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. 

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