Terminal Island (1973)
WHERE WE DUMP OUR HUMAN GARBAGE!
First up in February’s Fight Pizza Movie Night “Death Island” trilogy:
Terminal Island starts with a rip-off Johnny Cash theme song and a rip-off Pam Grier protagonist, but in the end has an original note or two and probably even influenced the far superior Escape from New York (1981), not to mention dozens of other “death island” type flicks over the years.*
The year is 1973. It is a kinder, gentler, more progressive society and the death penalty has been abolished. What are we going to do with murderers but ship them out to an island to kill each other in some Lord of the Flies setup? Makes sense, right?
Of course, were this written and filmed today they would have added in a reality show and corporate sponsors so the government weasels could actually make a buck off of the prisoners’ misery and death. More of a Running Man (1987) vibe - also a better movie than Terminal Island.
In this film, however, the aforementioned Pam Grier discount model, Carmen, is dumped on the island where she is a greeted by a handsome and drug-addicted Tom Selleck, pre-Magnum P.I. He’s a doctor who we find out later has been sent to the island for the crime of euthanasia.
They then make their way to an encampment run by the insane and creepy Bobby, the original Star Trek’s Captain Pike, and muscleman Monk, played by Roger Mosely, who will later serve as Magnum’s helicopter pilot and Vietnam war buddy. He greets Carmen with a boot to the head.
Just after this scene, we get the wild and stunning-by-today’s-standards line from Carmen: “I'm gonna wipe out that big n—ger f—got and crush his balls till they turn to Jello.” Though instead of doing that awesome move she just kind of fades into the movie’s periphery.
In Bobby’s camp, the woman are kept as sex slaves; there’s a funny moment when Monk enters their room with his clipboard listing off sex partners for the evening. But there’s very little sex and surprisingly little skin even, with more farm work than fornication.
The women sensibly escape and/or are rescued when a gang of rival prisoners come upon them doing laundry by the river. The women are treated better in this camp, given agency even, and are allowed to show their skills in the wilderness by building bombs and making poison. They live, and die, as equals to the men.
The film is directed by Stephanie Rothman, who got into directing after being an assistant to the legendary indie filmmaker Roger Corman. Over the intervening years, the exploitation films she made for his New World Pictures have come to be seen as a feminist take on the genre. 🍕🍕½
YouTube playlist for all the “Death Island” movies on Fight Pizza this month.
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