DAMNATION ALLEY (1977)
Late 70s flick is a combination of post-apocalyptic drama and disaster movie that opens with an Air Force bunker in California detecting a massive nuclear strike incoming and firing all missiles in response. The resulting nuclear war throws the Earth off it’s axis and the planet becomes a wasteland with only patches of survivors. Among the survivors are occupants of that Air Force base including, Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent), Denton (George Peppard) and Keegan (Paul Winfield). The men have been receiving radio transmissions from somewhere in Albany, New York and after an accident leaves their living quarters destroyed and most of the men dead, they decide to travel to Albany in two massive land rover vehicles called Landmasters in a hope to find survivors. Along the way they encounter a few normal folks (Dominique Sanda, Jackie Earle Haley), some not so friendly survivors, giant scorpions, flesh-eating cockroaches, earthquakes, sandstorms and floods. With all these natural and unnatural elements against them and one Landmaster destroyed, will they make it to Albany and will anyone be there to greet them?
Ironically, 20th Century Fox counted on this to be their big science fiction hit for 1977, but post production problems delayed the film’s release until October and a little sci-fi flick called Star Wars got released first. Upon release, the big budget Damnation Alley bombed, so it was Fox’s good fortune Star Wars made such a bundle. But Damnation Alley is an amusing and nostalgic watch with it’s now cheesy SPFX, cheesier dialog and 70s disaster movie tone. Directed by Jack Smight, based on a novel by Roger Zelazny who wasn’t happy with the film, Damnation Alley is pretty by-the-numbers, but there are some fun action scenes such as the flesh-eating cockroach attack and an encounter with some mutant hillbillies. The cast give it their all and take their roles very seriously with Vincent doing his rebel hero thing perfectly and Peppard as the by-the-book senior officer. As said, the FX are pretty cheesy by today’s standards, in fact they were outdated by Star Wars‘ great FX work months before Damnation Alley finally got released. The Landmaster ATV’s are the real stars and as actual functioning vehicles built for the production, they are impressive especially to a kid like me who wanted one upon seeing the film in a theater in 1977 when it opened.
Overall the 70s nostalgia helps make this an entertaining watch and there are some legitimately fun sequences. While the directing style by Smight is nothing special, he does keep things moving pretty fast and there is enough action to keep one entertained all bolstered by a good score from the legendary Jerry Goldsmith. So if you are a fan of 70s sci-fi or disaster flicks, Damnation Alley is a fun and cheesy combination of both that is probably more entertaining now that it has become so charmingly outdated.
3 flesh-eating cockroaches!