A made-for-television movie, 1974’s Killdozer was inspired by the science fiction/horror novella by Theodore Sturgeon. The novella was originally published in the magazine Astounding in November 1944. Known primarily for his short fiction, Sturgeon is also notable for his work in Star Trek, contributing the episodes “Shore Leave” and “Amok Time.”
Although the budget for Killdozer was minimal, the creativity and effort displayed by the actors and the production crew make this film a guilty pleasure. Often maligned even today, Killdozer nevertheless has attained cult status (much like other made-for-tv movies, such as The Car, Gargoyles, and Duel). Stephen King riffed on Sturgeon’s concept in his short story “Trucks” (1973), which he also directed as the film Maximum Overdrive. The concept driving the story for me has a Lovecraftian feel, with “The Colour Out of Space” a key short story that perhaps inspired Sturgeon’s idea for an alien-possessed bulldozer.
Killdozer begins with a meteor crashing into the Earth. An unspecified time later, workers building an airstrip on an island off the coast of Africa discover the meteorite, which glows slightly blue and emits a strange, humming sound. Bulldozer driver Mack (played by a very young and earnest Robert Urich) attempts to move the meteor, but he has no luck. His foreman, Kelly (Clint Walker), elects to show the rookie “how it’s done,” and as Kelly pushes the Caterpillar D9’s blade against the bizarre rock, it begins humming loudly. Suddenly, poor Mack screams in agony and faints. As Kelly sees to Mack, the rock’s glow transfers over to the D9, whose blade begins to glow and hum.
Mack dies as a result of what seems like radiation poisoning (although this is never confirmed). Now “possessed,” the D9 goes on a rampage, systematically hunting down the six-man working crew. Kelly and the other crew members (including mechanic Chub, played by Neville Brand, and crane operator Dennis, played by Carl Betz) try to head to higher ground, but their vehicles have difficulty with the terrain. The D9 has no such issues, and even a limited fuel supply does not seem to be a problem, as the machine draws energy from some other source.
The film’s climax has the two survivors—Kelly and Dennis—setting up a trap in which they electrocute the D9. The plan works, but the men are doubtful that the company they work for will believe such a crazy story as a bulldozer coming to life and hunting down/murdering crew members.
Finally available on DVD, Killdozer makes for an entertaining night of family viewing. Special effects are sparse and simple, but all the actors put in some solid performances and the direction by Jerry London keeps the story clipping along well. Some of the writing sequences a bit clunky, but overall the characterization is effective and engaging.
Having experienced the power of heavy machinery personally (my father was a heavy equipment operator for many years), I can understand why authors like Sturgeon (who himself operated a bulldozer during his lifetime) and Stephen King would mine it for horror. Although not as elaborate or effects-laden as today’s movies (where CGI is king), Killdozer delivers the goods with effective storytelling, engaging characterization and direction, and solid performances from actors who easily bring the story of a killing dozer to life.