Doomsday Reels
Trucks (1997)



Chris Thomson

Timothy Busfield (Ray), Brenda Bakke (Hope), Brendan Fletcher (Logan), Amy Stewart (Abby), Roman Podhora (Thad), Jaz Brazeau (Jack), Victor Cowie (George), Aidan Devine (Trucker Bob), Rick Skene (Trucker Pete),

Truckocalypse/Aliens?/Toxic Gas?

“Don’t ask cause I don’t know.” – Brad

So Maximum Overdrive was an utter disaster and the people declared it garbage, none moreso than Stephen King himself.  Strangely enough someone decided that Trucks deserved another go, so in 1997 a made-for-TV readaptation of a seven page story featuring 5 characters (only one of which had an actual name) premiered for all to see.

Now our gas station is a tourist trap in a small town called Lunar where alien conspiracy enthusiasts come to do whatever the fuck those people do.  Our hero is Revenge of the Nerds’ own Timothy Busfield (he’s Poindexter if you’re too lazy to look it up) as Ray the owner, pump jockey, and overprotective single father of a son with a sad heart and a thirst for adventure (underutilized genre actor Brendan Fletcher.)  There’s an elderly cook who served in Korea with Ray’s father, a lady who runs nature hikes for conspiracy nuts (Brenda Bakke) and her customers: an old hippie (Jaz Breazeau), ex-military single dad Thad (Roman Podhora), and his rebellious asshole daughter Abby (Amy Stewart.)  There’s also an incidental married couple and two good ole boy truckers.

There’s no explanation for why the trucks come to life aside from some vague mentions of looking for extraterrestrial life and news reports of a chemical spill.  Eventually all of our characters wind up trapped in the gas station/diner as trucks drive around the diner.  This time for either budget reasons or variety there is only one semi-truck which serves as the trucks’ leader.  Amusingly the leader truck is the same make and model as the Green Goblin truck from Maximum Overdrive.

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Maximum Overdrive did a lot of things wrong, but King knew that Trucks didn’t have enough story to sustain a feature film so he expanded on the subject matter.  The plot points of Trucks were there but King added character depth (though you’d be forgiven for missing it through the fog of lackluster acting), motivation, and a lot more plot threads and set pieces.  Trucks actually removes most of the set-pieces from the story save the “trucks want gas” bit which appears here but loses all its meaning because there are only about 5 trucks that need to be filled up.

What Trucks does add is a lot of filler and most of it is garbage.  Busfield’s character is overprotective of his son because his wife was killed in a random drive-by shooting which is why he drug him out to the middle of nowhere to be safe.  Thad and Abby are having a schism because Thad was always away from home while he was in the Air Force and when he came home he stopped talking to Abby’s mother and they divorced and now he’s always away working for the oil company.  The hippie takes turns being comedic relief and sage advisor, so too does the cook.  The truckers argue about things and lay blame as redneck truckers are prone to doing.  Hope does nothing of value, neither does Thad to be honest.  The two of them are almost entirely devoid of emotion, personality, or character traits.  The overly dramatic soap opera music playing over most of the movie doesn’t help make these plot threads come alive either.

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Trucks sticks to the title by literally only having trucks be the menace.  There are no bulldozers, steam rollers, lawnmowers, electric carving knives, hypnotic arcade machines, talking drive thru speakers, or can blasting pop machines.  It’s just trucks, but while it sticks to this theme it should be noted that it actually outdoes its predecessor in the stupid set-pieces department.

Easily the goofiest kill in Maximum Overdrive is done off-screen.  As a kid is riding his bike down the street he sees various corpses of people killed in the machine uprising but the silliest involves a dead dog lying in a gutter with a remote control police car in its mouth.  Trucks tops that kill by having a remote control truck (actually a Tonka dump-truck mounted on an RC car chasis) set up two ramp trailer toys in front of the glass door of a toy store so that it can ramp over the doorjamb through the glass, knock down a mailman, and ram his head against a street curb until he dies.

Weirdly the RC truck isn’t the dumbest kill in the movie as we see later on when a chemical spill clean-up truck activates its onboard air compressor to inflate a hazmat suit.  The suit then behaves as if it has a person in it, picking up a fire axe and hacking the truck’s occupants to death.  There are less stupid kills but it’s an example of Trucks’ other time-killing measure, the cut-away death scenes that have no bearing on the plot and are used to pad out the run time.  One such scene, involving a lineman electrocuted by his bucket truck, comes so late in the movie that it doesn’t make any sense but was likely placed there because it was filmed at night.

These scenes are all actually fairly gory and disturbing and certainly don’t fit with the rest of the movie.  They don’t turn up often when the film is broadcast on TV and it’s my suspicion that they were filmed specifically for the home video to fill in the run-time where commercial breaks would typically be.

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Sadly, the stupid excessive scenes are the best part of the movie.  The cast isn’t bad but the acting is largely more wooden than that of its predecessor and while Timothy Busfield, Brendan Fletcher, Aidan Devine, and Jay Breazeau are fine actors their roles are all pretty lackluster.  Similarly the actors who aren’t as strong get the more talky parts.  The worst is still Abby, it’s not due to any failure on Amy Stewart’s part and in fact is a bit of a proof of her talents.  Abby is an annoying shithead, her daddy issues and her rebellious teen attitude make her a very contemptible sort and the amount of energy the film expends on trying to give her character some sort of arc is a waste.  I’d rather put up with two hours of Yeardley Smith’s incessant screeching than ten minutes of Abby’s snotty bullshit.

Trucks is also the sort of Stephen King adaptation I despise.  This type of adaptation goes heavy on character and mundanity in hopes of aping King’s style but fails to capture that spark that he has which brings his characters to life.  It’s an attempt to make these films deep but it only draws them out and makes them boring.  Examples include: Cujo, Riding the Bullet, Desperation, Children of the Corn, Thinner, Carrie (any of them), Dreamcather, and Sometimes They Come Back.

Trucks feels like an extended pilot for a TV show, especially considering the ending.  SPOILERS UNTIL THE NEXT PICTURE.  Thad and Abby escape on a motorcycle to go steal a helicopter and meet everyone at a nearby rock quarry.  Ray blows up the gas station around the lead trucks and they make their way out.  When they arrive at the quarry the truck, burnt to a crisp but curiously sporting immaculate tires, chases after them.  They climb into a helicopter just in the nick of time.  Abby is on board but catatonic and clearly shaken by something, Ray goes up to the cockpit to congratulate Thad on a job well done to find that the helicopter is piloting itself.  “Just hold on.”  A robot voice reassures from the helicopter’s radio and the credits roll.

What does that even mean?!  What happened to Thad?  Why is Abby in the condition she’s in?  Why is Abby in the copter at all?  Is the copter taking them somewhere to kill them?  Is the copter helping them?  Is this a backdoor pilot for a new Airwolf series?  You can’t just go out on a note like that!  Maximum Overdrive didn’t have the best ending but at least it ended!

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I think that trying to turn Trucks into a movie is a fool’s errand.  King had the right idea in expanding the scope not just to other machines but to areas outside the gas station.  Even still the framework of the gas station limits the narrative too much and a better idea would be to take the basic idea of Trucks and expand it into an entirely unrelated movie with killer machines.  Or the story could work as-is in an episodic horror TV show or an anthology film.

In any case a cocaine-fueled fever dream is far more entertaining than a movie-of-the-week snoozefest.  Make mine Maximum Overdrive!

Trucks is available on DVD or Amazon Instant.  There’s no Blu-ray but I can’t imagine that anyone would care.

“Living in a world where vampires are the dominant species is about as safe as bare backing a 5 dollar whore. “

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