Of all the movies out there based on Stephen King's books, the worst is the one he directed himself. And King would agree. In 1986, Maximum Overdrive, with a screenplay by King and based on his short story "Trucks," premiered in theaters starring Emilio Estevez. King had written screenplays before, but this marked his directorial debut. It was also his directorial finale - not because producers soured on the author, but because King thought he did such a poor job that he should never get behind the camera again.
The tales behind the making of the film are so crazy, they make the movie kind of great. These Maximum Overdrive production stories come from people who worked on the film, along with revelations from King himself. The behind-the-scenes narratives include admissions of heavy drug use, a lifelong injury, and a cameo visit from Tom Cruise. Perhaps the cameras should have been rolling behind the scenes and not on King's sentient, evil trucks.
Adding to other Stephen King facts, information about the making of Maximum Overdrive offers insight into the author's vida loca in the '80s and the movie that ended his directorial career.
Years after Maximum Overdrive whimpered away from the box office, Stephen King granted an interview with Tony Magistrale to help the author complete Hollywood's Stephen King, a look at the adaptations of his work. When it came time to talk about his truck rampage film, King admitted he was "coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and really didn't know what [he] was doing."
Members of the cast and crew don't remember King sneaking off, but a translator for the Italian crew members recalls seeing the author get really drunk. He told Slashfilm, "I did know that he was drunk. That 6 o'clock in the morning we have a roll call and he's drinking beers. And by 8:30, he's on his 10th beer."
A camera assistant recalled what could have been cocaine boredom setting in while viewing dailies: "He was getting bored because the dailies were two hours. And now that you tell me this quote, I imagine that, with cocaine inside, two hours sitting is very long."
One day, while filming a scene with a lawnmower that comes to life, Armando Nannuzzi, the film's director of photography, suggested removing the blades. The camera was low to the ground and placed on a wooden wedge to get a low angle, but the blades weren't in the shot, so it shouldn't have been a big deal. King insisted that the blades stay, though. He supposedly said, "There's no f*cking way. We have to be as real as possible."
During filming, the lawnmower lost control and split the wooden wedge, sending a splinter into Nannuzzi's eye. Filming stopped for two weeks while he underwent surgery, and after finishing the film, he later sued the production and King for $18 million.
According to people who worked on the film, the only person King saw filling the role of Bill Robinson, the trucker who puts a stop to the great truck menace, was Bruce Springsteen. King believed the singer's blue-collar appearance would perfectly fit the film, but producer Dino De Laurentiis didn't know who Springsteen was and cast Emilio Estevez in the role.
According to De Laurentiis's translator on the film, King "couldn't give a sh*t about the movie" after Springsteen was out of the picture.
Dino De Laurentiis, the producer behind Maximum Overdrive, was an Italian businessman who developed an interest in cinema and went on to help finance films like Blue Velvet, Serpico, and Army of Darkness. Even though he was a notorious watchdog when it came to his company's funds, he splurged on many of King's novels to prove he was in love with his soon-to-be wife.
A translator who worked for De Laurentiis told Slashfilm, "When he met Martha, I knew it was Italian love. Because the first thing he did was purchase the rights to several novels from the most successful novelist in the world at the time. And that man was Stephen King."