TV Terror Guide: Killdozer (1974)



Air Date: Feb. 2, 1974 (ABC)

Production Companies: Universal Television

Running Time: 74 min.

Available on: Blu-ray (Kino Lorber), YouTube

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon and Ed MacKillop (teleplay), Herbert F. Solow (adaptation)

From the novella by Theodore Sturgeon

Directed by: Jerry London

Cast: Clint Walker, Carl Betz, Neville Brand, James Wainwright, Robert Urich, Janes A Watson Jr.

Despite its reputation, even though I believe it’s improved over the years to become a cult classic, I really liked Killdozer (1974.) It’s a fast-paced thriller that’s not any more ridiculous than, well… almost anything else. In fact, I prefer it over the other “possessed machines” movie it evokes, Maximum Overdrive (1986.) Call it Minimal Overdrive, if you will, but sometimes less is more and I prefer a simple approach.

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Killdozer is based on the novella of the same name by Theodore Sturgeon and was originally published in the November 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. While the TV movie begins with a meteor crashing to Earth that is later uncovered to inexplicably inhabit a bulldozer and methodically kill the crew of Warburton Oil Resources Inc., the short story begins with a detailed explanation of a race that existed before mankind as we know it.

There was a war between this race, which was a great one, and another. The other was truly alien, a sentient cloudform, an intelligent grouping of tangible electrons. It was spawned in mighty machines by some accident of a science before our aboriginal conception in its complexities. And the machines, servants of the people, became the people’s masters, and great were the battles that followed. The electron-beings had the power to warp the delicate balances of atom-structure, and their life-medium was metal, which they permeated and used to their own ends. Each weapon the people developed was possessed and turned against them…

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These ancient people discovered a weapon; however…

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…to destroy the enemy, it got out of hand and its measureless power destroyed them with it, and their cities, and their possessed machines. The very earth dissolved in flame, the crust writhed and shook and the oceans boiled. Nothing escaped it, nothing that we know as life, and nothing of the pseudolife that had evolved within the mysterious forcefields of their incomprehensible machines, save one hardy mutant.

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…it was an organized electron-field possessing intelligence and mobility and a will to destroy, and little else. Stunned by the holocaust, it drifted over the grumbling globe, and in a lull in the violence of the forces gone wild on Earth, sank to the steaming ground in its half-conscious exhaustion. There it found shelter – shelter built by and for its dead enemies.

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Wow, that’s a little grim. Considering both roads lead to a possessed bulldozer, I’m not surprised a 1970s TV movie took the shorter one. It’s what happens millennia later that’s important, anyway. In print, an eight-man construction crew is building an airstrip on a Pacific Island during World War II when the ancient force possesses a Caterpillar D7. On TV, a six-man construction crew is building an airstrip on an island off the coast of Africa for an oil company.

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Marvel Comics took elements from both versions of the tale in Worlds Unknown #6, written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Dick Ayers, and inked by Ernie Chua. The first three pages of the comic depict Sturgeon’s opening with a slightly different final sentence. Sturgeon writes, “And one day –” while Conway writes, “—and there remained for a billion years.” Either way, it’s a long time before this alien presence is released. What happens then?

As mentioned, the possessed bulldozer runs amuck and starts killing the crew members. All three versions of the story do a good job of at least swiping a paintbrush over them to create more than just generic characterizations. I particularly like that in the TV movie, the foreman, Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker, who appeared just three weeks earlier in Scream of the Wolf), is a “dry alcoholic.” He’s tempted, particularly through this ordeal, but remains strong in his resolve.

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The other characters represent allies and enemies, with an assortment in the various versions of people who either want Kelly’s job or otherwise try to undermine him. The original story, and to a small extent the comic, features a survivor who’s gone mad. He factors into how the other survivors will (or won’t) report what happened on the island. In Killdozer, the novella, they get the easiest way out. In Killdozer, the movie, they get the most idealistic way out.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Killdozer, as well as all the great movies from this series...

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