Killdozer (1974)

JUNE 15, 2021


There's nothing worse than a trailer or ad campaign for a film being very misleading, as it does a disservice to the film by angering the people who showed up and all but ensures it won't find its actual fans until it's been written off as a flop. But it's kind of amusing when the only one to blame is myself, as if I was ever pressed to describe what Killdozer was about, I would have said "A guy makes a tank out of a bulldozer and gets revenge on the people who destroyed his home," but that isn't remotely accurate. Turns out I combined the real life story of Marvin Heemeyer (whose modified bulldozer was indeed dubbed "Killdozer", despite the fact that, miraculously, no one was killed with it in his rampage) and the plot of King/Bachman's Roadwork in my head, somehow, and made up a different movie in my head.

Turns out, the actual movie is about a regular bulldozer becoming sentient thanks to hitting a meteor rock during a job, and proceeding to wipe out most of the crew who is working on a remote, uninhabited island, away from anything else for the bulldozer to do. It was a 1974 made for TV movie, so you'd be a fool to be surprised it had some slow parts, but when not much was happening I was entertained by the gradual realization of how I managed to come up with the wrong plot. The "Killdozer" element was easy enough to figure out (Heemeyer) but between the driverless machine running people down and "meteor shit" to blame I can only assume someone said, at some point, "Stephen King must have seen Killdozer" and I merely managed to attribute a different one of his plots to this. The human brain is fascinating, guys.

Would my imagined movie have been any better? Maybe. It certainly would have been more interesting to look at, as there are only six people in the thing and they manage to kill the distinctive ones off first. One was the lone person of color and the other stood out because it was a young Robert Urich, who my dad knew somehow (I forget the specifics and they're both dead so I can't ask) and was thus a common presence in my early TV watching days, as my parents would gravitate toward things he was in and point him out. I doubt this one was ever one they had me watch; plus he dies first so my horror-hating dad wouldn't have watched any further anyway. Worse, there is literally nothing on the island beyond the men, their makeshift camp, and scattered equipment, so Killdozer doesn't have much to destroy, nor do they have anywhere to hide.

So the movie gets pretty repetitive, as you can imagine. Killdozer shows up and kills someone, they bury him, talk for a bit, try something that doesn't work, and then someone gets killed. Lather, rinse, repeat. One could even think of it as a proto-slasher of sorts, but if you think of the blandest body count movie there's at least some scenery changes to enjoy, which doesn't apply here. Worse, the screenplay (co-written by Theodore Sturgeon, based on his short story) seemingly loses interest in itself as it goes, with the deaths getting progressively lazier. The first one it actually kills (Urich is just sort of fried by its activation and dies later), the guy crawls inside a big pipe thinking he'd be safe, only for the 'dozer to batter it around and send him to his doom - not bad. But by the end, it looks more like that bit in Austin Powers with the steamroller, as the guy is in his jeep trying to get it started while the villain rolls toward him. At no point does the man think to simply get out of the car and run, as the thing isn't very fast and also can't exactly turn on a dime, making escape pretty easy. Nope, he just sits there, even has time for a "Oh shit, I guess this is it..." kind of expression as he literally waits to be crushed. Come on, movie. Try harder.

That said, it's still pretty amusing in its way. It was a 90 minute block TV movie, so it's under 75 minutes (just once I wish one of these would come with the vintage ads that aired along with it) and thus even with the repetition doesn't have time to wear out its welcome, and the extraterrestrial origins were a nice surprise. Whatever remote control type invention they came up with (or hidden compartment for a driver) to operate Killdozer was effective enough; I was surprised how many shots there were of it driving along without a visible operator. And the cast is great: Clint Walker is the lead and he's backed up by Urich, Neville Brand, and James Wainwright (if you name a single television show of note from the '70s or '80s, he was probably in it); the "isolated, all male" grouping is rare in horror (The Thing being the most prominent) and they all play off each other well, even allow themselves to get sad when someone dies. I was also relieved that the Black character wasn't "the BLACK character"; no one ever mentions his race or treats him differently, which obviously wasn't a guarantee at this time and can really sap the fun out of these older films when seeing them for the first time today (this does not mean that they should be JUDGED by today's standards, to be clear - I speak only of how such dated attitudes can distract from the experience).

Kino Lorber's disc (which I found at Target, amazingly; you can't even guarantee that they'll have mid-level box office hits anymore now that their physical media section is so tiny, but they had Killdozer) has an audio interview with director Jerry London (a TV director through and through, which should tell you how interesting he is to listen to) and a commentary by historian Lee Gambin, who provides some insight on TV movies at the time, how the film differed from its source story, etc. He also points out some of the other movies that were shot in the same location (such as Hell Comes to Frogtown), though it looked familiar to me when I watched it the first time so I had already looked it up - same spot as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, which is right around the corner from Six Flags Magic Mountain (eerily, there was a lone bulldozer near the parking lot for a long time I always wondered about). Like the film itself he eventually runs out of gas (vehicle puns!) and leaves with a few minutes left in the runtime, and it's almost never scene specific, so it can be a little less than engaging, but if you're a die-hard fan of this film or any of the actors, there's probably enough in there to warrant a listen. Since the movie's so short and he quits early anyway it'll only take another hour or so out of your life, so you might as well if you bought Killdozer to own forever.

What say you?


  1. I was 12 when I Killdozer live as the TV movie of the week. Yes, we laughed at the premise. But, my siblings and I were all too young to watch an R movie at the theater without an escort, there was no cable, not even videostores. So any type of would-be-horror is gratefully consumed by eager teenage boys who love horror, science fiction, and fantasy.

  2. I remember seeing Killdozer on TV as a kid and wondered if Stephen King had seen this when I saw Maximum Overdrive.

    Have you ever seen the poorly named made for TV movie “The Love War” starring Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson?

    Two rival planet alien assassins are disguised as humans sent to Earth to settle a proxy war and determine the fate of our planet.

    They don’t know what the other looks like, but they are equipped with a homing device that indicates when they are in close proximity as well as special sunglasses that reveal the alien’s true form!

    I always questioned whether John Carpenter had seen this one.


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