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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I first heard of this flick during high school when my friend Kenny told me about the trailer, which was included in the theatrically-released coming attractions collection THE BEST OF SEX AND VIOLENCE and when I saw that collection for myself years later, I was greatly intrigued. Then came my college days and the exchange of sleazy films with fellow connoisseurs, and TERMINAL ISLAND fell into my hands thanks to a freshman who would later gain deserved renown as writer/critic Selwyn Harris (at least I think I got it from him). I remember watching the film (admittedly through a thick fog of bonghit smoke), but if truth be told it happened during the first of what I now refer to as my "lost years," a period where I was perpetually drunk and/or stoned, so my memories of it remained spotty at best until a few days ago, when I got my hands on the film now that it's out on DVD. So was it worth revisiting after over twenty years?

A knife fight over one of the few available females. Just another day on Terminal Island.

TERMINAL ISLAND takes place in what was then the near-future (an element that adds nothing whatsoever to the plot) and brings viewers to its titular location, the San Bruno maximum security penal island, where the most vicious of convicted murderers are sent for life, there to eke out a meager existence or perish, or as the film's trailer so matter-of-factly states, it's "where we throw our human garbage." We watch as Carmen (Ena Hartman) is sentenced to the island, where, to her horror, she discovers she is only one of four females in the place, and is thus doomed to slavery — sexual and otherwise — under the iron hand of the psychotic Bobby (Sean Kenney) and Monk (Roger Moseley), his huge black enforcer. From the moment she arrives in the camp, Carmen is brutalized by Monk while the other female prisoners look on with mute resignation, each having no choice but to accept their status and service a minimum of four men per night on a semi-regular basis (the men outnumber the women roughly ten to to one).

Carmen's arrival: "Welcome to Terminal Island, baby."

After what appears to be a few days of such degradation, Carmen and the rest of the women are stolen from the bad guy murderers by a small group of nomadic good guy murderers who live on the other side of the island. Once among the new group of men, the women are (mostly) treated as equals and no longer forced to give it up on demand. Meanwhile, Bobby and Monk send out men to track down and retrieve the women and kills the dissident good guy murderers in the process. It all builds to a head and the good guy murderers pool their skills to organize themselves into a smart guerrilla army.

The "good guy" murderers.

With casualties on both sides, when the smoke clears it's a brand new day on Terminal Island as the good guy murderers take control and embark on a more pleasant, equality/cooperation-based way of existence.

In answer to my earlier question, TERMINAL ISLAND was not really worth coming back to after twenty-some-odd years and was very much a disappointment after its classic bombastic trailer. For a story with such sleazy potential, surprisingly little is made of it and its gore, nudity and violence are tepid at best. All of the sexual slavery takes place off-camera — which suits me fine, but the audience that came expecting it was certain to be disappointed and pissed off — the characters are pretty much all murderers, so it's kinda hard to root for any of them, and the thrills are quite tepid, especially when measured against the across the board excesses of the film's contemporaries in the exploitation field.

The only thing that's really of interest here is the cast, several of whom cane from or went on to careers in TV. For most viewers, TERMINAL ISLAND is interest for early appearances of Roger Moseley and Tom Selleck (as the sole innocent on the island), who would go on to co-star on MAGNUM, P.I. some seven years later.

A pre-MAGNUM, P.I. Tom Selleck (with Barbara Leigh).

For a geek like me, this film is of interest thanks to seeing two childhood favorites and veterans of Irwin Allen kids' sci-fi TV shows from the 1960's appearing in a potentially-sleazy R-rated flick. Both Don Marshall, who played Dan Erickson on LAND OF THE GIANTS (1968-1970), and the lovely Marta Kristen, who launched many young lads into puberty as Judy Robinson on LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968), are both on hand and of the two it's Kristen who has the more interesting character, specifically that of a radical bomber whose political rampage resulted in the accidental deaths of innocent civilians. During the climactic coup, her character's skills at creating homemade munitions come in very handy and she proves to be the polar opposite of the stereotypical dumb blonde. She's really cool here and displays a presence that was never allowed to flower during her days among the Jupiter 2 gang, and it's a shame that she's only been seen sporadically ever since.

Irwin Allen refugees in da house: Don (LAND OF THE GIANTS) Marshall and Marta (LOST IN SPACE) Kristen.

And just so we're clear on this and to spare you any disappointment upon rental, at no point does Marta Kristen get nekkid or fuck Don Marshall. Pfooey.

So the bottom line on TERMINAL ISLAND is that I don't really recommend it unless you're curious about what the aforementioned TV actors bring to the table. It's only 89 minutes long, so if you choose to see it at least you won't be wasting too much time. Oh, and some critics have made much of the film being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman, and how the film allegedly has some sort of political message, but neither aspect helps make TERMINAL ISLAND anything other than a footnote in the annals of '70's exploitation cinema.

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