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Damnation Alley (1977) Film Review: Post-Apocalyptic Thriller More for Nostalgists

Zombie Mondays

The 20th Century Fox film adaption of fantasy specialist Roger Zelazny's 1969 post-apocalyptic adventure novel '"Damnation Alley" is watchable, but misses more than hits.

Jan Michael Vincent ("Airwolf") stars as Tanner -- an Air Force officer with an affinity for motorcycles who is trying to survive with his comrades in what is left of America following a limited nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. He and a few of his comrades flee in highly-armored military vehicles called Landmasters after disaster strikes their refuge. During their attempt to find other people they encounter a variety of hazards.

The film boasts a decent cast that includes George Peppard as Tanner's superior officer (the obligatory love/hate relationship is in full effect here) and Kip Niven ("Magnum Force") as a generic supporting character but most of the actors seem disinterested. Paul Winfield ("Sounder") as Tanner's quirky comrade-in-arms and Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen") as a civilian survivor are the standouts here. Murray Hamilton ("Jaws") is utterly wasted in a throwaway part.

Director Jack Smight does a competent job, the Jerry Goldsmith score is great and some of the effects are excellent (the Landmaster is basically the movie's real star).

Some of the effects are badly dated, however, and the script has significant holes. The film starts off with the characters witnessing World War III start and little time seems to have elapsed when Tanner meets the lovely Dominque Sanda in Las Vegas. And yet the ecology seems to have drastically shifted in a relatively short time, with giant scorpions and flesh-eating cockroaches plaguing our heroes.

Despite the aforementioned monsters, the setting seems drastically underdeveloped. Zelazny's original novel had a variety of creatures as well as a richer plot in which Tanner, actually a renegade biker, is allowed to choose between prison or transporting a vaccine across the country by a dangerous route.

There is a nasty interlude involving irradiated rednecks that unintentionally reveals some vaguely nasty power structure information. The film's silly ending seems to reinforce this.

Curious science fiction fans that have read the book or devotees of 70s' shlock may enjoy a single viewing of this film, which the Shout! Factory released on DVD. But on the balance this is more for nostalgic cultists of the film.

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