Tag Archives: Science Fiction

CAPSULE: KILLDOZER (1974)

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DIRECTED BY: Jerry London

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

PLOT: Construction workers on a remote island inadvertently unearth a meteor containing a malevolent spirit from beyond the stars, which proceeds to possess a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and stalk the men.

Still from Killdozer (1974)

COMMENTS: We rely on our machines, but we don’t trust them. They function in ways that produce the illusion of sentience, but most of us can’t begin to understand how they work. Particularly unsettling are the ones that we operate like beasts of burden. They are faceless, eyeless mammoths that dwarf us, and the damn things move. The Car… Duel… Christine… big soulless behemoths that girdle the globe clearly tap into a raw, soft spot in our primal brains. So it only stands to reason that a particularly powerful beast – like, I don’t know, say… a bulldozer – would prove especially stimulating to our amygdalas.

The title, therefore, does a lot of the work. Killdozer is a magnificent portmanteau, forcing a chuckle at the pure chutzpah of the enterprise. Like Snakes on a Plane or Sharknado, it promises delightfully absurd levels of bloodlust and mechanized mayhem. Alas, it ultimately cannot deliver on that promise, and doesn’t really seem to want to.

The possessed crawler would seem to have a lot going for it as an unstoppable killing machine: it’s very big, it’s made entirely of impenetrable metal, and it can level anything in its path. One thing that the possessed earthmover does not have in its arsenal is speed, and that probably results in the greatest disconnect between terror and reasonable fear. Lacking even the handling and acceleration of a Roomba, a grisly fate at the hands (treads?) of the Killdozer seems eminently avoidable. Perhaps that’s why it spends so much of the film biding its time, watching from the underbrush or peering down from lofty hills, somehow clothed in stealth despite being enormous and bright yellow and spewing black smoke and deafening noise.

Does that sound dumb? Well, the Killdozer turns out to be well-matched against its prey. The cadre of construction workers frequently runs directly into harm’s way. One dives for cover inside a metal pipe. Another stares into the vehicles headlights like a deer, waiting patiently for the lumbering killer to reach him. And leading the way for humanity is Clint Walker, with his modeling-clay voice and taciturn visage. We’re told that he is suffering from mortal blows to his credibility and self-assurance thanks to bouts with the bottle. Ultimately, though, he displays about as much personality as his opponent.

Perhaps most surprising – and to the film’s great detriment – is the extreme earnestness with which it treats this remarkable situation. No postmodern irony for Killdozer. It’s deadly serious, this tale of an enormous piece of construction equipment gone mad. Which is extraordinary, because if you can’t flash a wry smile at a movie called Killdozer, what else have you got?

So Killdozer doesn’t have much to offer (except possibly as promotional material for Caterpillar, should they ever wish to extol the destructive power of their products). As a title, it’s a cute punchline. But as a movie, it’s probably best left buried.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Despite having a place in the bad movie vernacular, Killdozer is really a crushing bore of a film that never lives up to the cheesiness its title and premise promise. The film is very slow going, even more slow moving than the titular bulldozer itself.”  – Jon Condit, Dread Central

(This movie was nominated for review by James Mendenhall. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)

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DIRECTED BY: Brian Trenchard-Smith

FEATURING: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford

PLOT: After two of his tires are jacked at a drive-in theatre, Jimmy finds himself trapped in the car lot with his girlfriend and hundreds of society’s rejects.

COMMENTS: It’s a glorious thing to randomly stumble into a movie and find out that it’s Australian. This pleasant surprise was augmented by an error on the part of the video streaming service, which claimed that Dead End Drive-In was from 2011. I was awed at how the filmmakers had captured everything about New Wave dystopian aesthetics a quarter century after the fact. When I saw the copyright date at the end of the credits I was somewhat disappointed, but also relieved. (“That makes a whole lot more sense,” my brain acknowledged.) Still and all, it Brian Trenchard-Smith’s “ozploitation” picture is a helluva lotta fun.

Trenchard-Smith was the brains behind Turkey Shoot, another “society collapses, and here’s a mess of violence” film, set in the post-apocalyptic year 1997. It hasn’t gotten as bad by the time Dead End Drive-In takes place, but it’s getting there. Jimmy (Ned Manning) is a wiry weenie of a guy who wishes his rough, tough brother would let him in on his lucrative towing business. Car parts are a hot commodity, so whenever a car gets smashed up, the first wrecker on the scene gets the bounty. Jimmy borrows his brother’s ’57 Chevy to take his sheila to the Star Drive-In for a movie and sex, during which the passenger-side wheels are swiped. Jimmy is informed by the fatherly drive-in operator that, no, he’s not going anywhere. Ever.

The misfit milieu found within this open-air prison (which doubles, nightly, as a drive-in theatre) is everything one could hope for from a mid-’80s assemblage of the best deadbeats society has on offer. Transvestites, drug users, vandals, welfare bums… I put these all in the same list not to cast any particular judgment or insinuate moral comparability, but because they all fit in the slot that button-down 80s traditionalists would consider “undesirable.” However, they’ve formed a raucous-but-welcoming society within this prison. There are occasional brawls, sure, but there’s a camaraderie, as evidenced by the freely intermingling coteries and the pick-up games of cricket.

Dead End Drive-In‘s camera work is worlds better than should be expected for a B-movie actioner. An early foreshadowing shot of a jogging Jimmy beautifully frames him behind a chainlink fence, the center demarcated by two perfectly placed tail-fin cars. The “Star Drive-In” first appears in a postcard-worthy frame. And a low shot of a police van approaching a cockerel on the lot captures the startled bird as it is flanked by the moving vehicle tires.

My one criticism of the film would be its strangely shoe-horned social commentary. When a convoy of Asian prisoners arrives at the drive-in, the locals immediately get riled up and speechify about the intruders. Obviously the director is trying to say something, but it’s both a little unclear (is all “white trash” racist?) and over-the-top (everyone but our hero immediately goes from zero to vicious in their racist mania). Regardless, Dead End Drive-In is a wonderful diversion filled with New Wave classics, gratifying camerawork, and Australians.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a doozy of an Ozploitation piece packaged with crazy characters, bizarre situations and solid action.”–Ian Jane, DVD Talk (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by “dirty_score.”  Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

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“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó

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DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe,  Lauri Lagle

PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.

BACKGROUND:

  • An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
  • Solomon Tashe,  who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
  • The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.

Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Continue reading 12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

CAPSULE: LAVA (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Ayar Blasco

FEATURING: Voices of Sofía Gala Castiglione; (English dub)

PLOT: The world is invaded by mysterious beings whose arsenal includes broadcast hypnotism and giant cats; a tattoo artist and her friends try to survive.

Still from Lava (2019)

COMMENTS: There’s a threat to mankind, and it goes well beyond the mysterious bus-sized cats, the paralysis-inducing video broadcasts, and the ever-increasing horde of giant Wicked Witches patrolling the streets. Yessir, the real threat is the rise of the “Lachrymal Culture”.

For a movie as silly as Lava, the nigh-archaic term “lachrymose” crops up a lot. However, it’s what Débora and her friends must fight against. We are told that the tattoo artists are the chosen ones, and they will be saved; we are told that “fanzines” are the only way to combat the menace; we are told that the cats can be thwarted with a K4 automatic rifle—or, as with regularly-sized cats, spritzed water will do. We are told a lot of things as this gang of Argentine misfits wanders around. Further topics of discussion include: mythology (particularly Norse), fluid identity, and layered conspiracies.

With something this breezy and laid-back (and adequately amusing), it’s tough to be too critical. It’s also tough to find much to write about when the “Plot” description above hits just about all the major points. Between that and the screen-capture provided, you’ll probably know if Lava is right for you. The movie’s barely over an hour long, and it feels like a web-toon series pasted together (the animation style strongly suggests it, with cuts to black every five-to-eight minutes reinforcing the sentiment). I haven’t watched it in the original (Argentine) Spanish, but the dub worked well enough—perhaps even adding some amusing incongruency, what with Garofalo and others performing in their American tones while referring to Spanish-language signs and newspapers.

On a personal note, as an advocate of interpersonal communication in person, I approved of Lava‘s general “anti-smartphone” attitude. And, naturally, the giant cats were darn cute.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s for a narrow range of film buffs who grew up in the 90s, have a certain simpatico for sci-fi and fantasy, don’t mind a little romance, and prefer their movies to be as completely whacko as they possibly can be – the less mainstream, the better… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the weird part.”–Carlos de Villalvilla, Cinema 365 (contemporaneous)