Monday, January 11, 2010
Looking back over some of my other reviews, it becomes quite clear what sort of things I appreciate in a film; before even troubling myself with something as trivial as the plot, I've enthused about Christopher Lee, Ennio Morricone, killer shrews, alien monsters, robots, the undead etc, etc. So, if you were to pitch a film as being a post-apocalyptic adventure with giant scorpions and flesh eating cockroaches, do you really think I could turn it down?
Of course not.
I think I must be one of the few people who likes this kind of thing that hadn't seen this film before. It has a great following of lovers (and haters) all over the internet - despite having never been released on DVD. Though Anchor Bay did try a few years back, Fox are sitting tight on the rights for the moment.
Whilst in previous posts, I've praised some low budget flicks - Murder Party for instance - for knowing their limits and keeping their ambition firmly within the realms of possibility (both financial and artistic), Damnation Alley is decidedly at the opposite end of the scale. Let's be totally clear about this: Damnation Alley had a relatively enormous budget, set it's ambitions massively high and er... failed on an epic level.
Nowadays, with CGI (of variable quality) and all sorts of clever trickery, I'm sure the task of creating giant 8ft-long scorpions would not be so difficult but the 70s were a very different world. Wikipedia claims that this was originally attempted using full size remote-control scorpions but then abandoned due to poor results. I would love to own an 8ft long remote controlled scorpion! If anyone out there knows where one can be found, please do let me know.
Eventually they created some kind of savage montage attempt, putting really close up scorpions in the same screen as some further away action. Although it is thoroughly unconvincing, it's so thoroughly bonkers that you really do have to admire it.
Similarly unconvincingly threatening are the flesh eating cockroaches. Though they do have an awful lot of them, they are not really any bigger or scarier than normal cockroaches which, although a little frightening, tend not to be life-threatening. These ones, however, can strip flesh clean to the bone. And do.
Also of note, whilst we're looking at the special effects are the brilliant skies. This film was released in the same year as Star Wars, with Fox originally seeing Star Wars as the underdog to this, their major Sci-fi film for the year. Years later when we compare the two, the effects in Star Wars - though decidedly ropey in places - make the er... green and red skies of Damnation Alley seem laughable, but somehow charming.
Is there anything I missed? Oh yeah, plot. And one other vitally important feature but we'll come to that last.
The plot is decidedly so-so. It's based on a book by Roger Zelazny. I haven't read his book so can't really say how true the plot is to the novel but, from the well-documented fact that he hated the film, I imagine it was somewhat dumbed down. It's fairly standard post-apocalyptic fare: World gets nuked, loads of people die, earth turns on axis, USA becomes a desert, select band of survivors set out together and are confronted by aforementioned special-effects. The characters are two dimensional and uninteresting but... there're flesh eating cockroaches dammit! Who needs a plot?
Finally we arrive at the one massively ambitious creation that was a total success; so much so that it has inspired its very own cult following. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, The Landmaster.
I'm sure that it would stand out entirely on it's own merit, but the dodgy effects elsewhere in the film make this purpose-built, fully-functional armoured personnel carrier seem truly phenomenal. To be quite honest, if they'd edited out all the dialouge and just shown non-stop footage of the bendy-middled, heavily armed twelve-wheeled behemoth I'd probably have enjoyed the film even more than I did. It's utterly fantastic and the fact it was designed and built for the film (at a cost equivalent today to $1,200,000) only makes me love it more.
This film will not challenge your brain. But if it doesn't at least make you smile, I'd be very surprised indeed.
[Pictures are obviously low quality without it having ever been released on DVD. I also couldn't find a trailer, but I do believe that the whole thing is on YouTube ]