Sunday, September 27, 2009

Killdozer (1974)

An oil company sends a crack construction crew (I always wanted to use that phrase) to an island somewhere far away from civilization. The men are supposed to build a base camp for some never defined project. The lowly workers don't much like their rather cold and aloof foreman Kelly (Clint Walker, whose schwarzeneggerian inability to emote becomes a minor plot point), but that is not going to be their core problem for too long.

One of their bulldozers - and the largest and prettiest at that - hits a strange meteorite while digging.

A cheap blue energy effect roasts the youngest of the men (future TV darling Robert Urich) and floats into the dozer. No one actually understands what has happened or why, which seems reason enough to blame Kelly who just shrugs and plans the next day's work. Kelly has seen something, but isn't willing to accept it.

Soon, the dozer starts to act up, as if it had a will of its own and not a lot of love for the meatbags around it. First, it goes for the crew's only radio, then it slowly begins to hunt the men down and kill them.

Tensions between its designated victims run as high as ABC and the mediocre acting abilities allow. Fortunately, our heroes might be chumps, but they know who their true enemy is (a big yellow taxi, um, dozer) and that it is only proper to challenge him/it/whatever to a duel between alien-possessed and human-driven construction vehicle.

When that doesn't work out, they just steal their next plan from The Thing From Another World. And that without a scientist.

Killdozer is one of ABC's TV movies of the week, and therefore burdened with a combination of low budget, short shooting time, not much special effects and at best mediocre acting.

To my delight, the people in charge of this production (and, seeing that this is TV, I'm not sure if that means director Jerry London) seem to have taken these problems as a challenge.

If you have no money, it's a an idea Roger Corman would surely approve of to just drive a handful of construction vehicles through a sandy backlot in California, and just film them moving around a little, while your actors are trying to look construction worker-ly. What do you know, it might even work!

The film is based on one of the weaker stories of the great SF short story writer Theodore Sturgeon, who is also listed as co-writer of the script. He and his writing partner Ed MacKillop (with only this single credit on IMDB to his name, therefore smelling of someone using a pseudonym) do a fine enough job of keeping the film's pace a little faster than that of most TV movies, yet probably too slow for the less patient viewer. That's of course not the film's problem, but the viewer's.

If you want to have fun with Killdozer, you'll obviously somehow have to live with (or even like) the very silly basic premise and be able to accept a big yellow dozer representing a malevolent evil from outer space. Of course, someone who can't do that doesn't have too much business watching fantasy and horror films at all, especially in cases like this where the script does its best with the premise by playing everything as straight as possible, trying to ease the viewer into the necessary suspension of disbelief. If you decide to suspend it, the film even gives you lots of perfectly annoying/awesome synthesizer throbbing and thrashing as a bonus.

The characters are a little cliched, but more out of a necessity to work with the film's running time of not even 70 minutes than out of stupidity, and it is a positive surprise how unsympathetic each and every one of them is allowed to be without falling into the "they asked for it" trap of horror movie victims.

It's really a neat little movie. In its small, unassuming way, it applies the techniques of cheap, yet conscientious filmmaking to the TV movie formula of its time and succeeds nicely.

Killdozer will probably be too workmanlike for some, but I have to say that I had quite a bit of fun with it. Honestly, how many films about a possessed bulldozer are there? And how many of them feature an awesome construction vehicle duel?



The Divemistress said...

This is the second review I've read for Killdozer in the past month (the other was in a recent issue of Rue Morgue). I think the dozer is stalking me...I absolutely MUST see this movie.

Todd said...

A classic movie of the week -- even if it doesn't star Stuart Whitman, Bradford Dilman or Kay Lenz.

houseinrlyeh said...

Divemistress, it is the classic of dozer cinema, so you probably should.

Todd, I have to admit I would have preferred Whitman to Walker. Although Walker isn't as bad as he was in that Dan Curtis/Richard Matheson not quite werewolf movie whose name I can't bother to look up. At least he is not meant to be charismatic here.

The Igloo Keeper... said...

I just posted my review of Killdozer over at my igloo -

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie quite a while ago... I don't remember much, except that it was written by Ted Sturgeon, which pleased me much, because I always thought he was one of the most wonderful of the old-time science fiction writers (perhaps the most wonderful) as well as a fine person (or that was my impression, anyway). So, thank you for acknowledging Sturgeon's significance in your review of this movie - not many people do.

houseinrlyeh said...

Given my own love of Sturgeon's work, it would have been very wrong to ignore him.