Director: Jack Smight
Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Dominique Sanda
Review by Brian M. Sammons
I love post-apocalyptic movies. The problem is that most of them are serious bummers. Now I know the reason for that, the idea of 98.5% of the earth’s population being nuked to ash isn’t supposed to be bright and sunny. However, not everything that is, or would be, bleak in the real world has to be bleak in the movies. After all, adventurous sword and sorcery fantasy films are largely set in dark ages of Europe, and that era wasn’t exactly known for its pleasantness. Now some after the end of the world movies know this and they embrace the action over the misery. Examples of this would be A Boy And His Dog, The Road Warrior, and even Escape From New York, which while not technically post-apocalyptic, does have that feel to it. And while I like the serious and somber films like Day After Tomorrow and The Road, give me the mutants, tricked out vehicles, and action two-fisted action of those other movies any day.
Luckily, Damnation Alley is one of those “let’s not take the apocalypse so seriously” kind of films. Sure it’s got dramatic moments, but it’s also got a Technicolor sky and giant mutant bugs. It also has mid-level TV actors giving it their all, like the original A-Team’s Hannibal (George Peppard) and the dude from Airwolf. You know, what was his silly name in that show, Stringfellow or something? Anyway, that’s Jan-Michael Vincent and he and George play US Air Force nuke button pushers on the day when the big bombs fly. After the A-bombs go boom, the earth shifts on its axis, is covered in a radioactive cloud, is plagued by wicked weather, and generally all hell busts loose.
A couple of years later the two stars, complete with some fodder, have to venture into the nuclear wasteland filled with giant scorpions (and if you ever played the Fallout videogames, I’m convinced this is where they stole their radscorpions from), hillbilly rapist types, mutants, sandstorms, and other hazards. Luckily for them, Hannibal shows off his awesome A-Team war machine building skills by unveiling two awesome RVs he had been working on for years. Called the Land Masters, these babies can float, dig themselves in, and come complete with rockets, machine guns, armor plating, a weird tri-wheel configuration, a flexible-bendy part in the middle, and probably even cable television. These bad boys, while kind of silly looking now, were the epitome of ’70s cool and are easily the most memorable part of this movie.
Along the way on this dangerous trek there’s a memorable stopover in Las Vegas where they pick up a love interest and another in Salt Lake City where they run into armor-plated cockroaches that attack like swarming piranhas that eat everything, even the tires off of cars. Genre fans keep a look out for a young Jackie Earle Haley (of Watchmen fame and Nighmare On Elm Street remake infamy) as a teenage survivor that gets picked up for the trip. There are other highs, lows, laughs, and sorrows as this road trip through damnation progresses, but I’ll leave the other specifics for you to find out yourself.
As far as extras on this disc, there’s a short documentary featuring the co-writer, Alan Sharp, about bringing Roger Zelazny’s pretty well regarded sci-fi novel to the big screen. Another 13 minute featurette is an extended interview with the producer, Jerome Zeitman and focuses on his difficulties in bringing the movie out. The last feature is all about the often overlooked stars of the movie, the heavily armed and armored Land Master RVs, with the man who designed the memorable vehicles. Besides the three featurettes, there is an audio commentary with the second producer of this film, Paul Maslansky. Sadly, while this commentary is informative, it is rather dry and just not fun.
On the tech side of things, the picture has been cleaned and buffed up a lot, yet it still has the great ’70s film look that I love. As far as audio, you get three choices here: 6.1 DTS-HD, 7.1 LPCM Uncompressed (and no, I don’t know what all that means), and the original 2.0 stereo for you purists out there. All in all this is a pretty nice package for a mostly forgotten sci-fi flick from the ’70s.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that Damnation Alley is a great movie, or even a good one. Its sci-fi melodrama preying on the cold war fears of the time, with giant scorpions, armored cockroaches, and the stars of TV’s A-Team and Airwolf trying to out smug each other. That said, if you can just sit back and enjoy the goofiness, then you’ll find that this movie is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for some post-apocalyptic action, that doesn’t mire you depression and defiantly doesn’t take things too seriously, then this is the movie for you.