Damnation Alley/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Damnation Alley
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Let me tell you the story behind Damnation Alley. In 1977, 20th Century Fox was about to release two sci-fi movies back to back. The first one was Damnation Alley and the other one was just this movie about a young man and his friend who have to fight against an evil empire (HINT: In the sequel, we find out that the main antagonist is our hero's father). For whatever reason, Fox decided to give the bigger budget and marketing campaign to Damnation Alley rather than the new "space opera" movie. Unfortunately (or not?), the new space sci-fi/action film became one of the most successful movies of all time while Damnation Alley was a dud and almost forgotten. I decided to watch this trainwreck to find out the reason behind its failure.

The plot concerns Jake, Eugene and their friends who have to go to New York to find a radio transmission. They use something called the Landmaster, a huge APC as their vehicle and they have to get through the "Damnation Alley" which is "the path of least resistance" in a post-apocalyptic world. That's right. This film is about a group of survivors after World War 3. Actually, the film begins with Jake and Eugene working in an Air Force base. They try to stop a nuclear missile but unfortunately they fail. This leads us to the next topic...

There are many flaws that make this film a failure. First, there are big plotholes. I have no idea who shot LOTS of nuclear missiles at the USA. What happened to the country that attacked America? Also, in the end (***SPOILER ALERT***) our heroes find a small village with lots of people that live there. Now, let me ask a question here. How do survivors exist since we saw the first scene that tells us "Nuclear war destroyed most of this country"?. I mean, this is the actual text shown after the nuclear explosion montage: "The Third World War left the planet shrouded in a pall of radioactive dust, under skies lurid and angry, in a climate gone insane. Tilted on its axis as a result of the nuclear holocaust the Earth lived through a reign of terror with storms and floods of unprecedented severity. When this epoch began to wind down, the remnants of life once more ventured forth to commence the struggle for survival and dominance. This is the story of some of them.". Seriously? If this text were true, then what happened in the end?

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Next, we have the low quality special effects. I understand that the film was made 36 years ago, but remember the other movie I mentioned? It was Star Wars. Even the original non-CGI version of Star Wars (which is the BEST version) looks better and more convincing than this film. There's one scene that shows giant scorpions trying to attack Jake. They look like creatures from 50's-60's B-movies! I'm not kidding. Or another scene that depicts Jake driving a motorcycle from building to another building by jumping across. You could CLEARLY see that it's a fake special effect. Also, in the opening nuclear war montage they used a lot of stock footage which not only make the film dated but also tone down the realistic atmosphere.

Anyway, there is still one memorable scene that stands the test of time: the flesh-eating cockroaches sequence. This comes out of nowhere and got me excited. I mean, since we have to get through many scenes that are totally UNNECESSARY, something must excite us for sure. Another thing that I loved is the music. It was composed by the late great Jerry Goldsmith. Not only does it sound like the Logan's Run score, but it's loud and pompous (mainly because the film was originally released in Sound 360, a 70's equivalent of Dolby Surround). Sadly, the Sound 360 soundtrack couldn't be used in the new Shout Factory DVD/Bluray release since it was heavily damaged.

Overall, Damnation Alley is much too slow and boring to be truly entertaining. But this one is still a time-capsule for younger generations to see the future as written/envisioned by 70's people. Again, I urgently want Fox to remake this movie instead of only inserting CGI into every Star Wars related product ever made.

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Nuttawut Permpithak hails from Thailand. He spends his free time watching exploitation films (or any films from the past) writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for GCDb.
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