Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Damnation Alley (1977)


According to Hollywood lore, the fine folks at Twentieth Century-Fox originally thought Damnation Alley, based on a novel by journeyman genre writer Roger Zelzany, was going to be their big sci-fi hit for 1977, so they pumped more marketing money into this old-school cheapie than they did into that strange little movie George Lucas was shooting in England about some character called Luke Skywalker. Suffice it to say there was a course correction when Star Wars opened on May 25, so by the time Damnation hit theaters on October 21, it had already been rendered obsolete in almost every conceivable way by Lucas’ space opera. Looking at Damnation in the context of Hollywood history is about the only way to generate interest in the thing, which would have been passable as a pilot for one of those cheesy sci-fi shows that thrived on Saturday-morning TV in the ’70s, but doesn’t remotely make the grade as a theatrical feature. The plot is the usual post-apocalyptic hooey, with a gaggle of survivors traversing irradiated terrain in a pimped-out Winnebago while avoiding things like overabundant and/or oversized bugs. The effects are clunky in a sorta-endearing fashion (the scorching red skies are pretty cool), but the action and characterizations are utilitarian at best. The only real appeal, aside from the kitsch factor germane to all crappy ’70s sci-fi, is in watching the colorful B-grade cast: George Peppard, showing a glimmer of A-Team things to come, leads an RV filled with Jackie Earle Haley, Jan-Michael Vincent, Dominique Sanda, and Paul Winfield. All fun personalities, all badly underused here. Still, it’s impossible to hate a movie that features Peppard barking lines like this one into his CB: “Tanner, this is Denton. This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. Repeat, killer cockroaches!”

Damnation Alley: LAME

1 comment:

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Gotta love how Albany, New York somehow completely escapes worldwide nuclear holocaust despite being only a few miles away from several missile strikes depicted onscreen.

Like that other famous clunker from the '70s The Swarm, Damnation Alley bears VERY little resemblance to its source novel but at least it features a spankin' Jerry Goldsmith score that remains loved by fans long after the film itself has been remanded to the bin.

Zelzany's novel has more in common with The Road Warrior than something like Earth II or the Logan's Run TV series--in the book, Michael-Vincent's character is a Hell's Angel recruited to deliver vaccine across the wastelands between post-WWIII American coastal societies--so not only did 20th Century-Fox drop the ball funding this mess over Star Wars, it missed out on the post-apocalyptic-road-rage boom that Mad Max would kick into high gear a couple of years later.

Unfortunately, with director Jack Smight (Airport 1975, Fast Break) at the helm, it probably would have made no difference. The movie uses effects footage from Earthquake, Operation Crossbow and When Worlds Collide, for f***'s sake.