Maximum, Um, Cocaine?
A comet passes through Earth’s atmosphere and captures our planet in its tail fumes. Weird things start happening. Electronic devices seem to gain a mind of their own and turn against their human owners. Everything electric becomes homicidal towards people. Lawnmowers, bank machines, soda machines, everything except most cars, for some strange reason. People all over the world get caught up in a storm of machine murder. One group of yokels hole up at a local gas and shop, where they are held captive by a group of sentient semis, led by a toy truck with a giant Green Goblin face attached to its front. The people inside try to figure out a way to escape using a sewer line, but this gets them nowhere. They are stuck for a couple of days, captive to the whims of the fleet of trucks that circles the store. The owner has a store of weapons in the basement—amassing them in case of a Soviet invasion or some such nonsense—and the survivors must figure out a way to use them to get out. But first, the trucks demand refueling, and so the humans are put to grueling work, constantly gassing up their adversaries. Finally, a plan is born and an escape plan hatched. Can this small, desperate group escape, and if they do, where will they go to be safe from the machine’s mankind has created?
Saw this when it came out in the theater. I was 17 years old, a huge Stephen King fan, huge Horror fan, and pumped as hell to see the Man himself direct his own movie at last. I left the theater feeling confused and sorely letdown. The movie was fun but it was really, really dumb, and that didn’t sit right with me. As empty entertainment, it did its job well. There was action, terror, explosions, and even some blood. But there was no real heart to it, other than to pop a beer and have some laughs. I watched it again on VHS months later and felt the same way. Now, after all these years, I decided to give it another go. And you know what? 17-year-old Kelly was right. This was fun but very, very empty. A big problem is the characters. There’s really nobody to root for. They’re all dumb and cloying, and the only people I liked were the idiot married couple because Yeardley Smith was really funny. I couldn’t even get behind the kid. Something about him just didn’t click then or now. Also, it drags mercilessly in the middle. Yes, there’s some really cool iconic imagery, such as the Green Goblin truck, and the hip-firing of the rocket launchers. The bloody lawnmower is cool as hell, and the soda machine attack is pretty funny, still. King certainly doesn’t shy away from killing kids in this film. But here’s what it’s missing the most and also what makes it all so very confusing: it’s missing Stephen King’s voice. The man himself made it and yeah, his sense of humor is stamped all over it, but nothing else. None of his smart storytelling techniques, none of his careful and intriguing character development, and certainly none of the sheer fear he strikes with so many of his stories. This feels like a movie twelve-year-old Stephen King would make. Look at the funny deaths! Listen to the rocking soundtrack! This is all comic book glory and could work on that level, but this ain’t Creepshow, not by a long shot.
All these years later and why this movie wasn’t any better is still a mystery. I’m just going to chalk it all up to the cocaine and leave it there. It certainly isn’t because King doesn’t know what he’s doing. Around this same time he wrote a cracking and taut screenplay for the Pet Sematary movie. And there’s plenty of evidence in the film itself that he knows how to use cinema as a medium to tell a story. So yeah, pop open a beer, close your brain down, have some laughs. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Just don’t really expect to see anything deeper.