a birthday.

Most movies I saw growing up were either rented on VHS or on cable, HBO at our house. Which means that to me a lot of movies have release dates a year after they actually came out.

Aliens

Aliens

To me, Aliens came out the summer of ’87 when myself, a cousin and my brother stayed up late, watched it on HBO and scared each other silly camping out in the living room afterward. And the same goes for Top Gun too — except there the next day we chased each other around on our bikes engaged in aerial dogfights.

With new movies when I was growing up unless the theater was in bike-riding distance, where we lived there was a little two-screen theater nearby in a strip mall, and unless that theater actually screened the movie we wanted to see, which for a little two-screen theater in a strip mall was doubtful, we would be out of luck since getting a ride to more distant cineplex was doubtful. No parent wants to drop a kid off across town, then go home for a few hours before returning back to pick them up. And if the movie was rated “R” that was another matter entirely.

We never had those problems seeing movies on cable or VHS. VHS renting was much easier for the parents. The parent takes you to the rental store where you pick out whatever you want to see. And unless the box art for the movie was too titillating or gruesome it usually wasn’t a problem. Then all the parents have to do is haul the kids home with said tape — which is much easier than a trip to the theater.

Transformers the Movie

Transformers the Movie

If the movie was on cable it wasn’t an issue for us to see whatsoever. We’d watch what we wanted in our parent’s bedroom when they in the living room and then trade places when the parents were ready for bed.

It seems odd to think about it now when movies are released on home media just a few months after the start of their theatrical run, but in the ‘80s movies would first be released in the theater then six months later would turn up for rental on VHS, then a few months after that for purchase on VHS then a year after the theatrical release would turn up on cable. THEN maybe a year after that release on network TV. Which could sometimes be a big deal since the network TV versions of movies that came out then could be multi-night affairs where additional scenes might be added to the movies that weren’t included in the theatrical or VHS versions. And this was years before “director’s cuts” of movies.

I remember my dad telling me when he grew up that some of his fondest memories were of spending Saturday afternoons “at the movies” watching a procession cartoons, serials and films. But to me some of my fondest memories were of me and my friends taking trips to the rental store or spending all day Saturday afternoon waiting for 8 o’clock for HBO’s movie premiere of the week.




Disaster Du Jour: Maximum Overdrive



Gruesome poster for a DVD release of Maximum Overdrive

Gruesome poster for a DVD release of Maximum Overdrive

I can declare that Maximum Overdrive is almost, very nearly, but not quite, a great movie. It’s close to being in the same league as the original Night of the Living Dead and Halloween films but comes up just a bit short. Writer/director Stephen King is nearly able to give Maximum Overdrive an underlying message to make the movie more than just the sum of its parts while at the same time delivering the gore and scares but in the end falls short.

In Maximum Overdrive, when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet all the machines on the planet spring to life, go crazy and seemingly have the singular goal of murdering everyone in sight. If it’s not the mower cutting the dad instead of the lawn then it’s the pop machine shooting out sodas at unsuspecting little leaguers or the semis prowling the interstates looking for their next unsuspecting car to squish.

Emilio Estevez and Laura Harrington

Emilio Estevez and Laura Harrington

The movie follows a group of random survivors who find themselves at a truck stop just off the interstate and learn that if they want to survive they must feed a never ending fleet of big rigs lined up on the road needing gasoline to fuel their destruction of the human race.

Maximum Overdrive is the kind of movie where if you can accept that one of these semis can silently creep up on a man, then have the magical power to accelerate to a speed fast enough to catch said person off guard and run them down then you’ll probably enjoy the movie. If you are not down with that logic, it’s probably best that you find your entertainment elsewhere.

One of the murderous trucks

One of the murderous trucks

I was most certainly down with the logic of Maximum Overdrive.

Essentially, Maximum Overdrive is a re-imagining of Night of the Living Dead but with trucks in the place of the zombie ghouls. Seriously, no joke. Here, instead of the survivors holing up in an abandoned farmhouse, they hole up in the Dixie Boy truck stop. And instead of the group coming to rely on African American Ben (Duane Jones) for survival, they rely on ex-con turned short order cook Bill (Emilio Estevez).

Deliciously campy Maximum Overdrive poster

Deliciously campy Maximum Overdrive poster

Where King is nearly able to transcend the genera is that he’s almost able to tie in the idea that our dependence on machines and oil makes us slaves of the machines and not, as we like to think, the other way around. There’s an interesting little speech Bill gives at one point about the gas at the truck stop that’s “practically uncut” like drugs, but it comes off so ham handed and over the top it’s more of a comedic than a dramatic one and it fails to give the movie any deeper meaning.

It’s almost like King was on the verge of saying something interested but pulled back at the last moment hence the comedy rather than drama.

Emilio Estevez in Maximum Overdrive

Emilio Estevez in Maximum Overdrive

That being said, I did think Maximum Overdrive was a fun movie, if plagued with logic problems. Like, how exactly does one of these semis that’s sprung to life drive itself? Is there some weird ghost driver or is it something in the mechanics? And why do some machines spring to life and not others? If  (spoiler alert) all the machines are under the control of this force, how do the Russians use one of their satellites (aka a machine) to stop a coming alien invasion and deactivate the murderous machines?

It would help the movie too if the characters weren’t so broad and ill-defined. There are several characters here who have the annoying habit of shouting most of their lines — “WE MADE YOUUUU!!!” springs to mind. The most well drawn character of the bunch is “Bubba” (Pat Hingle) who seems to be having a ball with his character of an unapologetic slimy southern gun-loving cigar-chomping owner of the Dixie Boy. If only everyone else were having as much fun here as Hingle.

Still, Maximum Overdrive is a decent enough movie that’s probably best enjoyed watched in the dark, late at night preferably with a group. Maximum Overdrive is available on DVD. Grade: C.