Damnation Alley (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Damnation Alley is a 1977 film, directed by Jack Smight, loosely based on the novel by Roger Zelazny of the same name.


Lt. Jake Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent), an unorthodox Air Force officer, shares ICBM silo duty at an Air Force missile base in California with cut-and-dry Major Eugene "Sam" Denton (George Peppard). When the United States detects incoming nuclear missiles, Tanner and Denton "turn the key" to launch a retaliatory strike, initiating Doomsday. After launching their entire arsenal of nuclear missiles, Tanner and Denton witness nuclear devastation rain down upon the United States.

Fast forward two years: the Earth has been tilted off of its axis by World War III, radiation has mutated insect life, and the earth is constantly wracked by storms of unprecedented severity that engulf entire hemispheres. Military order at the Air Force base has broken down, Tanner has resigned his commission, and Denton is considering undertaking a trip to Albany, New York to discover the source of a lone radio transmission. Before the decision to abandon the base can be made, a rocket fuel gas explosion kills all but four men on the base—Denton, Tanner, Keegan (Paul Winfield) and Airman Tom Perry (Kip Niven).

They set out across the United States in two Air Force "Landmasters" (giant 12-wheeled armored personnel carriers capable of climbing 60-degree inclines, as well as being able to operate in water) across "Damnation Alley"—described as "the path of least resistance" between areas of intense radiation, and other perilous phenomena. In their journey, they pick up two survivors, fight crazed and savage shotgun-toting mountain men who have reduced to barbarism and cruelty, and encounter voracious, mutated "killer cockroaches" before reaching their destination.


The original story of Damnation Alley was seriously compromised from the outset. Right from the first draft of the script, the film bore almost no resemblance to Zelazny's novel (which prompted the author to request his name be removed from the credits). Despite being budgeted at $17,000,000 USD (a very large budget at the time), cheap special effects (sub-par even by 1977 standards, including "killer cockroaches" being dragged by strings), lackluster acting, and flat direction rendered the film a B-movie.

Damnation Alley was in post-production an inordinate amount of time (10 months) due to the difficult process of superimposing optical effects on the sky in eighty percent of the shots (to simulate the aftereffects of nuclear war). It was during this post-production period that 20th Century Fox released their "other" science fiction film. The studio had planned to release only two science fiction films in 1977: Damnation Alley was intended to be the blockbuster.

The other film — in which 20th Century Fox executives had very little confidence — was Star Wars.

Star Wars became a massive hit, and forced Fox to readdress Damnation Alley. In a panic, the release date was delayed further, directoral control was wrestled from Smight, and large sections of the film were edited out by the studio. The film was finally released on October 21, 1977.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Damnation Alley (film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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