Classic Cars on Film: Land Rovers in Killer Force
We can bet you won’t have seen this 1976 masterpiece in Land Rover abuse, let alone heard of it. Here’s why heist flick Killer Force deserves your attention
The 1970s, while now viewed through rose tinted glasses, has proven to be an uncomfortable period in cinematic history. The 1960s offered class, grit and style, and the 1980s brought innovation, scope and honed the large-scale blockbuster.
In the transition decade between single-breasted sack jackets and shoulder pads, producers had to push for excess in order to stand out from the crowd. The world was changing, except, in cinematic terms at least, it wasn’t for the better.
To remain fresh and keep the cinema houses packed, directors had to shock people. The 1970s gave rise to the slasher horror as we know it, whereas thrillers – and even comedies – ramped up the nudity and violence. Grainy film stock laced with paper-thin story lines accommodating as many fist fights, stabbings and examples of innuendo as possible stalked the land.
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Previous decades had their fair share of exploitive duds, but the 1970s was awash with lashings of cheaply made celluloid corruption outnumbering each masterpiece. Except, that didn’t mean you couldn’t have fun.
What does it take to make a typical 1970s action movie? Step forward Val Guest’s 1976 B-movie epic ‘Killer Force’, also known as ‘The Diamond Mercenaries’ and ‘largely incomprehensible’.
Pounding horns and wild strings, epic landscapes, an all-star cast and fast cut editing may be the staple of any solid 1970s ‘New Wave’ American film, but Killer Force upped the ante. Lesser films were peppered with sped-up footage and back projection, not to mention recycled material and desperate stabs at poorly executed tension – but Killer Force threw caution to the wind and undertook some serious stunt action with the world’s most versatile vehicle.
The best Land Rover car chases ever!
Whoever would have imagined Christopher Lee and OJ Simpson sharing the cabin of a Land Rover Series II? Or Peter Fonda utilising a long-wheelbase Series IIA to charge through the front of a building? Or Telly Savalas power sliding a Series IIA 109 down a desert slope? The best part is, it really was the actors who tackled the majority of driving. Their looks of fear are real.
Besides the wah-wah music and blatant sexism, we’ve got Telly Savalas as the smartly dressed villain in a dominant white male South African diamond mine setting. Naturally, this is a hot bed for Land Rover activity – with more Series II and IIAs than you could possibly shake a spindly gearlever at.
In a film so '70s' that you may inadvertently find your living room wallpaper turning orange and your trousers sprouting bell-bottoms as you witness the tale unfold on screen, it’s hugely refreshing to discover a hidden gem where what is witnessed in front of you has clearly been filmed without cheap editing. These vehicles are travelling over rough terrain – fast.
The Land Rover action is truly bonkers – it’s like Wacky Races sponsored by Solihull – with various Landies tackling stairs, helicopters, barriers, sand dunes, cliff tops and henchmen with typically inaccurate machine guns. Seriously impressive car control firmly grasps your attention as the rocky plateaus spread across the South African desert turn into a low-range playground, while the leaf springs and chassis frames are subjected to hellish amounts of pounding.
Just like every 1970s action movie, almost everything explodes and we get some epic facial reaction shots – but unlike most creations from the decade of 8-track tape and lava lamps, these reactions are genuine.
Poor Maud Adams nearly flies out the passenger door as her Series IIA takes off the edge of a dune for a lengthy segment of air time before crashing into the sand. Bear in mind that these Land Rovers didn’t exactly sport any form of roll cage – with speeds clocking around 60mph, taking such a gung-ho approach would leave contemporary health and safety experts rocking back and forth weeping over the risk assessment.
Mind you, who would turn down the chance to drive like this and get paid for it?
Far from a cult offering yet worth every foot of film stock, Killer Force has faded away as an asterisk in movie history and mere mention on each actors IMDB page. There are many reasons to pour yourself a Blue Nun, load up some vol-au-vents and relax with this prime forgotten 1970s gem – but for Land Rover enthusiasts, it’s a must; even if the majority of them don't get out alive...
Buy Killer Force on DVD!
For the best part of 20 years, you couldn't get a hold of this film for love nor money – but now Amazon have a BluRay edition for sale.
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