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When cockroaches are the best part of the film, it is usually bad news...,
This review is from: Damnation Alley [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
This film was supposed to be the adaptation of post-apocalyptic classic SF book by Robert Zelazny - but it is NOT!
Written in 1967, "Damnation Alley" by Roger Zelazny was an excellent SF novella, which was later extended into a short novel and published as a separate book. In both versions it is a very good read and it inspired a lot of later imitations, some of them good and mostly very bad, both in SF literature and in films. "Mad Max" series, and especially the second and third film, certainly owe a little bit to this book - and I think even the legendary "Escape from New York" was a tiny little bit inspired by "Damnation Valley".
In case you don't know the BOOK, here is the beginning of the action. After a nuclear war, United States are left devastated and depopulated. Two pockets of civilization remain - one in California and another around Boston, but they are separated by a mostly radioactive wasteland. In those savage lands there are mutated monsters and the few remaining people form warlike tribes - violent and vicious, but still riding in cars and using firearms. Which makes things worse, is that air and sea travel is now impossible because the climate was so upset by the nuclear war, that there are all the times terrifying storms raging everywhere. Therefore the only way to voyage is by land. Because of radioactivity in the atmosphere, there is also no radio contact.
One day, a lonely traveler driving an armored car arrives to California after coming all the way from Boston. Before dying from his wounds he transmits the message he is carrying: Boston is dying from a deadly epidemic. There is vaccin available in California - but somebody must travel all the way through what was once United States to carry it... Those are the first two pages of the BOOK - and what followed made a big splash amongst SF fans when it was published in 1967...
But the adaptation of this story has VIRTUALLY NOTHING IN COMMON with the book, except for the title and the general idea of travel through Unites States transformed in a wild wasteland. Here we have four soldiers, who survived the nuclear war in a missile base in California and who two years after the conflict decide to go and look for other survivors, lured by a radio transmission from Albany, NY.
Not only is the story different from the book, but the travel itself is rather boring and the ending - sorry, SPOILER here - rather anti-climactic and disappointing. Ultimately, in this film almost nothing really happens - except one scene with cockroaches. In all, the first minutes are good and after that we must wait a long time for the cockroaches and then there is a lot of not much for a long time and then it is the end. THE END.
Also, with the exception of cockroaches, the special effects are very weak. The few "action scenes" barely deserve that name.
As in the book at one moment a girl will appear, but the French actress Dominique Sanda who plays her clearly doesn't give a s*** and anyway her character is here strictly for nothing.
It is a pity that the scenario is so weak, because three good actors were gathered to play in this film - and their talent is wasted. I always liked Jan-Michael Vincent, but in this film he hardly has a chance to do or say something interesting - and his character is ridiculous. George Peppard's character - an aging Major of US Air Force - is actually quite interesting and good, but once again the scenario doesn't allow him to do much. Finally there is Paul Winfield (remember him as LAPD Lieutenant Traxler in "Terminator"?) - but his talent is also wasted. Cruelly.
After seeing this film Roger Zelazny was devastated and requested that his name be removed from the credits...
So bottom line, this is a failed and very disappointing film, nothing like the original story and GREATLY inferior to it. Only cockroaches are interesting and it is for them that I give this film two stars. But (assuming that you want to watch it at all) once you watched the cockroaches scene, you can turn as well your DVD player off - there is nothing more of interest until the end. Avoid!