A small construction crew on an island is terrorized when some strange spirit-like being takes over a large bulldozer, and goes on a killing rampage.
If memory serves me correctly, the 1970s brought us many nature runs amok movies. Jaws, Piranha, Gator, and Grizzly are all examples of movies that were trying to show us that the nature not only doesn’t like us much, but it wants to see us die in rather horrible fashion. 1974’s made for TV flick, Killdozer (1974), bucks the trend by having technology be our enemy this time around. It may have even preceded the nature trying to destroy us movies by a few years, but the question is if it still manages to bring us a new thing to fear.
The answer is not really. Killdozer centers on 6 American construction workers hired to begin building an airstrip on an island off the coast of Africa. Two of them uncovers a meteor that had been buried for thousands of years. It’s emitting a strange humming noise, and reacts when one of them, Foreman Kelly (Clint Walker), tries to move it with a bulldozer. The a blue light flashes a bright light that has fatal consequences for the other worker, Mack. The strange light makes the bulldozer sentient. Said ‘dozer then begins a violent rampage in a quest to kill all the fleshy humans on the island.
The main problem with Killdozer is that the concept is a little too silly to take seriously. The bulldozer never elicits much in the way of terror. It just wanders around the island until it decides it’s time to attack. There is, however, some tension to be had in a scene or two. This is a very powerful machine that is almost unstoppable, and the movie does a decent enough job by showing how it manages to power out of the traps the characters set for it. The fact that there seems to be a form of intelligence at work, as the bulldozer does show some capacity for strategy, makes it all the more dangerous. However the death machine in question is never truly scary. It’s just a construction machine moving on its own with no real logical explanation to why the meteor would affect it so or why it would turn to violence. It didn’t have that same sense of menace evoked by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own turn as a machine in the original Terminator movie that came out ten years later.
Being that this is a TV movie from the ‘70s, Killdozer has an unsurprisingly limited budget. As a result, there’s a few scenes where the special effects are not particularly convincing. However, those are rare. This was a flick that didn’t rely too much on dazzling special effects, so it made it easier to cover whatever shortcomings the lack of resources may have caused. The filmmakers did a decent enough job of making the bulldozer seem truly seem like it was driving itself, and that was the only major effect that really mattered. They may not had a lot of money to use, but they made the most of it at least.
This appears to be directory Jerry London’s first time helming a movie, and he does a pretty decent job here. He seemed to have a clear vision of what he wanted and handles everything with more competence than I’ve seen in the last few movies I’ve had to review. He had a great sense of pacing and kept moving things at a reasonable speed. That’s not to say he knocked my socks off, but after having to sit through some of the other cinematic dreck, having fairly decent direction is an improvement.
A nice surprise is that the acting was fairly solid. The cast was made up mostly of veteran actors who cut their teeth on various television shows over the years. For the most part, everyone gave a fairly decent performance. It’s to their credit that the actors all seemed to treat the material seriously despite how incredibly silly it all is. Clint Walker in particular was pretty great in this. He played a fairly moral man who is in the unenviable task of being the boss, which means he sometimes has to be the hard ass. However, he does seem to care about the fate of his workers and does everything he can to try to keep them alive while also trying to stop some of them from mentally cracking. He made a fairly likeable lead whose fate you become invested in..
While the movie itself is well made for a ‘70s TV flick, with decent acting and directing, it’s ultimately undone by the overall ridiculousness. The titular killdozer is never really that frightening and is sometimes kind of silly looking. There’s a reason why this movie ended up being on the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 series after all. However, it still manages to be an entertaining movie that’s managed to become a cult classic over the years.