Damnation Alley (1977)

Genres - Action, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Road Movie, Sci-Fi Disaster Film  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Late in this post-apocalyptic action flick, Jan-Michael Vincent's rebellious road warrior attempts to explain the concept of "heritage" to an orphaned ragamuffin by saying, "That's what people leave other people after they find out it didn't work." There's not much that works in Damnation Alley, a string of turgid set pieces and laughably Z-grade special effects that seemed dated even before it reached the box office in 1977. The film might have overcome its extremely limited budget if its script had offered any sort of sociological insight. Alas -- despite writing credits for celebrated novelist Roger Zelazny and screenwriters Alan Sharp (Night Moves) and Lukas Heller (Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) -- Damnation Alley merely strings together insipid sci-fi clich├ęs. The screenplay does attempt to milk drama out of the conflict between Vincent's character and George Peppard's steely, by-the-books veteran. But Peppard clearly feels the material is beneath him, and who can blame him? Forced to mouth such howlers as "This whole town is infested with killah cockroaches! Repeat: killah cockroaches," Peppard clings to his dignity by clenching his jaw and never letting go. As for the frequently shirtless Vincent, he does little to escape his reputation as a vapid heartthrob. Given that Mad Max brilliantly redefined the nuclear-apocalypse genre a short two years later -- and without much more in the way of budget -- one can't help but wonder whether Damnation Alley's corny dialogue and howlingly half-baked blue-screen shots weren't meant as a comedic homage to Ed Wood.