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Killdozer

     "Remote control. That's got to be it. That thing is runnin' by remote control! Listen. Listen, you guys. We gotta do something. I mean, something's wrong. Machines just don't run by themselves. That means there's somebody else on this island. You know, foreign spies or something..."

-- Dutch    

     "...How 'bout a mad scientist?"

-- Holving    

 

     

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Sights &
Sounds:
Killdozer
(1974)
 Original Air Date:
  February 2, 1974 (ABC)
 Universal-TV /
 American Broadcasting
 Company
 

 
 

Our film begins many centuries ago with an unfortunate looking meteor a'tumblin' toward a planet suspended on a string; a planet that looks suspiciously familiar...

After making a rather [un]spectacular crash landing, the space rock begins radiating an unhealthy looking bluish glow, and also begins to emit a menacing drone. And there it sat, undisturbed -- until now.

We switch to the present (-- some time in the mid-70's, judging by the wardrobe), and our attention is drawn to six construction workers clearing and leveling some land on a tiny, remote Pacific island. Sent there at the behest of the mega-conglomerate Warco, these men are on a mission to build a base camp for an oil refinery. Apparently, the island in question has been deserted since it was used as an airfield during World War II. However, the work to reclaim it isn't progressing fast enough for the man in charge, Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker), a no-nonsense company man, mostly due to the constant goldbricking of Dutch and Mac (James Wainwright and a very young Robert Urich). Rousting these ersatz treasure hunters out of an old and abandoned barracks, Lloyd puts these two back to work demolishing them.

Jumping on the big D-9 bulldozer Mac fires it up, and while leveling the few remaining buildings he runs the blade right into our mysterious meteorite. Now, the rock isn't all that big but the dozer canít even budge it. Seeing things have come to a halt again, when an angry Lloyd wants to know what the hold up is Mac points out the strange rock, but neither man can identify the anomalous mini-monolith because it doesnít really match "the geological landscape." But in the end it doesn't really matter what it is, the obstacle has to be removed. So, Lloyd jumps on the D-9, backs it up, and takes another run at it. Suddenly, as if sensing the danger, the meteor starts to glow and whine again, and when Lloyd hits it, there is a massive discharge of energy that burns Mac and knocks him off his feet. And as the men rush to help him, we also notice that strange blue glow has now transferred from the rock to the D-9...

Theodore Sturgeon is a well vetted master of writing science-fiction, which is kind of amazing when you consider his limited and sporadic output. In between interminable bouts of writer's block, the author penned some seminal sci-fi pieces, including More than Human, where six individuals mesh together for the next step in human evolution, and The Cosmic Rape, which finds the Earth menaced by the spores of an extraterrestrial hive-mind, whose advanced scout finds these Earthlings fairly unsuitable for their groupthink way of existence and starts tinkering. Sturgeon is also famous for his contributions to the classic Star Trek franchise. With his "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time" episodes, the author laid the foundation for The Prime Directive and established several important tenets of Vulcan mythology, including the hand signal and phrase of "Live long and prosper." Sturgeon is also famous for establishing what has come to be known as Sturgeon's Law, which can mean either one of two things. In the first interpretation, the author, in defense of his genre, postulated that, yes, "90% of Sci-fi is crud, but then, 90% of everything is crud." The second version is a little more cryptic in that "Nothing is always absolutely so." Yes, the man definitely left his mark, but frankly, you can push all of that stuff to the side. For, to me, Sturgeon will always and forever be the guy who wrote Killdozer.

Constituting the author's sole output from 1941-1945, Killdozer was written in just nine days and was first published in the November, 1944, issue of Astounding Science Fiction. In the novella, Sturgeon postulates that the Earth used to be inhabited by a race of super-intelligent beings, whose machines become possessed by some "intelligent electrons" that caused them to turn on their masters. These beings then create a "Neutronium Shield" to combat the possessed machines but it, too, was corrupted and winds up destroying everything but itself. With nothing left to do, this Neutronium Shield sat dormant for centuries upon centuries until it was eventually discovered by some native islanders, who worshipped it as a god. Then, along came World War II and when its island refuge is targeted by the Allies as a perfect spot for a strategic airstrip, the engineers moved in and promptly demolish the temple where the idol was stored. This violent action inadvertently reactivates the Neutronium Shield, which quickly takes control of Daisy-Etta, the team's bulldozer. And as it runs amok, initially breaking its driver's back when he's bucked off, one of the workers kinda goes off his spool and tries to strike a deal with the rogue machine, offering it full servitude if the machine will spare his life. Luckily, saner heads prevail and the "Killdozer" is subdued with a massive dose of electricity that disrupts and destroys the Shield's malignant influence.

Some 30 years after its initial publication, TV producer Herbert Solow, who had helmed the likes of Mission: Impossible and Mannix, approached the brass at ABC with a notion that Killdozer would make an awesome made for TV movie for their network. They agreed, and the rest, as they say, is Television infamy.

Aside from simplifying the origin of the bulldozer's malediction into a menace from outer space and moving the time of action to the 1970's, Solow's movie remains fairly faithful to Sturgeon's novella. When the shit hits the fan when the dozer in question strikes the meteorite, Mac's resulting injuries from the discharge are extremely grave but medical help can't reach the isolated outpost for at least three days. Alas, Mac succumbs to his wounds long before then, and after the other men bury him, Lloyd writes the whole thing off as a freak accident and sends his grumbling men back to work. When the foreman takes over the D-9, the machine begins to act up on him. In fact, one could say the dozer has developed a mind of its own as it tries to buck him off. However, Lloyd manages to cut the hydraulic lines before it can throw him. Towing the crippled machine back to camp, Lloyd orders his mechanic to give the D-9 a complete going over. But Chub (Neville Brand) canít find anything wrong with it -- except for a strange, humming vibration coming from the dozerís blade. Beyond that, he fixes the damaged hydraulics but Lloyd has an uneasy feeling and declares the D-9 off-limits.

Turns out Lloyd was right to be worried as the viewer slowly realizes that the D-9 has, somehow, become sentient with sociopathic tendencies. And while it observes Lloyd using the radio, Al (James Watson), another crewman, needs the D-9 to complete his assigned task. Ignoring Chubís warnings, he cranks the machine up and puts it into gear. All seems well at first, but then the dozer starts behaving rather anti-socially. Soon enough, the machine is a runaway, with poor Al impudently stuck in the driverís seat as it goes berserk, destroying the camp, and takes out the radio. Al does manage to bail off and finds an apparent refuge in some unburied culvert pipe, but as the dozer circles back and runs him over -- several times, Lloyd and Dennis (Carl Betz) witness the murderous machineís rampage, and then watch horrified as it rumbles off into the jungle with chunks of Al stuck in its treads.

In the aftermath, the four remaining workers manage to salvage two jeeps, a truck, and some provisions. The plan is to get to the high ground, where the dozer canít get at them, and wait for the supply ship that's due in two days. And the makeshift convoy heads out just in time as the D-9 roars out of the trees and demolishes whatís left of the camp. But then, on their way up to the plateau, the D-9 -- somehow, manages to get ahead of them. Topping that feat, it also manages to sneak up and pounce on the truck, rolling it over with it's blade, with Chub still trapped inside! The vehicle then explodes before he can get out.

Meanwhile, the others safely reach the high ground. But as they wait and debate on the root cause of their problem, Dutch starts to lose it a little because he canít quite accept the fact that a bulldozer has come to life and is apparently hell-bent on killing them all. (Seven beers in and I can't either -- but Iím getting there.) As the first night progresses, the unstable Dutch gets drunk and decides to go for a swim. Stealing a jeep, he heads for the beach; but when Dutch hits the sand, he runs right into the D-9. And after a brief Mexican stand off, the jeep stalls out, leaving Dutch to avert his eyes before the dozer flattens him ... Lloyd and Dennis arrive in time to see their friend get squished, and then the dastardly D-9 sets its anthropomorphic headlights on them! The men manage to get to Dennis' excavator and use it to battle the D-9 to a standstill. Unfortunately, the excavator wasn't designed to take that kind of abuse for very long. Luckily, Lloyd has a plan. The plan being while Dennis keeps the dozer distracted with the excavator, he'll rig-up and electric fly-trap that would make Dewey Martin and Ken Tobey proud.

With the trap set, Lloyd offers himself up as bait, and once he lures the D-9 to right spot Dennis throws the switch, sending the Killdozer into some death throes that rival King Kong's tumble off of the Empire State Building. [... Iím croaking!] First, the D-9 starts to glow and hum again, and then it starts to convulse [... Keee-roak]. The glow starts to diminish [... KEEE-roak ...), until it finally falls silent [... KEEE-ROAK).

As for Lloyd and Dennis? Well, after a hard day of fighting killer earth moving equipment, by god, itís Miller time! We freeze frame and the credits roll, leading us to...

The End

Killdozer holds a very special significance for me. It was the first [quote/] Monster Movie [/unquote] that I ever remember seeing when I was finally allowed to stay up and watch the late late show. (A right of passage Iím sure weíve all been through.) I hadnít seen it since -- or even thought about the film, until I saw it for auction on eBay. The only thing I really remembered was that Robert Urich was in it, and the fact that he died so quickly. (This was a major disappointment because, at the time, I was a huge S.W.A.T. fanatic. Man I loved the theme to that show.) The only other vivid memory was a scene where the Killdozer rocked its blade back and forth, and I could have sworn that it had some kind of menacing mechanical laugh as the thing did it's dirty deeds.

Now, I normally have pretty good luck revisiting things from my childhood but this time, however, the cinema gods came up snake-eyes as the tele-film teeters precariously on the precipice of being boring -- the ultimate B-Movie sin. Clint Walker is his usual stoic self, but heís just walking through the motions while the rest of the cast of '70s never-weres do an amiable enough job. They all try hard, but the script allows too many occasions of the D-9 doing its rampaging thing followed by the crew just sitting around as if nothing ever happened.

For the record, I can accept the fact that a malicious meteor crashed on Earth and somehow managed to take control of bulldozer, causing it to kill people. Sure, why not. But a fifty-ton piece of diesel powered machinery that can constantly sneak up on said people?

I donít think anybody can drink enough to make that plausible.

Believe me, I tried. 

And doggone it, the Killdozer didnít laugh even once! *sigh*

Killdozer (1974) Universal TV :: American Broadcasting Company (ABC) / P: Herbert F. Solow / D: Jerry London / W: Ed MacKillop, Herbert F. Solow, Theodore Sturgeon (novella) / C: Terry K. Meade / E: Bud Hoffman, Fabien Tordjmann / M: Gil Mellť / S: Clint Walker, Robert Urich, Carl Betz, Neville Brand, James Wainwright, James A. Watson Jr.

Originally Posted: 04/06/00 :: Rehashed: 03/16/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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