The world is devastated by a nuclear holocaust, causing the Earth to tilt on its axis and bringing vast meteorological chaos. As the weather stabilizes, mutated insects start to emerge, preying on the survivors. The surviving crew at a U.S. Air Force bomb shelter in the Mojave Desert picks up radio signals coming from Albany. The commander, Major Eugene Denton (George Peppard, The A-Team), unveils two armored vehicles he has constructed and announces a plan to cross Damnation Alley, the hundred-mile-wide strip between areas of radiation hazard, to join the survivors. They set off, taking on two civilians, a novice singer they find in the ruins of Las Vegas and a wild teenager (Jackie Earle Haley,Watchmen), along the way. The journey is also beset by giant mutated cockroaches, storms and crazed survivalists, making for some hair-raising escapes in this post-apocalyptic thriller.
A low-wattage cult hit among post-apocalypse movie fans, Jack Smight's Damnation Alley arrives on DVD in a deluxe presentation that underscores its troubled production, as well as its modest charms. Based very loosely on the 1967 novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny (who loathed the movie version), the film stars George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent as Air Force officers crisscrossing the ruins of America in massive armored personnel carriers (the 10-ton Landmaster, originally designed to lug trucks, and the film's most enduring image) in search of survivors. Their journey brings them in contact with shotgun-toting killers and giant, flesh-eating cockroaches, plus Jackie Earle Haley and Dominique Sanda as the final pieces in their new model of a nuclear family. Plagued by special-effects issues and reedits, Damnation Alley arrived with a thud in the wake of 20th Century Fox's other science-fiction release, Star Wars, which the studio initially regarded as Damnation's second-string support. The film developed a modest following in the ensuing decades among late-night TV habitués, who can finally retire their gray market dupes of the 1985 VHS release, thanks to Shout Factory's DVD release. The disc offers a new anamorphic widescreen presentation (minus the Sound 360 process, which was too damaged to preserve, but with three newer audio options), as well as commentary by veteran producer Paul Maslansky and a trio of interesting making-of documentaries, the most interesting of which features an interview with co-screenwriter Alan Sharp (Ulzana's Raid, Night Moves), whose assessment of his work isn't too far from Zelazny's reaction. Meanwhile, a look at the Landmaster with designer Dean Jeffries should satisfy fans of that unique vehicle. --Paul Gaita