Damnation Alley (Blu-ray)

Director - Jack Smight

Cast - Jan Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Jackie Earle Haley

Country of Origin - USA

Discs - 1

MSRP - $26.97

Distributor - Shout Factory

Reviewer - Sean Smithson

The Film (3.5/5)

 

Damnation Alley is a post-apocaplyptic film that takes place in a universe where the Cold War never had a chance to fizzle out, but in it's past-tense future, ends with a bang as they say, and the launching of those dreaded icbm's. The end of civilization however, is only the beginning! Now with 9/10ths of the population wiped out in one fell swoop, military officers George Peppard, Jan Michael-Vincent, and Paul Winfield can pull the multi-wheeled, weapon enhanced, amphibious all terrain bad ass vehicle, the LandMaster, out of mothballs, and take it for a real test spin. Underneath psychedelic multi-colored radiated skies, our intrepid survivors set out to traverse the newly-wasted lands (that's the fastest fallout ever!) and make their way across the country to find that golden trope of all post-apocalyptic films, the ever mythic enclave of society that is gathering in some far away safe haven.

 

On the road to utopia, the LandMaster and her crew pick up a stranded starlet in Las vegas, French actress Dominique Sanda, and a feral teen-ager, a very young Jackie Earl Hailey, as well as battle mutated giant armor plated flesh eating insects (that look suspiciously like Madagascar hissing cockroaches....just sayin'), black scorpisons the size of mini-vans, wasteland rednecks with oozing fallout sores, as well as more mundane threats from an upset Mother Nature, such as sandstorms, tornados, radiation clouds, and that disaster classic, the flood.

 

The film itself, while a bit goofy and admittedly dated, is not only as great time-capsule for how sci-fi movies were right before George Lucas and his Jedi Knights completely obliterated the landscape with their New Agey Bible stories, and is culled from a novel of the same name, by the very distinguished and prolific author Roger Zelazny. Damnation Alley makes a great addition to a genre fans shelf, bridging the gap between titles like The World, The Flesh, And The Devil, or Fail-Safe, and The Road warrior, or 2019: After The Fall Of New York.

 

I clearly remember seeing the film as a young boy in Chico, CA. I walked in during the scene with Jan Michael-Vincent racing past the monstrous scorpions on his dirtbike, spitting up sand, and being an all around bad-ass as Tanner. I had already watched George Peppard in his old detective show Banecek (this was pre-A Team people) and became a full blown fan here, after watching him play Maj. Eugene Denton, the commander behind the wheel of the amazing LandMaster. Paul Winfield as the military man with the heart of an artist, Keegan, the beautiful Dominique Sanda as Janice, the (let's face it) uterus they need to protect, and Jackie Earle Hailey, fresh off of being the Fonzie-like Kelly in Bad News Bears, killing it as the heroic teen, Billy, all helped solidify Damnation Alley as one of those films I kept my eyes open for, after squeezing in three screenings/six showings the week it played. You see, back then we had to catch movies we loved as many times as we could the first time around, then as co-features a few months later, or wait and wait for network tv to finally show them. Now, thanks to wonderful companies like Shout! who are doing the lord's work here, we can simply run down to the nearest blu-ray dealer, or hit an online retalier and order up Damnation Alley.

 

As for other possible goodness, The LandMaster is as much a star of Damnation Alley as the cast, and I keep looking for a toy company to release a replica...hello? Sideshow? NECA? Anybody? Fuckin...Mattel?

 

Audio/Video (4/5)

 

The Anamorphic widescreen transfer (2:35:1) is a bit grainy, and it would have been great if they could have done something with the "360 Sound" the film was originally released in (absolutely groundbreaking at the time) but this is still the definitive release, and beautiful looking/sounding overall.

 

I read a heated discussion online as well about this print possibly having been matted. To end the argument, it was mastered at the specs originally meant for the film by the director, the late Jack Smight.

 

Extras (2.5/5)

 

An an audio commentary with Producer Paul Maslansky. Really only for the bigger fans of Damnation Alley. We're hearing the money guy talking here, and it shows a bit.

 

Survival Run - A look at the challenges adapting the celebrated novel with co-screenwriter Alan Sharp. Sharp came off the neo-noir classic Night Moves and onto this, and being only the co-writer, we hear about some of the underlying schism of multiple writers on a single project in Hollywood. Sharp also talks about budget constraints, and it's effect on the screenplay. Again, kind of rote stuff, and really for long standing fans.

 

Road To Hell - Producer Jerome Zietman details the process of making the film and the difficulties encountered along the way. Seeing as Zietman was a first time producer, this extra is entertaining in the fact we get to hear about some of the nuts and bolts of entering the film business, and hearing Zietman talk about some of the pitfalls and faux pas can be funny. There's a lot of lamenting and wondering over the fact that Damnation Alley was pretty much pitted up against Star Wars. Both film were in production at the same time, and Star Wars beat damnation Alley to theatrical release by a few months. It's all pretty laughable though, seeing Zietman halfway openly wonder "What if we'd have come out first?". Poor guy. Also, the stories of the problematic LandMaster peppered throughout, make this the best out of a bunch of pretty lukewarm extras.

 

LandMaster Tales - A detailed examination of the now-famous LandMaster vehicle from the film with stunt coordinator and car designer Dean Jeffries. It's cool hearing about the genesis and construction of one of my favorite movie vehicles. Again though, there isn't a whole lot here. Mainly Jeffries being proud of having pulled off a crazy vehicle that works so well. This extra and the Road To hell extra play particularly funny against each other though, due to the wildly different stories that jeffries and producer Zietman have to tell about the LandMaster.