Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review: Killdozer (1974)

One of the great things about growing up in the 70's were all the truly bizarre T.V. movies that were produced and unleashed on unsuspecting audiences.  The horror genre in particular was well-represented with the likes of The Night Stalker, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and Trilogy of Terror to name but a few.  Another standout, remembered for its title alone if nothing else, is the 1974 ABC production Killdozer.  I don't care what one may think of the finished product, you have to admire any team of individuals that would greenlight and participate in the making of a piece of cinematic art called Killdozer.  The ad pictured above pretty much captures everything you need to know going into Killdozer.  Six men in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer bulldozer.  Period.  End of story.  Recently through their video on demand vault series, Universal has released Killdozer almost 40 years after it aired, providing a chance for modern audiences to bear witness.  Revisitng this relic from my childhood, I was curious to see if it would live up to my fond memories and the positive cult classic repurtation it has developed over the years.  I'm happy to say the answer is an enthusiastic yes!

In a nutshell, Killdozer involves a group of construction workers on a Pacific island who unearth a long-buried meteor.  When the aforementioned dozer comes into contact with the meteor, a malevolent entity is transferred into the machine, and begins to dispatch the workers one by one.  That's really all there is to it.  This sort of thing is old hat now thanks to the likes of The Car, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, etc., but seeing a killer vehicle back then was something special.  Even crazier is that they chose a vehicle that doesn't move quickly, lending an air of additional absurdity to the proceedings.  Honestly this could have been an unmitigated disaster, but what makes it work are the performances from a credible cast and great production values. 

Killdozer boasts a surprisingly capable roster of familiar faces including Clint Walker (The Night of the Grizzly), James A. Watson Jr. (Airplane II), Neville Brand (Eaten Alive), and a pre-S.W.A.T. Robert Urich - and let me tell you these guys sell this premise with everything they've got!  Walker plays the foreman for whom the job represents a last chance to overcome alcoholism, and he is deadly serious and straight-faced for the duration.  The always reliable Brand is terrific as a crusty mechanic, and Urich shines in a brief role as the first victim who sounds the warning about the possessed machine.  By far though the award for brilliance in committed thespianism goes to James Wainright (Battletruck) who plays Urich's older best buddy.  This guy really lays it on thick about his friendship with Urich and his grief after Urich buys the farm.  It is way over the top for a movie called Killdozer.  The inappropriatene level of attention given to this character's devotion makes for the type of unintentional entertainment value cult movie fans (myself included) absolutely love.

In addition to the performances, the concept and production team for Killdozer is also top notch.  The film is based on a story by celebrated sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon (who also co-wrote the teleplay), it's produced by Herb Solow (the man responsible for the original Star Trek and Mission: Impossible), and the effects are by the legendary Albert Whitlock (Cat People, The Thing, Dune, etc.).  These are talented folks and the movie reaps the benefits of their participation.  There is a cinematic look to the film, the "cat and mouse" action is all well-staged, and when optical effects are called for they look pretty impressive for a 70's televison movie.  One could easily imagine Killdozer on a theatrical double-bill with Speilberg's Duel (it even starts with the Universal opening logo making it feel all the more like a theatrical release).

If there is any flaw in Killdozer, it's that there are a number of well-worn genre hallmarks that make appearances.  Specifically I was reminded a great deal of The Thing From Another World, to which this film owes a heavy debt.  Nevertheless, the fact that someone had the audacity to try and convince an audience that a self-aware bulldozer could be a credible threat to individuals that should have no problem outrunning it, earns substantial upfront good will in my book.  No matter how ridiculous Killdozer gets, the artistic team never winks at the audience.  Their commitment made the movie worthy of the grade school lunchroom debates that followed its airing, and qualify it as worthy of the fond memories it generated these decades later.  Viva la Killdozer!

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