Damnation Alley (1977) Review
In a post-apocalyptic world, George Peppard and the guy from Airwolf must team up in a bitchin all-terrain vehicle to drive from California to New York. Based on the book of the same name, Damnation Alley starts off just before a nuclear war at a US Air Force missile silo. Major Denton (George Peppard) and Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent) are two air force officers working at the missile silo and are the ones who must turn the keys to launch the missiles when the attack that starts the film comes. It’s not explained in the film what starts the war, all we see are incoming missiles that we assume are from Russia and the US response of firing back. The movie then cuts to later on with the Earth having shifted off its axis due to the bombs. Earths landscape has turned into a desert; the skies are pink, and the bugs have become indestructible.
Tanner has resigned from the Air Force and along with his pal Keegan (Paul Winfield) spends his days exploring the wasteland on his motorcycle. Major Denton a by-the-book solder, is secretly working on two armored vehicles called the Landmaster. After an explosion destroys the base the three plus another soldier, who we don’t care about because he will be the first to die, head out on a trip to New York where they think they might find other survivors.
I first saw this film at some point in the early 80s. I don’t recall if my parents rented it on VHS or perhaps it was on HBO. I remember, enjoying the film. Being the child that I was, I could totally imagine myself being the hero of this movie. Of course, I only remembered a few items from it. The first was the armored vehicles, and the second was Jan-Michael Vincent racing around on his motorcycle, so when I watched the film recently, I worried that it might not live up to the memory. Have you seen George Peppard in reruns of the A-Team recently? A prime example of not standing the test of time. Often when I re-watch these cheesy sci-fi films from my youth I am disappointed. But Damnation Alley did not disappoint. As an adult, I still enjoyed the film even with the low quality aged special effects, the acting, and the storyline or the lack of a storyline. Sitting back and viewing this Simi-classic I still enjoyed it. In Damnation Alley we get giant scorpions and killer cockroaches, we get rednecks, and best of all we get a bunch of film cross-processing that turns the skies all kinds of different colors.
To be clear, this is not the best film in this sub-genre. Most the film is a series of shots of the group driving. I get the impression that they spent a lot of the budget building the Landmaster and wanted to get as much out of it as possible. Interestingly they are following well-travelled roads that one would expect not to be there by this point after a nuclear war. At one point they stop in Vegas to pick up some girl who looks pretty good for having gone so long on her own, and they also find a kid on the trip to round out the family.
I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys low budget cheesy special effect movies from the 70’s and 80’s. Yes, the giant scorpions are ridiculously fake looking, and the ending is about as unbelievable as you could get. For example, somehow when they arrive in New York the landscape is green and tree covered. But the armored vehicle is totally badass. And should I ever end up in a post-apocalyptic world I would totally want a Landmaster of my own.
Review by Milo Denison, the author of “How to Manage Your Manager” available now.