Wednesday 29 June 2011

Vehicular Manslaughter

18 – 95mins – 1997
Screenplay by: Brian Taggert
Based on the short story by: Stephen King
Directed by: Chris Thomson
Starring: Timothy Busfield, Brenda Bakke, Aidan Devine, Amy Stewart, Roman Podhora, Jay Brazeau, Rick Skene, William Hope, Brendan Fletcher


It goes without saying that the genre of horror is all about the abnormal, the uncanny; therefore possessing inanimate objects with deranged sentience which gives them unnatural supremacy over their owners is a wickedly perverse concept – when done correctly. For every Childs Play there’s a Small Soldiers, where the transfer of intimidation to an inorganic object diminishes the threat from chilling to cheesy and it’s therefore played for laughs.

This inability to differentiate between these dissonant demeanors ultimately stalls Trucks before it even kicks into gear. What we are left to survey is a flat, po-faced low budget TV Movie from the 1990’s (although, rather tellingly, not released until 2000) about unmanned automobiles running down their drivers that wants to be taken seriously and evoke an eerie/dramatic tension, but the absurdity of the whole endeavour unintentionally invites laughter rather than screams.

Based, believe it or not, on a 1973 short story by master of horror Stephen King, Trucks is actually the second filmic adaptation of this peculiar work, which I can only assume works much better on the page than the screen: 1987’s tongue-in-cheek horror/comedy Maximum Overdrive was actually directed by the author (his first and last foray into that field) and despite universal derision, was perhaps the favourable tone to take, as the only thing genuinely horrific about Trucks is the fact that it ever got made.

Timothy The West Wing Busfield must have been desperate to take on this lazy movie modification, which sees him and a contingent of clueless rednecks become trapped in a dust-ball truck stop by the murderously demented four-wheelers. The trucks (endowed with sentience following a sketchy "toxic spill") joy ride around the gas station’s forecourt, taunting their two-legged adversaries, knocking down signs, honking their horns and flashing their lights at one another to communicate!! It's never really discovered why.

But that isn’t even the epitome of Trucks’ preposterousness: the HGV’s are foiled in their hostile demon-stration by a fatal flaw in their bodywork – without limbs they must still rely on humans to refill their tanks with fuel!! There’s more, still: in a cutaway completely isolated from the main narrative, a postman delivering the morning mail is set upon not by a dog, but a remote control toy truck which trips up the poor man and smashes his head into the curb until he’s dead! Well, at least he didn't have to endure all 95minutes...

In a CR@B Shell: Helmed by inferior drivers, a killer King story careens dangerously off-road and implodes into a lifeless pile of scrap. Steadfastly failing to acknowledge the absurdity in its outlandish sci-fi concept, Trucks plays everything so straight that you’re laughing at it rather than with it.

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