In the history of the horror genre, the threat of killer vehicles may not be as common a trope as say machete-wielding maniacs, but over the years a few gems have popped up to entertain horror fans, with the likes of John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine and the classic 70s horror film The Car being notable examples, but in 1974 the small screen debut a unique vehicular monster that didn’t quite set the world on fire and that film was Killdozer!
This made-for-television movie was based on a novella by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who would also contribute to the teleplay, and though both the novella and the movie have the same name the film itself bears very little resemblance to the source material other than the basic premise of a killer bulldozer coming to life. Sturgeon’s novella began with the explanation of an ancient empire that was at war with an alien race of pure energy and this enemy attacked with weapons that took over metal machinery and turned it against its builders, the story then leapt forward to WWII where a construction crew on a small Pacific Island accidentally uncovered one of these ancient alien weapons which quickly possesses a bulldozer and then proceeded to hunt down and kill the crew. Not much of this is incorporated into the movie because with this adaptation there is no ancient alien war, instead, we simply get a meteorite that crashes to Earth on an island off the coast of Africa where a small group of men are building an airstrip for an oil drilling company.
When it comes to enjoying Killldozer the first stumbling block will be the screenwriter’s strange intent to make almost every character virtually unlikable, giving us not a single soul to really root for. First off, we have foreman Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker) a grumpy recovering alcoholic who seems to take the death of his men as the “price of doing business” and he’s also the film’s resident ostrich as he spends much of this movie’s short running time denying what’s going on, and from there it’s all downhill as we don’t get much more in the wat of character development when it comes to rest of the cast as most of them simply bitch and moan about what’s going on until eventually meeting their demise under the treads of the 49-ton killer bulldozer. The first victim is bulldozer driver Mack (Robert Urich), who uncovered the meteorite in the first place but was quickly relegated to standing around while Kelly tries to bulldoze this strange rock out of their way and he is then bathed in alien energy for his trouble, dying shortly afterwards from his burns. We also have Dennis Holvig (Carl Betz) who is the one character not living in denial of what’s going on but he’s such a snide asshat that we’re almost sad to see him as one of the film’s survivors.
The other hurdle the screenwriters failed to clear was in making the duel between man and machine even remotely suspenseful as the only way this alien-controlled machine can be depicted as a credible threat is if every character it comes across has the survival skills of Wile E. Coyote. I will not deny that a bulldozer is a dangerous piece of machinery but even the atonally weird score by composer Gil Mellé failed to make the “Killdozer” a truly menacing character, and one must admit that seeing a bunch of men stumbling in front of this slow-moving machine isn’t all that thrilling. This problem is highlighted when one of the crew stalls his vehicle in front of the approaching killing machine and then simply sits there repeatedly trying to re-start the engine when he should have been doing anything else, such as say, getting the fuck out of the car and running away.
• The meteor’s size as depicted in this film would have more than likely destroyed that small island entirely, but we don’t even see so much as a decent impact crater.
• Kelly chalks up Mack’s claim of seeing a blue light when the bulldozer struck the meteorite as being the ravings of a dying man, but as Mack died from what looks like severe burns wouldn’t you take into consideration that some kind of energy release was responsible?
• One of the characters takes refuge from the rampaging bulldozer by crawling inside a corrugated metal drainage pipe, which begs the question “How dumb are these people?” I’m no construction expert but even I know a quarter-inch of steel will not withstand the weight of a 49-ton bulldozer.
• When the maximum forward speed of a bulldozer is 7.3 mph, while the average adult male can jog at approximately 8.3 mph, it’s hard to create proper suspense.
• The killer bulldozer is defeated by luring it onto an electrical grid to electrocute it, which was the same strategy used to stop the creature in the original 1951 version of “The Thing” starring James Arness.
Making a thrilling movie about a killer bulldozer was never going to be an easy task, no matter who was hired to direct it, but why Universal Television would choose director Jerry London is a bit of a mystery because prior to this telemovie he was mostly known for directing episodes of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family which doesn’t seem like a great fit when it comes to creating the suspense and horror of something like Killdozer! It’s even stranger when you consider that three years prior to this film Universal Television gave young upcoming director Steven Spielberg the chance to bring a movie about man versus machine to the small screen, in the form of an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story Duel, which goes to show you that even the most simple and basic premise can result in a great movie if the right person is on the job, sadly, Jerry London was not that man.
Could this film have ever worked? Was the premise too lame to survive such an adaptation? In truth, I think an adaptation that kept the WWII setting and its ancient alien roots could have resulted in a good movie, or if not a movie an episode of Outer Limits or Amazing Stories, but what we got here was a science-fiction horror film that was neither frightening nor suspenseful and worst of all it was boring, which is the worst crime a genre film can be accused of. Now, over the years this film has developed a bit of a cult following but I personally can’t see the appeal as there wasn’t much fun to be had watching a bunch of unlikeable characters getting knocked off one by one by a machine that was even slower moving than Michael Myers on a bad day.
Killdozer! (1974) – Review
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
Even at its meagre running time of 74-minutes Killdozer! is a tedious and boring film that doesn’t even qualify for the “So bad it’s good” moniker.