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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Too Heavy To Hang, Too Big For The Gas Chamber
Now Playing: KILLDOZER
Many of you under-30s are going to think I'm full of shit, but I swear to you this is a real movie. Oh, for the days of THE ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK, which, back in the '70s, served up a whole mess of deliciously silly and sometimes genuinely creepy and effective horror and science fiction movies. KILLDOZER, as you can imagine from its ten-cent title, falls into the "silly" category.

KILLDOZER, which aired on ABC on February 2, 1974 in a 90-minute timeslot, has received much notoriety in recent years from viewers who remember seeing it on television back then. Helping to ground the ludicrous story in some sort of reality is its small cast, which consists of six (then-)familiar television actors who play construction workers digging up a six-square-mile island 200 miles off the coast of Africa, transforming a World War II refueling site into a base camp for an oil company.

The deadline is short and morale is low, partially due to the strict work ethic of reformed alcoholic boss Kelly (Clint Walker), whose charges resent his taciturn manner. With five days to go, the work schedule hits a major snag when young Mac (a not-yet-famous Robert Urich) is felled by a sudden and mysterious ailment that seems to have been triggered when his DC-9 bulldozer ran into a strange metallic rock. Mac dies that night, but not before muttering something about "warning" and "blue light" privately to Kelly. The rest of the men--snide Dennis (Carl Betz), mechanic Chub (Neville Brand, just off playing sicko masturbating rapist George Fromley in THE MAD BOMBER), happy-go-lucky Dutch (James Wainwright) and young Al (James A. Watson)--take Mac's death hard and are repelled at Kelly's seemingly cold orders to get back to work. What Kelly is afraid to admit and the others eventually learn is that the 'dozer has been possessed by an alien presence with a real mad-on for the crew. Impervious to fire, explosives or even an empty gas tank, "Killdozer" chases the cast around the island for the rest of the movie, leading to an electrifying finale.

Of course, the concept is as hokey as the campy title implies, but no-nonsense direction by Jerry London and the professional cast's wise insistence upon playing straight makes KILLDOZER a lot more watchable than you might think. None of the actors has much more to do than look suspicious and act frantic, but the old pros pull off the silly proceedings with admirable aplomb, particularly Betz as a snarky jackass. Gil Melle's score adds some menace, while the teleplay by noted SF author Theodore Sturgeon and Ed MacKillop, based upon Sturgeon's lauded novella (producer Herb Solow lands a confusing "adaptation" credit), conjures up some creative methods for a bulldozer to murder people. Wainwright was just coming off his shortlived JIGSAW series, whereas Walker (CHEYENNE), Betz (THE DONNA REED SHOW) and Brand (LAREDO) were already well-known television leads. Urich's first series, BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, had been cancelled a couple of months earlier.

Believe it or not, I own a Marvel comic book adaptation of KILLDOZER, printed in WORLDS UNKNOWN #6 and carrying a cover date of March/April 1974. Ostensibly based on Sturgeon's story, "Killdozer", as scripted by Gerry Conway (currently a writer on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT), drawn by Dick Ayers and Ernie Chan, and edited by Roy Thomas, is a faithful adaptation given a bit more oomph by the movement in the art. "As seen on TV!" blares the cover blurb. For some reason, Thomas and cover artists Gil Kane and Ralph Reese put a talking killdozer on the front of the book! Maybe it talks shit ("You dared DEFY ME--and so you must DIE!!") in the novella, but, sadly, not in the movie.

After conquering print, film and comic books, I can only assume a KILLDOZER video game is on the horizon. Can you imagine playing something similar to Halo 2, except you and your party are fighting a killdozer? Make it happen, game designers!

Posted by Marty at 9:16 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 9:20 PM CST
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