Another relic from the glory days of made-for-TV movies. Some people call KILLDOZER a misunderstood masterpiece of horrific science fiction and others an unintentional chortle fest. I simply think it’s a bad movie.
KILLDOZER premiered on ABC on February 2, 1974. It was based on science fiction legend Theodore Sturgeon’s 1944 novella “Killdozer!,” with a script co-written by Sturgeon and direction by the prolific TV hack Jerry London. It remains one of the best-loved TV movies of the era, which I believe is probably due more to misplaced nostalgia than any genuine affection.
Sometime in the remote past a meteor hits a remote Pacific island. Several millennia later a group of workmen are razing the island with bulldozers and the meteorite is unearthed.
Upon coming into contact with a bulldozer the meteorite emits some kind of radiation that knocks out one of the workers, who dies shortly thereafter. Another workman is killed after attempting to move the now-possessed bulldozer, which comes to life and crushes him. The following day yet another worker meets a similar fate at the hands of the killdozer.
The remaining workman have a difficult time accepting the reality of an evil bulldozer, but are convinced when it destroys their base camp. They decide to relocate to higher ground, but in the process another guy is killed when the killdozer runs over his truck. The three remaining men head back to the spot of their original camp to bury their friend, only to have the dozer dump rocks on them. They manage to escape this onslaught, but then one of them goes mad and tries to take on the killdozer by himself. Big mistake!
This leaves just two men, who decide to fight the killdozer with another dozer on the sight. In doing so they learn “you can’t kill a machine,” but decide to make another attempt just the same, this time utilizing an electrical current…
In truth, I’m none too impressed with Theodore Sturgeon’s original “Killdozer!” story, which may have been scary and exciting back in 1944 but now seems pretty stodgy. The same can be said for this crappy little movie, which (like the story) is overly impressed with its killer bulldozer concept and (also like the story) fails to develop any interesting human characters—who, as in most movies of this type, exist only to be picked off.
To be fair, director Jerry London does his best to create something lively and scary from this material. The camera angles are often impressively outré, rendering the killdozer, with its malevolent flashing headlights and deadly lifting arm, a genuinely credible nemesis.
But the pingy electronic score is a miscalculation that seriously dates the film (JAWS, which rewrote the rules of horror movie scoring, was still over a year in the future). As for the narrative, it’s staid and predictable, settling into an all-too-comfortable groove of killdozer attacks interspaced with dull scenes of the human protagonists arguing among themselves. Nor is the scenery, shot in location in Indian Dunes, CA, particularly novel or exciting.
One thing KILLDOZER gets right is its mercifully short running time: in common with most early 1970s TV movies, it’s only 74 minutes long.
Universal TV/American Broadcasting Company
Director: Jerry London
Producer: Herbert F. Solow
Screenplay: Theodore Sturgeon, Ed MacKillop, Herbert F. Solow
(Based on a novella by Theodore Sturgeon)
Cinematography: Terry K. Meade
Editing: Bud Hoffman, Fabien D. Tordjmann
Cast: Clint Walker, Carl Betz, Neville Brand, James Wainwright, Robert Urich, James A. Watson Jr.