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The world is devastated by a nuclear holocaust, causing the Earth to tilt on its axis and bringing vast meteorological chaos. As the weather stabilizes, mutated insects start to emerge, preying on the survivors. The surviving crew at a U.S. Air Force bomb shelter in the Mojave Desert picks up radio signals coming from Albany. The commander, Major Eugene Denton (George Peppard, The A-Team), unveils two armored vehicles he has constructed and announces a plan to cross Damnation Alley, the hundred-mile-wide strip between areas of radiation hazard, to join the survivors. They set off, taking on two civilians, a novice singer they find in the ruins of Las Vegas and a wild teenager (Jackie Earle Haley,Watchmen), along the way. The journey is also beset by giant mutated cockroaches, storms and crazed survivalists, making for some hair-raising escapes in this post-apocalyptic thriller.
A low-wattage cult hit among post-apocalypse movie fans, Jack Smight's Damnation Alley arrives on DVD in a deluxe presentation that underscores its troubled production, as well as its modest charms. Based very loosely on the 1967 novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny (who loathed the movie version), the film stars George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent as Air Force officers crisscrossing the ruins of America in massive armored personnel carriers (the 10-ton Landmaster, originally designed to lug trucks, and the film's most enduring image) in search of survivors. Their journey brings them in contact with shotgun-toting killers and giant, flesh-eating cockroaches, plus Jackie Earle Haley and Dominique Sanda as the final pieces in their new model of a nuclear family. Plagued by special-effects issues and reedits, Damnation Alley arrived with a thud in the wake of 20th Century Fox's other science-fiction release, Star Wars, which the studio initially regarded as Damnation's second-string support. The film developed a modest following in the ensuing decades among late-night TV habitués, who can finally retire their gray market dupes of the 1985 VHS release, thanks to Shout Factory's DVD release. The disc offers a new anamorphic widescreen presentation (minus the Sound 360 process, which was too damaged to preserve, but with three newer audio options), as well as commentary by veteran producer Paul Maslansky and a trio of interesting making-of documentaries, the most interesting of which features an interview with co-screenwriter Alan Sharp (Ulzana's Raid, Night Moves), whose assessment of his work isn't too far from Zelazny's reaction. Meanwhile, a look at the Landmaster with designer Dean Jeffries should satisfy fans of that unique vehicle. --Paul Gaita
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I first saw "Damnation Alley" at the Midway Park Movie Theater in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina when it was first released back in 1977 - about a year after Star Wars had been released and a year after Ark II had it's first and only season as a Saturday morning post-apocalyptic show set in the 25th Century.
Even now, as I watched this movie again, I'm reminded how much the Landmaster resembled the Ark II. Only the Ark II never had a missile launcher, just a force field.
Ever since its release, "Damnation Alley;" which is based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny, has enjoyed cult status as a post-apocalyptic road trip across an atomic bomb scarred United States.
World War III was a quick little war that started when the Soviet Union launched a preemptive first strike on the United States by using a the break up of an orbital satellite to cover the launch traces. Even though the missile defense of the United States destroys 40% of the incoming missiles, the damage done by the remaining 60% of the missiles that reached their target is enough to knock the Earth off it's tilt; and not cause a nuclear winter, but cause a bunch of bad weather - along with the creation of giant mutant scorpions and flesh eating cockroaches.
"Damnation Alley" may sound like a silly movie, but it's the steadfast heartfelt performances of George Peppard, Jan Michael Vincent, Dominique Sanda, and Jackie Earle Haley as the survivors who form a highly functional dysfunctional family unit as they try to reach a safe haven in Albany, New York, which is the only broadcast signal that can be heard anywhere in the United States, or the rest of the world for that matter.
STRONGLY AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
I first started to watch this movie on Amazon video, was disappointed that the movie was not widescreen and the picture was sub-par. So, I purchased the Blu-ray. Picture is gorgeous and the sound is awesome!
The movie never really establishes who starts World War III. Although from the graphics showing the initial missile launch it would appear the bad guys were the Soviet Union. Today, most of us are more worried about China than Russia. Anyway, this movie was better than I thought. By no means, state-of-the-art, but a very good story and well acted. I liked all of the extras on the Blu-ray. I was surprised to learn that the Land Master vehicle was real, and not a model.
I thought the story had possibilities, until the giant scorpions appeared. Even at 14 years old in 1977 I knew that a scorpion this size could not support itself on such spindly legs. I only watched the rest of it because Amazon had my money.
Maybe the DVD is more watchable as a 2:35, possibly with some digital restoration to clean up the larger film defects, but I'd only buy it if it was in a bargain bin for a dollar or two.
The movie, based on Roger Zelzany's novel of the same name, differs in one key respect. Instead of a dangerous prisoner offered a full pardon if he can help deliver medicine from Los Angeles to Boston to help ward off a plague, the survivors of a destroyed air force missile complex in Southern California (played by George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Winfield, and Kip Niven) take off for Albany, New York, which has apparently survived Doomsday intact. Along their route, they encounter fierce storms, flesh-eating cockroaches, and other hazards. And they do so in giant Landmasters, vehicles designed to handle rugged terrain and even water, and constructed with truck parts that could be available in any junkyard.
"Damnation Alley" has weathered about as well as another fine Doomsday movie, the made-for-TV classic "The Day After", which means that it's still quite a watchable movie. And in a rather odd footnote to history, 20th Century Fox had more confidence in "Damnation Alley" than it did in "Star Wars" - a movie I've yet to see. Though not nearly as successful, "Damnation Alley" is still worth a look.