Oh, man, the TV movie- can anything be more insipid? Usually with a low budget, bad acting, and bad production values, this doesn’t necessarily make a bad movie (I love tons of movies made with these detriments) but made for TV movies usually have one thing that can’t be forgiven: they’re boring as hell. Part of this has to do with television censors not allowing much of anything all that interesting to take place on screen, but mostly it’s because these movies are made in a hurry by people who don’t care, and are designed to do one thing: fill a two hour hole to sell commercials during. But in the ’70s, there arose quite a few decent ones made with some amount of talent and inspiration. Gargoyles, Salems Lot, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (which wasn’t released until ’81) are a few examples of ’70s TV movies which actually went above and beyond their job description and entertained (even thrilled at times).
Killdozer is another decent one, perhaps not as thrilling as the best of the ones mentioned above (it is a little slow moving in places), but just the name and overall plot is more interesting than most TV movies (or even a lot of theatrical ones).
Written by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon (who also co-wrote the screenplay), it’s about six men building an air strip on a remote (and presumably deserted) island in the Pacific. When one of them digs up a meteor, a malevolent entity ‘possesses’ the bulldozer and begins attacking and killing them.
Let’s not mince words here- the storyline is ridiculous. After it kills several of them and they figure out that it is alive, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep out of reach of a slow moving bulldozer (and watching the bulldozer stalk them, hiding in the bush and watching for it’s chance to strike is pretty amusing). The thing that makes it tolerable is the brisk running time (just 73 minutes) and the absolute earnestness of the cast. This is a cast of grown men playing no nonsense construction workers, and they sell it. Every one of them is a typical square jawed ’70s working man, and they play their roles seriously. That includes fighting a sentient serial killing bulldozer. There’s no cuteness or tongue in cheek winking, they all work very hard at making it believable.
There isn’t much in the way of special effects (mainly a man with radiation burns), but everything looks authentic and realistic and the acting is good (featuring actors such as Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and a young Robert Urich (The Ice Pirates)). It’s also shot with a bit more care and artistic flair than your typical TV movie, and looks great- obviously a better stock of film was used to shoot it than your average TV production..
While it probably would not thrill modern audiences in the least, it is still worth mentioning for the ambitiousness of the producers to greenlight such an absurd concept, the dedication of the cast to sell the plot with everything they’ve got, and it’s historical significance (it is one of the very first killer vehicle movies, predating The Car, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, and most any other killer vehicle movie I can think of except for Spielberg’s Duel (1971), which was also a TV movie). I have to say that if I was a kid sitting at home in 1974 and it came on TV, I would have thought it was pretty damn cool.
That’s not to say, however, that I don’t wish this was an R rated theatrical production. I’d love to see a sentient killer bulldozer wreck some real carnage with a bit more money and some gore thrown into it. Now that would be a true cult classic.