Film review #511
Director: Jerry London
SYNOPSIS: At a remote construction site, a group of workers uncover a strange meteorite while using a bulldozer. This vehicle becomes possessed by the strange energy from the rock, and begins killing off the workmen at the site. The survivors must find a way to survive and put a stop to the rampaging vehicle before it bulldozes them as well…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Killdozer is a 1974 TV movie which, as the title suggests, is about a killer bulldozer. The film is a typical sci-fi horror film, with the less typical set-up of the big bad being a construction vehicle. Nevertheless, the plot unfolds as you would expect, with the bulldozer killing off the workmen at the site one by one as they try to work out what is going on and how to survive. The premise of the villain being a bulldozer is the only unique aspect of the film, and as you might imagine, it brings with it a whole host of implausibility about the whole set-up. The film is based on a remote island with only one two-way radio, so when it is destroyed by the bulldozer, they have no means to communicating with anyone (back in 1974 when nobody had mobile phones…). This isn’t the really big problem though: it just seems like a killer bulldozer would not be that much of a threat, given both how slow it moves, and also that it would not be able to get up large inclines. As you might suspect, the characters don’t really seem to consider this, and keep meeting their end with the bulldozer slowly ploughing into them. The film does try to justify it’s decisions and emphasise the futility of the situation, but in a film about a killer bulldozer, you’re never going to be completely convinced of the severity of the entire situation. Then again, it’s a very no-frills production, with a lack of special effects that gives it a gritty rootedness, which makes it in a roundabout way, more believable.
The characters are a group of pretty down-to-earth characters: being a group of construction workers, they all have a similar outlook and mindset. As such they don’t all have distinct personalities on a trope-per-character basis, but while they all overlap, that makes sense given they all have the same job and are all put into the same situation. Clint Walker and Robert Urich as the leads have just enough differences in their personalities to make a dynamic, conflicting relationship form between the two of them, but that’s all the character development you really get. As you might expect, the bulldozer itself doesn’t have much of a character because…it’s a bulldozer. That’s not to say you can’t give murderous vehicles personality and make them scary, because there are quite a films that have done so (albeit after this film was released). I think if there was more of a logic to how the bulldozer was operating, or why it was running amok it would make it more interesting.
One of the more surprising aspects of the film is that it is actually based on a short novel released in 1944, and the basis for a comic adaptation released in the same year as the film. What is also interesting is that the writer of the novel, Theodore Sturgeon, did the re-write of the film too. There’s a lot of changes from the novel, such as being set in the “present” rather than the “present” of the novel in WWII. Being a TV movie, the budget probably wouldn’t have been able to account for the origins of the energy that possesses the bulldozer; which in the original novel was a remnant of a weapon used by an alien race against the ancient race that lived on the Earth (the comic also explored this a little too). In a way, this actually helps the film, insofar as it keeps the film grounded and avoids any fantastical or ridiculous sci-fi elements that open it up to mockery or make it even more unbelievable. Killdozer is about what you would expect from a TV movie: a low budget production that is nothing particularly ground-breaking. This down-to-earth production actually helps the film rather than hinders it though, and sharpens focus on the characters and this bizarre situation they find themselves in. The whole premise is still absurd, and there’s definitely better “killer vehicle” movies out there, but this one works well with what it has.