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The next 'Star Wars'! Well, not quite.....
on 20 April 2014
...but it's hilarious that 20th Century Fox once thought this, and held the film back for a year (it was finished in '76) to see how 'Star Wars' performed.
What can I say? It's not the best sci-fi movie ever made, It's cheesy, and some of the effects have not stood the test of time. It actually starts off with quite a strong opening sequence (like that of 'WarGames' except this time, it's NOT a simulated attack), so it's a shame that it then descends into B-movie nonsense....but this has always been a particular favourite of mine and I was really glad to see it released on DVD. It's an entertaining little film if nothing else, one of those 'turn off brain, enjoy' films that you can watch with friends, have some popcorn and a laugh and maybe do an MST3K-style riffing (and how this film was never featured on MST3K I'll never know). Great to see Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard together here, both completely unaware that they would go on to be the stars of rival '80s shows Airwolf and The A-Team respectively...JMV in particular demonstrating what a terrific actor he always was and what a shame it is that his life worked out the way it did. Paul Winfield, a great actor who never seemed to meet a nice end in sci-fi movies (see 'Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan') does a good turn for the first portion of the film before meeting a grisly end, and of course there's the highlight of seeing young Jackie Earle Haley in his first screen role, a long way from becoming masked vigilante Rorschach in 'Watchmen'.
The true star of the film, of course, is the 12-wheeled armoured super-truck, the Landmaster. Designed by legendary Hollywood designer Dean Jeffries (no, George Barris, this is another one you weren't responsible for), the 'ultimate RV' boasts mortars, missile launchers and that big rubber join in the middle that my dad always mocks, not to mention its amphibious capability and an interior that looks suspiciously bigger than the truck itself. It's an impressive vehicle (which still survives to this day!) and predates the 'Dead Reckoning' from 'Land of the Dead' (protip to George Romero, even if you rip off a cheesy '70s B-movie that no-one really cares about, it's still plagiarism)...when the apocalypse finally comes around, this is the survival vehicle of choice.
Watch out for that one set that serves as both a Vegas casino and then a department store (and doesn't look particularly convincing as either), and also pay attention during Paul Winfield's drawn out demise, where he screams for George Peppard's character, calling him 'Sam' even though his name is actually Eugene. Classic.
Based on: a novel of the same name by cult S-F author Roger Zelazny. Very loosely based. As in, some character names and a cross-country journey across the post-apocalyptic USA in a specially-built vehicle. Oh and a motorbike. That's it. And thanks mum, for creasing the spine of my copy and wrecking it after I specifically asked you to take very good care of it.
Was almost called: 'Survival Run', but George Peppard insisted on the title 'Damnation Alley', a term used and explained by his character during the film, being retained - well done, George :)
Best line of the film: "This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches, repeat, KILLER COCKROACHES!"
Best 'Famous last words' of the film: "The Landmaster can withstand stresses of up to AGHHHH-!"
A must have for sci-fi fans, or for anyone who gleefully collects and watches bad movies (if you're both, then I salute you)!