Even though Killdozer! is a 1974 made-for-TV move, it sports the Universal logo. This is appropriate, as Killdozer! is basically Jaws but with a bulldozer instead of a shark. Throw in shoulder-padded Lorraine Gary (not kerchief Lorraine Gary) and you wouldn’t know the difference. Let’s take a look at Killdozer! and see how it compares to other made-for-TV horror movies like The Intruder Within, Midnight Offerings, Curse of the Black Widow and Satan’s Triangle.


Killdozer! is about a bulldozer that comes to life and terrorizes a construction crew. The film is based on a novella by Theodore Sturgeon. One has to admire Sturgeon’s half-hearted attempt at a pun.

Bull…dozer…Kill…dozer. Eh, close enough. I’m trying to live off five-cents a word here. I don’t have time to play Hamlet on titles.

Killdozer! was published in 1944. Does this mean Sturgeon was a pioneer of the sentient machinery genre? That is a question for historians. Yet, one wonders if Killdozer! inspired Stephen King to explore similar territory in his short stories Trucks and The Mangler, plus his novel, Christine. Richard Matheson’s Duel may also obliquely qualify. The truck in Duel has a human driver but takes on a metaphoric life of its own.

Killdozer! is directed by Jerry London. As an example of how time is a vicious circle, London directed Shogun (1980). Fast forward 44 years and we are watching Shogun (2024)


I’m sorry you turned into pizza.

Don’t Doze On The Killdozer!

Killdozer! starts with meteorite effects that would feel right at home in any number of 1950s drive-in features. The meteorite crashes on a desert island populated by a five-man construction crew building an oil exploration camp.

Clint Walker is the foreman. Walker was a specimen before the age of steroids, nutrition science, and modern training. He stood 6’6 and with a physique built to sell barbells in comic-book ads. Sure, Walker couldn’t beat up Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen, but he would have made a great Reacher.

James A. Watson (Airplane II) is the black guy. The only way you can tell this is by looking at him. Otherwise, the movie makes no overt statement about his race. There should at least be a scene talking about how he can build a base camp but can’t fix a broken home.

James Wainwright is the flaky crewmember. Viewers will recognize him as Wes, the leader of the paramilitary group Robin Williams joins in The Survivors (1983). What a great little movie.

Sonny: You think Wes is god, don’t you.
Donald: No, not god, just an ordinary man. Maybe a little ahead of his time, but just an ordinary man.
Sonny: Wes is an #$%@.
Donald: Blasphemy! Oh, you’ll smoke a turd in hell for that!

Karl Betz, who looks like he should be Darren McGavin’s brother, plays the stoic. He says things like, “Never have anything you care about losing. Travel light and travel alone.” Somewhere an Incel jots that down to turn into a tattoo…

A construction crew requires a mechanic. In this case, that role is filled by Neville Brand, who looks like Calibos from Clash of the Titans (1981). No makeup. That is just his face.

Finally, Robert Urich plays the youngster of the group. He is Wainwright’s buddy. If Killdozer! is remade, this dynamic is a prime opportunity to portray the beautiful relationship of a mentor and his twink.



Killdozer! Unleashed!

Early into the film, we are introduced to the titular Killdozer! It certainly looks like a bulldozer all right, except for one odd feature: it has a conspicuous structure behind the driver’s seat that almost looks big enough to house a hidden driver. Things that make you go, hmmmm….

The crew comes across the meteorite and views it as your average ordinary everyday rock that must be pried up and removed. As soon as Killdozer! touches the meteorite, a blue light is transferred from the rock to the machine. That is all it takes to turn Killdozer! from an inanimate earth mover into an autonomous murder machine, like an AI drone, basically.

Suddenly, one realizes this movie is ahead of its time. Perhaps, it should be labeled as essential viewing to teach us how to battle Skynet.

So, Killdozer! comes to life, and Urich receives radiation burns from the blue light. Or, a better way to put it is that the blue light turns Urich’s shadowed face into what looks like a pizza.

To the infirmary! There, it is revealed that the crew cannot expect rescue. They are so isolated they “might as well be on the moon.” This is pretty solid writing actually, to deliver that information within the need to evacuate a wounded character. We should expect no less from Sturgeon, who delivered the screenplay. Sturgeon was a great writer of golden age of science fiction. A couple of his stories even ended up on the Twilight Zone.


I can see Al’s broken home from here…

Killdozer!? I Hardly Knew Her…

Walker is forced to disable Killdozer! while it marches to the beat of its own drum. Quirky science-fiction music plays during this scene that sounds like something out of Doctor Who. I’ve never watched Doctor Who because I have friends (two, if you count mom), so I have no idea what kind of music the show uses. Yet, if the look of Doctor Who was transformed into sound, it would be Killdozer! running-amok music.

Killdozer! is brought back to camp for repairs. Of course it is, otherwise, the movie would be over. Walker and Calibos have a serious discussion about whether or not they have a bad piece of machinery on their hands. Apparently, this happened to Walker’s character with a road grader once. All of this is delivered with utmost seriousness, which greatly adds to the fun.

Regardless, Calibos fixes Killdozer!, and Watson unwittingly takes it out to do some dozing. Killdozer! bucks Watson off and proceeds to chase him. I don’t have a lot of experience with bulldozers, but I have driven one. Its top speed was roughly equivalent to one of those people on My 600-Pound Life who decide to walk further than the refrigerator for once.

Despite this, Watson can’t escape. He tries to crawl into a culvert to hide, and Killdozer! simply crushes the culvert, which is a pretty hardcore death for a made-for-TV film. What is further hardcore is that his comrades actually bury him.

How they got his corpse out of the culvert would be a movie unto itself…


Want to see me do an impression of a bulldozer?

The Earth Moves

At this point, Walker and company come to realize that something is truly amiss. They pow-wow on how such a thing could be. They want a logical explanation, but none is given.

For the record, Sturgeon’s original story does explain how Killdozer! develops sentience. Basically, there was a war on earth in the distant past between alien races. One of the alien species was clouds of electrons that could take over machinery. A member of this race survived buried in the ground, only to be dug up by the construction crew.

Sounds reasonable…

The novella also contained a fun scene that the movie unfortunately did not use. One of the characters becomes so terrified that they offer to become Killdozer!’s slave. They promise to “oil it, wash it and fuel it,” if it lets them live. Killdozer! is not impressed, however, as millions of cars are treated the same way by their owners. Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Killdozer! wants more.

Anyway, we now reach the stage of the film where the construction crew runs about, and Killdozer! picks them off one-by-one. It is a tried-and-true formula: isolated location, victims and slasher/monster/earth-moving equipment. Take your pick. It all culminates in a showdown between man and machine. Can our heroes exorcize the blue light from their bulldozer and get back to basecamp building? Or will they be reduced to a state that resembles wet towels crumpled up in the sand? Tune into ABC, February 9, 1974 to find out!

I’ll crusha your jeep!

Heavy Machinations

Killdozer! got poor reviews on premiere, but it ended up a minor cult classic. This is understandable. The movie gives viewers exactly what they expect, and the subject matter is delivered with nary a wink of the eye of modern cinema’s inability to take anything but social causes seriously.

If one was so inclined, they could read a deeper meaning into the subject matter. Sorry James Cameron, Killdozer! beat you to the punch with a story of our tools turning upon us. Killdozer! even has the glowing red eyes of a T-800, if you count headlights as eyes. Mayhap Killdozer! it is the distant ancestor of Skynet after mating with a Macintosh.

Theodore Sturgeon is also known for coining “Sturgeon’s Law.” It is thus: ninety percent of everything is crap. This observation was inspired by critics of science fiction who derided the genre for its low quality. Surgeon argued other genres had their share of low quality, too, so what’s the difference?

Ah, another cynic. Let us bask in the delicious misery of lowered expectations still not being met.

Strugeon’s Law holds true to today. Yet, we wade through that crappy ninety percent for that magic ten percent. Is Killdozer! in that ten percent? Sure. It’s not a classic, but it entertained, and when the credits rolled, I was in a better mood than I was at the opening titles. Not everything needs to be 2001 to be in the ten percent. It just needs to be an interesting story competently told.

3 stars

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