‘Damnation Alley’

20th Century Fox had two science fiction films slated for 1977. Their blockbuster ‘A’ project was the post-apocalyptic adventure, Damnation Alley, with another less promising ‘B’ project slated for release later that year.

Jan-Michael Vincent (who was great as the cheeky upstart in 1972s, The Mechanic) took the starring role with George Peppard kicked into second billing (after this fiasco he was destined to go into TV, to lead the A-Team).

Damnation Alley was a career killer of a film that turned toxic for everyone. Like Waterworld it’s one of those spectacularly unsuccessful films that no studio executive wants to remember. Everything that could have gone wrong with it, did go wrong with it.

The storyline is basically a post-apocalyptic RV trip in a custom built Landmaster vehicle (which was supposed to look cool but it looked ridiculous). The vehicle cost the studio $350,000. It’s always a bad sign when the transport takes the starring role. The special effects are pretty bad and they cost the studio a fortune. Someone in a meeting had the terrible idea of rendering every sky in the film into a post-apocalyptic aurora borealis — and it’s completely unnecessary. That decision cost a fortune, but it also stalled the production.

The music is decent enough. It’s Jerry Goldsmith — not his best by any means, but it’s serviceable. It’s a kind of sub Planet of the Apes meets sub Logan’s Run number (he did the music for both of those films, and the soundtrack for Planet of the Apes is pretty spectacular).

While waiting for the special effects, the studio decided to take the film away from the director and recut it themselves. They basically turned it into a film starring the Landmaster vehicle — cutting out much of George Peppard’s screentime.

Then the studio decided to switch some of the budget for Damnation Alley’s special effects to their other science fiction film, which was progressing ahead of schedule (now it was going to be released before Damnation Alley). When Damnation Alley was eventually released, it was a critical and financial disaster.

The name of 20th Century Fox’s ‘B’ project was, Star Wars.