Damnation Alley (1977)


Directed by Jack Smight

Screenplay by Alan Sharp and Lukas Heller

Starring: Jan Michael-Vincent, George Peppard, Paul Winfield, Doninique Sandra, Jackie Earle Haley

Trivia: Also known as “Survival Run”

Now a footnote in cinema history, Damnation Alley was one of the big budget summer releases 20th Century Fox released in 1977. Executives had little confidence in the troubled production entitled Star Wars.  Of course, the rest is history. Watching both films now, it’s clear which movie was stuck in the past and which one heralded the future of the genre.

Damnation Alley is about as rickety as 1970s Sci-Fi can get, it feels more like a 1950s flick. The opening 15 minutes are promising. A nuclear war erupts and most of the earth is destroyed. The setting at NORAD looks realistic and foreshadows Wargames. After the missiles fly we learn the earth was knocked off its axis, causing extreme climate change.

The story follows a group of survivors who live in a mechanized Winnebago (this isn’t Spaceballs). Jan Michael-Vincent stars as the leader and George Peppard is the generic father figure. Along they meet a former songwriter Janice (Dominique Sandra) and young boy Billy (Jackie Earle Haley.) Giant cockroaches roam the landscape, and quasi-mutant humans too!

The dialogue is pretty bad.  Most of the scenes take place in the trailer with people driving and talking. There’s hardly any action. Even Jerry Goldsmith’s score brings about a fraction of the excitement John Williams brought to Star Wars. And the special effects are more dreadful than the dialogue. As a low budget b-movie, Damnation Alley holds some interest for fans of the genre. Still, it’s a flat film with predictable situations that generate minuscule excitement.


3 thoughts on “Damnation Alley (1977)

  1. Enjoyed the review, Eric. I liked the nuclear strike sequence (done in such low- key fashion that I thought they must be war gaming) and the Landmaster, but it was downhill from there.
    It’s hard to believe today that Fox were so worried about Star Wars going over budget at around $10million, yet they spent $17million on this.


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