Giving a Damn About ‘Damnation Alley’

DAMNATION ALLEY is one of those movies that was much, much better in concept than in execution. Released in theaters October 1977, the super-’70s flick had a cool title, a killer poster, a score by Jerry Goldsmith, a cast that included George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Winfield, Jackie Earle Haley, and Dominique Sanda — and the ultimate post-apocalyptic survival vehicle: The Landmaster.damnation-alley-featured.jpgIt capitalized on cold-war fears that nuclear armageddon was right around the corner, and what we’d be left with would be a radioactive wasteland, plagued by bizarre weather patterns and populated by mutated insects and deadly scavengers.g34.jpgThe film also had a gimmick: Like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s limited 1978 theatrical run that was released in “Sensurround,” DAMNATION ALLEY boasted a big-screen release bathed in “Sound 360” — basically full-range stereo speakers turned up to 11 to envelop the viewer and make the seats vibrate (a technique also used for the release of DAMIEN: OMEN II).damnation-alley-lobby-card-5.jpgBased on Roger Zelazny’s book of the same name, DAMNATION ALLEY had a formidable budget of $17 million and was directed by Jack Smight, coming off such notable films as MIDWAY, AIRPORT 1975, and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. All the pieces were there. It was going to be a huge hit for 20th Century Fox.DamnationAlleyBut despite all that street cred, DAMNATION ALLEY was a dud. It’s a rambling film full of fits and starts and half-baked action. Most of the special effects that were added in post-production — real “giant” scorpions superimposed on the sand dunes after the eight-foot props couldn’t cut it; real hissing cockroaches mixed in when the rubber ones fell flat; and an overly chroma-keyed apocalyptic sky — delayed the release considerably and cheesed up the look of the film, offsetting its impressive budget. And coming out five months after Fox’s other Sci-Fi gamble-turned-sleeper-phenomenon, STAR WARS, poor DAMNATION ALLEY never had a chance.damnation-alley-vehicle1I still love the idea of DAMNATION ALLEY, and in this day and age of renewed MAD MAX mania, I think the concept is ripe for a remake. The Landmaster remains one of the coolest movie vehicles made — a rugged, armored tank-like hulk with machine guns and missiles along with amphibious capabilities. An epic, post-apocalyptic flick needs a stalwart vehicle, and an updated version of The Landmaster could get me into a darkened theater simply to see it in action. Remember the days when tricked-out vehicles were the real stars of the films and TV shows they were featured in? The Batmobile, KITT, 007’s Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit, The General Lee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie the Love Bug? The time has come to bring those back.tumblr_lpob7yRcom1qzr8nao1_1280Incidentally, I used to drive by The Landmaster when it was parked behind bars at a custom auto body shop in Hollywood, CA on Cahuenga Blvd. Next to it sat a futuristic silver hovercar that resembled the one from TV’s LOGAN’S RUN. It thrilled me to think that the hugely famous (in my mind) Landmaster was just sitting there on the side of the road in plain view for everyone to see. I was privileged to get to see it every day because I was in the know. It also saddened me, because it looked like the once mighty Landmaster and its unlikely hovercraft sidekick were simply discarded, waiting for one more hurrah while the cameras rolled. Sadly, The Landmaster’s last well-known appearance was in an extended cameo on an episode of Chris Elliott’s early ’90s comedy GET A LIFE.  **Sigh.**


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