Damnation Alley

Throughout the beginning of the last half of the 20th century, multiple films have been made that were based off of novels that took place in dystopic wastelands after nuclear fallout. This was all due to the U.S. and Russia being two of the biggest super powers at the time and were currently having a cold war over it. Well this science fiction genre film is no different in that aspect. But everything else about it isn’t entertaining at all.

Damnation Alley (1977) is a film adaptation of novelist Roger Zelazny’s short story of the same name. And honestly, I think Zelazny’s work was more enjoyable than this. This whole movie is just one giant traveling expedition. There is no plot. Did the writers bother to even jot down the plot or did they just create dialog for the characters? I mean Lukas Heller, the screenwriter from The Dirty Dozen (1967) was on the crew list! Did he become lazy and decide to let Alan Sharp do all the work? And that’s just the plot, let’s dive into the characters.

The storyline follows Major Eugene Denton played by George Peppard and a small band of misfit characters. That’s right, John Hannibal Smith from the original A-Team (1983) stars in this film. Unfortunately, he did not make a wise choice to join this slog of a mess. Along with Peppard is a young Jan-Michael Vincent, who earlier starred in the classic The Mechanic (1972), Paul Winfield who later would play a role in Schwarzenegger’s The Terminator (1984) and even Jackie Earle Haley has a part as a homeless kid. Yes! Even the actor who plays Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake and Rorschach from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) plays in this movie.

Oh and I have no idea how this girl named Janice (Dominique Sanda) even held her own at Las Vegas inside a gambling building with a bunch of sand. Not to mention but she’s just there to be an annoying damsel in distress. Not needed. But enough about her. Here there’s barely anything for these characters to expand on. What’s made up for lost time, is filler with either traveling through wasteland or trying to survive radioactive storms. Isn’t it amazing how well the cast was put together even before half these actors were famous and still this movie couldn’t get much of anything right? Truly sad.

The writers are really to blame for this film. Every ten minutes it would be a reoccurring plot point. Travel a little, stop a little, and every time they stopped, they’d either run into someone or something. Sometimes it’s human, other times they’re over-sized killer animals. It’s just lame. Oh and let’s not forget that every time they stop, Jan- Michael Vincent has to pull out his trusty motorcycle to solve all his problems. He uses it for everything!

Not even composer Jerry Goldsmith could save this movie. Never have I heard a score so weird that it I couldn’t tell what it was trying to represent. The music sounds like a cross between a video game and real orchestra music. Also it didn’t help that for majority of the time, the music was absent. The score is so minimal it is barely even used in any of the important scenes. Even the introduction had me sitting awkward. Nuclear warheads are blowing up the country and there’s no music going on at all?! I mean, that’s what it would be like in real life but this is a movie! It’s supposed to enhance that experience.

The only points I do give it, is for having the really cool looking landmaster vehicle and a couple good special effects. The effects were standard but SOME of the way the sky’s were constructed. They were rather neat. I was more interested in that than the story or characters. The landmaster was also cool. Twelve wheels, rockets, could even be used in the ocean and an extended cabin? What a fortress. That is definitely a vehicle that could withstand nuclear fallout. Besides this, the film is a wreck unfortunately.