Monday, March 20, 2017

No Escape From Terminal Island

Well before Lance Henrikson guru'd out for No Escape and Vinnie Jones stole a movie from Stone Cold Steve Austin with The Condemned, a bearded Tom Selleck took his own trip to an isolated penal colony in pure '70s style. 

Ah, the beauty of post-stardom, decades-later cover art.

Quick Plot: Somewhere in a future that looks a lot like the late '70s, the state of California ruled the death penalty was cruel and unconstitutional. What to do with the growing batch of men and women convicted of first degree murder? Why, ship them off to a remote island and let the criminals with no shot at parole build their own existence, or kill each other trying of course!

Terminal Island has the simplest of setups, perhaps because we've seen various incarnations of the same story told before and after (Turkey Shoot, Escape From New York, etc.). The film opens cleverly with a news crew presenting a special on the titular land mass, smartly giving the audience everything we need before sailing off to hell.

This is no Gilligan's Island. We follow a female named Carmen as she enters into her new, violent society. A few alpha males have taken control of the group, forcing the rest of the men to provide what equates to slave labor. The handful of ladies have it worse: in addition to toiling the fields by day, they're expected to provide sexual favors for the reigning male population by night. 

Thankfully, a resistance is formed by some of the less rape-y men who recruit the women and follow a kinder policy of teamwork and consent. Naturally, the other side of the island doesn't take this easily and a civil war ensues. 

Directed by Roger Corman protegee Stephanie Rothman, Terminal Island comes with a ready-made premise for violent '70s exploitation. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film, however, is how it manages to craft its ingredients into something far more thoughtful than you'd expect. When we meet the impossibly beautiful island women, we groan with anticipation of seeing their clothing torn as the men take their turns during scheduled rapes. Perhaps it's the fact that director Rothman is female, but guess what? Terminal Island doesn't make us watch that. 

Make no mistake: these women are abused, but unlike so many pieces of trash cinema (I say that with affection), Terminal Island isn't interested in glamorizing the violence. The only nudity we get comes when a female character is taking control of her body in order to punish a would-be rapist (in a rather creative honey-lubricated hand job, no less). Some of the women are active and admirably ready to fight back, while one is clearly suffering from PTSD with no easy cure in sight. For a barely 90 minute drive-in action romp, that's fairly deep stuff. 

Even without the gender politics, Terminal Island remains a pretty neat little flick. The supporting characters have mostly standout personalities and the action, when it fully kicks in, has a grand scope. Maybe it isn't as trashy as its premise might suggest, but sometimes, that can be a darn good thing.

High Points
At first, the lack of a single clear protagonist seemed a little scattered, but Terminal Island does a surprisingly good job of creating a memorable ensemble
Low Points
That being said, it's a minor shame that our main villain is just not that memorable when you consider the fact that this is supposed to be the baddest group of criminals the country has

Lessons Learned
You gotta have a maniac!

Wild mustard has quite a high sulfur content

Another word for mead is "cow piss"

The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat

Side Note
Mostly I'm adding this to remind myself to track down whatever I can by Stephanie Rothman. A quick glance at her Wikipedia page (and further reading from the various in-depth links) introduced me to a fascinating filmmaker with the misfortune of coming through the system at an even WORSE time for females in the industry. I'm eager to learn more.

I caught Terminal Island via a random TCM Underground airing, and much like the rest of Stephanie Rothman's work, it seems like you'll have a tough time tracking it down elsewhere. If you can find a copy, it's well worth the effort. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Do Zey Zerve Zima?

While I would never argue its merits as a piece of high art, I'll go on record as saying Jurassic World was one of the funnest movie theater experiences I've ever had.

So why would I not watch what can essentially be called a remake with the dinosaurs recast as zombies?

Quick Plot:
10 years after a major zombie outbreak, the last remnants of the living dead are stored at an exotic, isolated island where wealthy guests drop big bucks to play zombie paintball (without the paint). On this particular excursion, we follow a young woman named Melanie, who decides that killing the undead might be the only way to finally get over her childhood trauma of watching her father turn. Accompanying her is Lewis, her loyal boyfriend who had some serious military experience during the zombie wars of the past.

Also in Melanie's group is a pair of teenage gamers, a jilted bride with a few secrets, and Dougray Scott--

Yes, in case you didn't know, referencing Dougray Scott legally requires me to go on an extended aside about the greatness of Ever After.
Seriously, how good is Ever After?

Drew Barrymore as a likable, strong-willed young woman not willing to let a prince decide her fate, cute old people being sweet and cute in a cute old people kind of way, Angelica Huston in some form of Renaissance drag flirting mercilessly with Toby Jones as a dwarf...


Back to The Rezort. Just in case you couldn't figure it out from the line, "Jurassic World with zombies," allow me to say, this is Jurassic World with zombies. A security breach causes the typical flesh-eating chaos, forcing our gaggle to reach an exit point before the park's security doomsday plan takes effect, leveling the island before the contagion spreads to the mainland.

Obviously, this is a great idea for a film. Directed by Steve Barker from a script by Paul Gerstenberger, The Rezort isn't quite game-changing, but it sure is fun. You get the typical setups of crass businessmen trying to impress their Asian clients and trigger-happy teenagers overstaying their welcome, but deep character insight isn's always a requirement in dinosaurs-loose-in-the- 

er, I mean zombie theme park movies. 

Actually, in its brief 90 minute running time, The Rezort manages to cram far more heavy social themes than your usual pterodactyl-filled flick, with a final act reveal that makes some surprisingly timely and frightening observations on the refugee crisis.  Take THAT, Bryce Dallas Howard's high heels!

High Points
Maybe I've just been a tad worn down by some recent low budget watches, but it just felt nice to see some good-looking zombies tearing into their prey without overly pixelated CGI blood spurts 

Low Points
While I very much appreciated the opening newsreel that perfectly set up The Rezort's universe, there did seem to be some pieces missing. We don't learn enough about the park's mastermind to have the right kind of anger called for later in the film, and with its brief running time, it certainly feels like we could have had more

Title Points
I was all set to make a pointed joke about using a "Z" for an "S" in the title of a zombie film, but The Rezort might be the exception to the rule that, well, using a "Z" for an "S" in the title of a zombie film rendering it immediately terrible

Lessons Learned
If you are female and your morality is put into question, the solution to any accusation is simply, "I'm a businesswoman" 

Every apocalypse deserves an after party

In the near future, thumb drives will be fully waterproof

Zombie films are as ubiquitous these days as The Walking Dead t-shirts, but The Rezort gets my recommendation. The production values are high, the effects look good, the cast is able, and the setup lends plenty of fun. For a good 90 minutes of tourists-in-turmoil, this is the trip. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Short(ening) Round(up)

Another February has passed, meaning the usual hijinks have high and jinked.

I got another year older.

A groundhog got another day of work.

The Oscars taught us important lessons about font choices. 

And of course, most importantly, the Doll’s House experienced yet another Shortening. 

The Shortening, for those unaware, is our way of making a short month even shorter by celebrating all things vertically challenged. This year, that meant (as it often does), dolls, children,  more children, and cats. Past years have been a little more creative, what with leprechauns, rats, fetuses, trolls, and even something called goobers (somehow even grosser than it sounds). 

Thankfully, a few good pals stepped in with some more eclectic choices. Allow me to direct you to Senseless Cinema, where the one and only Doctor Pseudonymous takes us back to the golden age of 1985, when low budget horror hit its stride with the infamous Attack of the Beast Creatures

Also on hand as always is my good pal and fellow Jessica Fletcher devotee Chris Hewson, who has a whole slate of Shortening-based reviews rolling over at Not This Time, Nayland Smith. Expect to see some Herbies, bad seeds, fairies, dragons, and good old fashioned cats form outer space...s.

Next week, we’ll get back to good old fashioned horror, where evil lurks just outside the petite department. In the meantime, travel through the blogosphere for some alternate short takes and enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2017

That Darn (Uninvited) Cat

I've known for years that this realm of the universe contained a Greydon Clark horror flick about a cute cat infected with a homicidal parasite that causes it to birth other cats infected with homicidal parasites in puppet form. For some time, it's been one of those "when I deserve it" future watches to be saved for a day when I've earned the right to say, 

I guess a snow day during February's Shortening was enough of a victory.

Quick Plot: Welcome to Fort Lauderedale, where spring break is in full swing. Normally a batch of oversexed college kids on a boat would be enough of a base to start your movie, but Uninvited has higher ambitions in sight. In addition to our gaggle of spoiled coeds, Clark throws in Alex Cord a slick mobster of sorts aided by henchmen Clu Gulager and the gloriously embittered George Kennedy.

MAN is George Kennedy angry in this movie. Granted, if I was on a yacht en route to my fortune and my boss threw an awful batch of lazy early 20somethings my way, I'd probably want to throw them overboard as well. 

Thankfully, there's an escaped lab experiment feline on hand to dispose of the awful youths with truly powerful puppet fury. 

I don't know how much more I can really say about Uninvited without constantly repeating, "genetically mutated homicidal cat puppet" or "super angry George Kennedy." These are reasons to watch this movie. You want reasons not to watch? Well, the best things I can say about it are "genetically mutated homicidal cat puppet" and "super angry George Kennedy."

High Points
Guys, this movie has a puppet cat birthing genetically mutated homicidal puppet cats from its mouth in order to piss off George Kennedy

Low Points
Guys, this movie is really stupid

Lessons Learned
Fighting the FCC is hard for small potatoes
In the late '80s, hazmat suits resembled space versions of KKK garb

Nobody gets sick on yachts

The beach is for riff raff. Classy broads stay on the marina

The Winning (Pickup) Line
"I think you're better than Jane Fonda."

MELTING, amiright ladies?

Arnie Inevitability
"Must be a tumor--"
In a post-Kindergarten Cop world, has anybody ever been able to make that statement without hearing the kneejerk reaction of "IT'S NOTTA TOO-MAH"?

Art Opportunities
Guys, how great is the various cover art for this movie? A sampling:

How can you argue with that inspiration?

You may be wondering how I could say so little about a movie that involves a genetically mutated cat birthing killer puppets. Well guys, what can I say? This is a stupid movie about a genetically mutated puppet cat. Yes, there's slightly more to the plot (mob ties, drunken boat captains, horny college kids, all of which sort of ties together by the bond of genetic cat puppet mutation) but at the end of the day, this is a stupid killer puppet cat movie elevated by some super '80s touches of glory. Stream for free on Amazon Prime when you feel the need for aerobics or angry George Kennedy.