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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Terminal Island (1973) review


Don Marshall (A.J.), Sean Kenney (Bobby), Phyllis Davis (Joy), Ena Hartman (Carmen), Barbara Leigh (Bunny), Tom Selleck (Dr. Norman Milford), Roger E. Mosley (Monk), James Whitworth (Vander)

Directed by Stephanie Rothman

The Short Version: One of a number of great exploitation movies from Dimension Pictures, an indy company that usually "walked" in the shadow of New World Pictures, but delivered similar trashy thrills. This ambitious, if simplistic feature contains a wealth of unsavory attractions for drive in bloodhounds and sums up what made bad low budget 70s sinema so damn good. The title island is a dump for society's garbage where it's kill or be killed and the women are smacked around, humiliated and raped. Cheap thrills abound and there's a great cast including MAGNUM P.I. alums Tom Selleck and Roger Mosely.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

"What's your opinion of Terminal Island?....It's where we dump our garbage."

When the California Supreme Court banishes the death penalty, the flood of violent insurgents are declared legally dead and taken to San Bruno Island to live out the remainder of their days. Dubbed Terminal Island, this hellhole harbors numerous rapists and murderers. Surrounded by strategically placed mines, escape from the island is impossible. Split into two factions at war with one another, women are treated as sex slaves amidst a bloody struggle to survive.

"If I tell you to kiss my ass I want you on your knees before I finish talkin!"--Monk explains the rules to new arrival, Carmen.

Stephanie Rothman goes to great lengths to not only carve out strong female roles in this exceedingly trashy exploitation treasure chest, but also packing as much misogyny and degradation as the films 88 minute running time will allow. Rothman got her big break with Roger Corman flicks like the New World classics THE STUDENT NURSES (1970) and THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971). Shortly thereafter, she joined her husband at Dimension Pictures, an independent company that elegantly cloned the New World style, if only a bit more rough around the edges. Nonetheless, the films cranked out at Dimension were often perfect examples of the Drive In--42nd Street Era of exploitation excellence.

TERMINAL ISLAND is the kind of movie that doesn't get made anymore; at least not for a couple hundred thousand dollars. Resembling a Jack Hill picture, Rothman's sleazy endeavor is rife with irrefutably goofy dialog spoken with an energetic jingoism that's hard to resist quoting. The level of violence is typical of 70s drive in fare with a judicious helping of blood squibs, attempted rapes, female degradation, bountiful nudity and brutal stabbings with various sharp implements. The many fight scenes are extraordinarily accomplished for such a fast shoot and possess a gritty realism about them. Thankfully the bulk of the running time is made up of the less than tasteful aspects of the script for when the picture makes an attempt at exposition, it temporarily stalls.

The film begins with a brief infatuation with social subtext in reference to the way the media manipulates the public's perception of the news by making things more sensational than they really are. In this case, it's a television stations tinkering with heightening society's awareness of Terminal Island. Unfortunately, this angle is abandoned after the opening credits. A couple years later Paul Bartel would expand on mankinds fascination with televised violence in his DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Also, it's possible John Carpenter was partially influenced by TERMINAL ISLAND's concept for his ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).

The cast is made up of up and comers and seasoned professionals from television and other examples of drive in cinema. There's over the top performances from the likes of the lead heavy played by Sean Kenney (STAR TREK) and his henchman brutishly essayed by Roger Mosely (T.C. from MAGNUM P.I.). Speaking of Mosely, there's also Magnum himself, Tom Selleck as a wrongfully accused doctor sent to the island. Selleck isn't onscreen as much as some of his co-stars, but he gets the most poignant scene during the closing moments, which is uncharacteristically uplifting considering what has transpired during the first 80 plus minutes.

There's a bevy of beauties on hand here including the bosomy Phyllis Davis (SWEET SUGAR), the curvy Barbara Leigh (BOSS NIGGER) and Marta Kristen (BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). Ena Hartman is apparently channeling Pam Grier's performances from her Filipino lensed WIP flicks, but without her dominating screen presence. Hartman's character is set up as the lead female protagonist, but she soon gets lost in the shuffle among the gaggle of other characters decked out in blue jeans and navy blue shirts.

"I'm breaking outa here! I'm goin after Monk...I'm gonna wipe out that big nigger faggot...I'm gonna smash his balls till they turn to jello!"--Carmen explaining what she has in store for Monk.

Some of the product produced or distributed by the unsung independent great Dimension Pictures includes such escapist entertainment as THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972), SWEET SUGAR (1972), THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (1973), INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973), BOSS NIGGER (1975), DOLEMITE (1975), DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE (1976), BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), RUBY (1977), KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) and SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1979). Quality ranges wildly for many of these, but all are terribly entertaining one way or another. For more information on Dimension Pictures, click HERE.

Aside from Tom Selleck and his future partner, Mosely, there's also Papa Jupiter himself, James Whitworth as Vander. Essentially America's version of Luigi Montefiore (George Eastman), Whitworth also took a major role in the low budget cult favorite PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1979). Don Marshall is the leader of the good faction although everyone looks the same considering they all wear the same clothes with little variance. Marshall will be instantly recognizable to fans of the original STAR TREK, particularly the episode 'The Galileo Seven' wherein he continuously bickers with Spock while giant ape monsters dwindle their numbers on an unknown planet.

The music is made up of stock music tracks (some of which you'll recognize from the 1979 no budget creature feature BOG) and a great country croonin' title theme, 'It's Too Damn Bad' sung by Jeff Thomas. The direction is solid and as mentioned above, perfectly apes the low budget excess of Corman's New World Pictures productions. TERMINAL ISLAND is tacky, terribly misogynistic and terminally unacceptable for those with discernible taste in movies. That being said, it's highly recommended drive in fodder for lovers of trash cinema.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD


Andrew said...

You had me at "this review contains images of nudity"....
Looks pretty awesome to me.

Man, you know your stuff.

J. Astro said...

Sounds good. Will most assuredly take this one under advisement.

venoms5 said...

@ Andrew: Thanks so much, Andrew, I hope you dig the flick should you ever check it out!

@ J: If you saw any of Roger Corman's WIP flicks, this is along those same lines. That scene where Whitworth spits all in Phyllis Davis's face had me rolling. What a trooper she was.

Maynard Morrissey said...

In German-speaking countries this was released under the title
"Männer wie Tiger" = "Men like Tigers"...

A hero never dies said...

Never heard of this movie Brian, it sounds like a blast. Definitely picking this up.

venoms5 said...

@ Maynard: Interesting title for the German market. The numerous fights are right brutal and animalistic, too. There are also two scenes that are played for laughs one of them is of the blackest humor that starts out as a playful "western style" exchange that ends in violence that made me laugh.

@ Martin: I thought it was a lot of fun and very reminiscent of Jack Hill's WIP flicks for New World. Hopefully, I should have a review for Rothman's WORKING GIRLS up before long. It's got a young and naked Cassandra Peterson as a stripper, too!

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