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

Brute Corps (1972) review


Paul Carr (Ross), Joseph Kaufmann (Kevin), Jennifer Billingsley (Terry), Alex Rocco (Wicks), Michael Pataki (MacFarlane), Felton Perry (Hill), Charles Macaulay (The Colonel), Roy Jenson (Quinn), Parker West (Ballard)

Directed by Jerry Jameson

The Short Version: This rare 70s exploitation item is an occasionally interesting, if disappointing concoction of various elements that fail to gel into a cohesive whole amidst some good cinematography and a strangely out of place soundtrack. There's an astonishing flirtation with opposing views of those for and against the Vietnam War, but this gets dumped once the LAST HOUSE style humiliation takes over before that, too, is abandoned for a 'hunting humans' storyline peppered with moments straight out of a western movie. Only die hard 70s completists need sign up for the BRUTE CORPS. All others will likely go awol.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

A draft dodger and an amorous hippie are terrorized by Burckhardt's Bastards, a group of mercenaries camped near the US-Mexican border awaiting orders for their next mission in Central America. The girl is gang raped and the man is hunted down by the mercs. One of the group is sympathetic and aids the two outsiders in an attempt to escape a cruel death at the hands of the psychotic military specialists.

There's potential for a grim and grand good time here, but director Jameson frequently fumbles the ball keeping the proceedings from scoring an exploitation worthy trash touchdown in this recently uncovered obscurity. Still, the script does manage some striking social commentary and a few good scenes that make the film worth at least one viewing. While there's more or less zero plot, the storyline derives elements from STRAW DOGS (1971), LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) and any number of American or Italian made westerns. Probably the most satisfying portion of the film is its flirtation with America's involvement in Vietnam. Unlike other movies, these moments don't really condemn the war, but present a point of view from both the soldiers perspective and that of the "Make Love, Not War" counterculture.

The Vietnam allegory is blatant, but never heavy handed. In fact, this angle could have done with some more exploration. One of the most successful moments in the film is when the demented Wicks has a conversation with Kevin, the passive wanderer who escaped the draft. One side is turned off by death and the other is turned on by it. These fleeting minutes are among the best in the film and they add a lot of tension to this sequence where the mercenaries playfully, yet calculatingly let their true intentions be known regarding the sexually liberated woman. Not long after there's also a My Lai reference which ends the then current events subtext giving way to a lot of running around, some gun-play and an attempt to get the intimidated Mexican villagers to stand up against the militaristic oppressors.

The movie starts off on a wonderful, ghoulishly humorous note wherein Burckhardt's (Inglorious?) Bastards run afoul of a group of bikers prior to taking advantage of the citizens of a small Mexican border town. The opening is possibly the best portion of the film and if only the remainder was able to maintain that level of jovial insanity, this would likely be an uncovered jewel among exploitation enthusiasts. We then meet the two protagonists. One is a draft dodger and the other is a free spirited female who loves to "ball" and gets more than she bargained for later in the film. By the time the two wanderers are lured into the mercs camp, the notion that these men are far more sadistic than initially perceived creeps in.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles about halfway through. It's not a total loss, it just fails to capitalize on several opportunities to expand on its brutal concept. Instead of embracing the savagery of LAST HOUSE, it instead segues into conventional western conventions culminating in a typical tumbleweed showdown. The films score is woefully out of place with not a single cue feeling like it belongs. The music is all upbeat and a detriment to the action onscreen. Instead of heightening what should be a perilous situation, the music perpetuates a less than suspenseful atmosphere. Nevertheless, there are a couple of shock surprises towards the end and the cast ultimately provides more consistent curiosity value than the film itself.

This type of offensiveness couldn't be done today, but if BRUTE CORPS had more of it, it would be a more satisfying piece of sleazy 70s cinema.

Alex Rocco (BONNIE'S KIDS) steals the show here as the deranged Wicks. When his character is disposed of, the film loses nearly all of its momentum. You could say that Wicks is the 'Krug' of the film although it's a shame he's snuffed out first. One gets the impression he will take over the unit, but when the Colonel (played by BLACULA's Charles Maucalay) allows the men to fight it out to see who gets first turn with the girl, it's surmised that all of the men are unhinged, just not as wacko as Wicks.

Prior to WALKING TALL (1973) alongside Joe Don Baker, Felton Perry played one of the demented mercenaries in BRUTE CORPS. His role as Hill is virtually interchangeable with the others, but all the performances are fine for the material. Genre stalwart Michael Pataki (ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA) also plays one of the sadists and partakes in a friendly Judo display with Perry's character.

The director of THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) and AIRPORT '77 (1977) fails to make his ingredients cook in this exploitation pie. The dichotomy between those who fought in the war and those who ran away from it makes for a startlingly feasible addition to a production that fails to take full advantage of its glaringly vicious subject matter. THE BRUTE CORPS (1972) has a great title and concept, only it could have been so much more than an average time-waster with barely enough brutality and lude behavior to satisfy the very crowd this type of picture catered to back in the day.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Brute Corps DVD link
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.