Thursday, July 20, 2017
TERMINAL ISLAND (1973) (DVD Review)
Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE NTSC
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (No Subtitles)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Cast: Tom Selleck, Don Marshall, Ena Hartman, Phyllis Davis, Sean Kenney, Roger Mosley
Synopsis: America in the near future, the Supreme Court drops the death penalty in favour of an initiative that designates San Bruno island as a dumping spot for first-degree murder convicts, free to do what they like except leave. Surrounded by murderers and mayhem, without any law or law-keepers it is a living hell-on-earth! Ruthless convicts Bobby (Sean Kenney, The Corpse Grinders) rules the main camp and keeps the women under his thumb as sex slaves. Tensions within the group flare-up and when courageous A.J Thomas (Don Marshall, Land of the Giants) decides to turn his back on tyrannical Bobby he leads a group of like-minded convicts into hiding, determined to liberate the women once and for all. With the line drawn in the sand, it is only a matter of time before an all-out battle is mounted for control of the island.
One of the very few female drive-in directors of the 70s, Stephanie Rothman (The Velvet Vampire), brought us this action-packed slice of 70s exploitation, a sleazy and violent movie that predates both Battle Royale (2000) and John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) but traffics in the same sort of anything goes scenario on a remote island - it was a bit ahead of its time. Here we have a dystopian vision wherein the American Supreme Court has abolished the death penalty, the chosen alternative is to strand the convicted murderers on San Bruno Island, a remote island off the coast of California, a place dubbed "Terminal Island", where the murderers live a Lord of the Flies existence, fending for themselves, there are no rules, and only the strongest and most vile of the bunch will survive.
First-degree murderers are sentenced to live the remainder of their natural-born lives on the island, after sentencing they are transported to the island via a small boat by armed guards through a maze of mines by that surround the island, dropped off on the shore and left to make due on their own with just the clothes on their back and a few cans of food. The inhabitants on the island have formed into two factions, one group aligning themselves with a sadistic bastard named Bobby (Sean Kenney, The Corpse Grinders), who along with his muscleman Monk (Roger E. Mosley, Land of the Gainst), rule the island with violence and tyranny, imprisoning the few women left-alive as sex-slaves who serve at the pleasure of the men, which gives the movie a certain women-in-prison (WIP) aesthetic. The smaller faction of men living on the island are more civilized and less rape-y, lead by A.J. (Don Marshall), they seem to just want to exist and live freely and are not into the violence, and imprisoning and raping the women.
The latest woman to arrive on the island is the bad-ass and bad-tempered Carmen (Ena Hartman), she arrives to the sight of dead bodies littering the surf and beach, victims of the island, it's a nice touch. She doesn't take too kindly to the new accommodations, she fights back but ends up beaten down and forced into labor by Bobby and his crew. However, not all of Bobby's crew are completely diabolical, we have a sympathetic, but drug-addled doc, named Dr. Milford (Tom Selleck), who was sent to the island for having assisted a terminally ill man with his own suicide, he's the first resident of the island that Carmen encounters, and he proves to be a decent man by the end of the flick, despite his affiliation with Bobby.
The two faction who are ideologically opposed and are at war with each other, when A.J. and his men free the enslaved women from Bobby's crew it starts an all-out war, with the women aligning themselves with the smaller group. As the violence goes on we get multiple knifings and fist fights, blow darts, home-made grenades, lashings with a whip, and a bang-up finale at the end with plenty of cheap action, bloody violence and a fiery explosion that was quite satisfactory.
The movie does a good job setting-up the dystopian mythology in a short amount of time in the opening few minutes with a TV news segment that sets up the idea of Terminal Island, how it came to pass and introduces us to a few of the characters through a series of images and mini-bios for key players. It's a cheap but effective bit of world building, not too different from our own, but only slightly more dystopian than what we're experiencing at this moment in time.
The cast features a load of familiar face, even through the beard it's hard to not to recognize future TV star Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.) and his future co-star Don Marshall, but we also get fun turns from busty Phyllis Davis from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Marta Kristen (Battle Beyond the Stars), and Barbara Leigh (Student Nurses) as a mute convict who murdered her parents, and James Whitworth who played Jupiter in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes shows up as one of the baddies. The cast is fun and jump right into the action with plenty of explosions, fighting and gunplay, more than enough to keep the eyes glued to the TV - even if some of the acting is only just passable and a few of the fight scenes are clumsy. There's also some humor peppered throughout, highlighted by a fun skinny-dipping scene with a topless Phyllis Davis that ends with her smearing honey from a beehive onto the private parts of one of the men in a would-be act of seduction that ends with him being stung by a swarm of bees, it's a fun bit.
Audio/Video: Terminal Island (1973) arrives on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) from what looks to be a theatrical print. Colors are muted and a bit washed out, the fine detail is lacking but overall this is a decent print that is very watchable, it just has that grindhouse patina to it. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio likewise is rough but listenable, with some audible hiss and crackling from time to time. There are no subtitles options and no extras, not even a start-up menu, this goes right into the film once you pop it on. The disc is marked as region 2 and 4 compatible, but it played just fine on my region 1 DVD player, so it would appear to be region-free!
Terminal Island (1973) has everything a cheap exploitation flick needs, there's loads of action, plenty of violence and the prerequisite nude scenes, and to top it off, it's actually a well-made movie with a solid premise. If you're a fan of the Roger Corman produced WIP and jungle exploitation films like Jack Hill's The Big Bird Cage this one fits comfortably in that very same 70s exploitation sweet spot.