Killdozer (1974)

Killdozer is two things at once: an amazing portmanteau and a lackluster TV movie. Seemingly inspired by the success of 1971’s Duel, ABC tried capturing lightning-in-a-killer-vehicle twice. Like Duel, Killdozer is based on a short story by a noted author; Theodore Sturgeon penned the sci-fi tale for Astounding Science Fiction in 1944.

Director: Jerry London
Runtime: 74 minutes
US Theatrical Release: February 9, 1974; ABC

Reflecting the time in which it was written, the story concerns a group of men building an airstrip for U.S. forces battling the Japanese. While doing so, they unwittingly unleash an evil alien life force. The entity subsequently possesses the bulldozer which happened upon it. What ensues is a story of survival as the bulldozer – er, killdozer – picks off the crew one by one.

The novella was a minor hit for Sturgeon, but after his co-adaptation for the screen, Killdozer truly became the cult classic it is today; and despite the movie forgoing the WWII angle (placing it firmly in the 1970s) it is essentially the same story.

With that said, a story about an isolated crew battling Japanese Zeros and an alien bulldozer would have been so much more compelling! For despite all the hype, the titular machine proves an uninspiring threat. Sure, it murders but only by way of the old, “people being killed by a slow-moving assailant because they either stumble/trip over everything OR decide to stand still and scream” trope. The dull mayhem is accentuated by the blasé pacing of London’s direction; fair or not, one can’t help but imagine a more thrilling version utilizing the dynamic camerawork of Spielberg’s Duel.

Therefore, by the film’s conclusion, you’re left with little to write home about. The ensemble performs admirably enough; no matter the “silly” situation, they commit to the life-and-death stakes. Unfortunately, however, without genuine themes to explore (the script maybe touches on ideas of machismo and Vietnam), the actors are left with little to do other than die as spectacularly as possible.

Killdozer provides some fun moments but ultimately does not stand the test of time. Strong cult vibes here, but otherwise too plodding to warrant multiple viewings.

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