“Killdozer” (1974)

With some movies, all you need to do is come up with a great title and it practically writes itself. A movie called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Chopping Mall is a movie with a built in audience. The plot need not be explained, it’s right there in the opening credits. SyFy all but rebranded itself as the number one source for low budget movies with absurd titles like Dinocroc vs. SupergatorChristmas Icetastrophe, and Mansquito. It’s also SyFy that spawned perhaps the most famous of this genre of sorts, Sharknado, deeply self-aware trash that gained an implausibly large amount of audience goodwill mostly due to its silly title. Sure, that goodwill was almost immediately squandered when three more of these things were made, each one relying on an ever growing roster of D-list celebrities and has-beens for cheap laughs, but my point still stands. Give your horror/sci-fi/adventure movie a goofy title, and someone will show up to watch it.

1974’s Killdozer boasts one of the all time best, most promising titles, and yet fails to live up to it. Oh, it starts off strong, when a meteor that looks like it was carved out of styrofoam hurtles towards Earth and crashes on an island. The island is inhabited only by a small construction crew led by Lloyd Kelly (played by Clint Walker, who just can’t seem to avoid running into trouble on islands), and while on a dig with crewman Mac (Robert Urich, whose name doesn’t appear in the opening credits, so you can guess how long he lasts), Kelly discovers the meteor. After it’s lightly nudged with a bulldozer, the meteor emits a strange blue light, which seems to be absorbed by the bulldozer. Mac is also stricken with something that resembles radiation poisoning, and dies soon after, while raving about the light.

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Mac, we hardly knew ye, nor do we have any time to mourn your death, because it seems that, after the encounter with the meteor, the bulldozer has gained sentience, operating by itself and with one heck of a malevolent streak. It seems to instinctively know what it should destroy on the island, taking out the radio first, and then hunting down the crew members one by one, starting with, obviously, the token black guy. It then become a take on And Then There Were None, with the bulldozer somehow managing to always remain one step ahead of the humans, setting traps and ambushes that rely mostly on their inexplicably not paying attention to their surroundings, despite knowing there’s a massive piece of machinery looking to kill them.

Killdozer was clearly intended to be Duel with construction equipment, but it doesn’t succeed. For one thing, even modern bulldozers can barely break a top speed of ten miles per hour, and yet the characters don’t run away from the killdozer so much as just run around it (or, in one scene, literally just sit there and let it roll over them). One character’s death seems to have directly inspired the steamroller scene in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and yet it’s funnier here because it’s played without any discernible sense of humor. The movie also suggests that the killdozer can move about the island undetected, appearing in the middle of a road without warning, even though nothing powered by a diesel engine is capable of sneaking around, let alone a 100,000 pound chunk of steel. Watching the killdozer “lurk” behind some bushes is like watching an elephant try to tiptoe through an antique shop.

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What made Duel work (besides the fact that a truck can go more than ten miles per hour), is that its unseen driver seems to have it out specifically for Dennis Weaver, for reasons neither Weaver nor the audience ever understand. Before road rage even had a name, someone with that much sheer power literally in their hands just deciding, for their own twisted reasons, to stalk and torment you, was a terrifying concept. In Killdozer, it just seems sort of arbitrary–whatever force was inside the meteor simply possessed the first object that came into contact with it. The same thing could have conceivably happened with a blender, or a leaf blower (that being said, I wouldn’t be terribly averse to watching a movie called Killblender).

Eventually, Kelly and unnecessarily sarcastic crew member Dennis (Carl Betz) are the only survivors of Killdozer’s very slow moving rampage, and it dawns on them that maybe they should try destroying it. Despite the frequent cutaways to tranquil ocean scenes, it never occurs to anybody to try to force it into the water. Hell, it takes two days before anyone thinks to use the other construction equipment against it. One wonders how Kelly and his crew got this job in the first place, because it seems like they don’t have enough brain cells between them to operate a lemonade stand, let alone a construction site.

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Finally, they try electrocuting Killdozer, which does the trick. The blue light comes out of the bulldozer, it fades away and…that’s it! Despite the brutal deaths of four of their co-workers and friends, Kelly and Dennis have a good laugh over how they’re going to explain what happened, and then Kelly cheerfully throws his hardhat in the air like he’s Mary Richards.

Man, you just don’t waste a golden opportunity like Killdozer. Think of Maximum Overdrive–it’s a hot pile of garbage populated by characters who you pray will die as quickly as possible. Now, think of how bad it would be if it didn’t have a scene where a guy is murdered by a soda machine, or when a young Giancarlo Esposito is hypnotized and then electrocuted by an arcade game. That comical brutality saves the movie, and so it would for Killdozer as well. Alas, given the time and the medium, it just wasn’t possible, so instead we get drawn out scenes of a bulldozer slowly knocking over a shack, or painstakingly pushing a pile of rocks over a cliff. It’s not scary. It’s not exciting. You could have taken most of the bulldozer’s scenes and repackaged them into a video for kids called Big Jim’s World of Trucks, and no one would have noticed. Perhaps now, more than forty years later, SyFy can take a crack at it and do right by a title like Killdozer.

Original airdate: February 2, 1974

Watch it here

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