Film Review: KILLDOZER (1974)

KILLDOZER *** USA 1974 Dir: Jerry London. 74 mins

Sandwiched between Spielberg’s DUEL and THE CAR, this short, snappy tale of vehicular mayhem from the golden age of American made-for-TV horror films has an unusual setting, an eccentric plot and an impressively straight-faced all-male ensemble. A six-man construction crew working on a small island off the coast of South Africa, hacking out an old WWII refuelling station for an oil company, discover a crashed meteorite. The space rock glows blue and possesses their bulldozer, subjecting the youngest crew member (Robert Urich) to an unpleasant death as it begins moving of its own volition. Foreman Clint Walker is predictably sceptical about the threat (naturally a “she” to this group of manly men), suggesting the dozer is being remotely controlled and refusing to admit the more troubling, otherworldly forces at work.

A one-location thriller adapted from sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon’s short story, this fits into a cycle of piquant macho survivalist horror films encompassing everything from post-DELIVERANCE backwoods ordeals like RITUALS to the icy paranoia of Carpenter’s THE THING. Veteran TV director London tries hard to make the (inevitably absurd) bulldozer a viable threat with a dissonant soundtrack, imposing camera angles and nocturnal cutaways of the machine ominously waiting to strike. More interesting are the internal tensions of the group as they share 70s American paranoia (could it be controlled by a foreign spy?) and accept their expendability within the large corporation to whom they answer. A fine cast, notably cigar-chomping Neville Brand and James Wainwright, build enough character to ensure some impact when the men start to fall victim: you forgive typical corny elements of the period (like the TV movie tradition of a freeze-frame ending) because the performances are so sincere. Sandwiched in between the odd nightmarish images of the dozer looming over a fire like a mechanical hellhound are scenes of the characters mulling over practical, important questions: if we survive this, how on Earth do we explain it back home?!

Review by Steven West


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