Genre: Action, Exploitation
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Stars: Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley, Ena Hartman
It’s every man and woman for himself on an island where convicted murderers are dumped, rather than kept in prison.
Women in Prison month continues with this film which I’d never heard of until just a few weeks ago. It’s a prison movie, I suppose, but it’s really more of an “everyone in prison” movie rather than just woman. Still, there are woman and there are a lot of the same exploitation cinema standards for this sub-genre so it most definitely qualifies as a “women in prison” film. Unlike other movies in this genre, however, Terminal Island is more like Escape from L.A. meets Gilligan’s Island.
It is three years after a Supreme Court ruling declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional. In response to this, the great state of California passed an initiative to make the island of San Bruno as a dumping ground for any person convicted of first-degree murder. The prisoners here live off the island and are free to do whatever they want except leave. We are told all of this through an intro full of news clips – then we see the news folks putting together this tidbit about Terminal Island. They pull some selected mugshots and discuss various people and their crimes. This is what passes for character introduction here – just mugshots of people as someone tells us their name and backstory – its maddening laziness. Then we’re thrust to the island as the newest female convict, Carmen, is dropped off.
quick word about the film’s opening credits. They’re pretty typical, nothing too special – except for this song. I believe it as called something along the lines of “Nobody Loved Her.” This song is ear-rapingly bad. It’s a country song that wants to be “in the style of Johnny Cash,” but misses the point and sound of Cash’s music. This atrocious song tries so damn hard and fails all that much harder. Thank God this is the only time we ever hear it. The rest of the music cues in the film are either bad porno-songs or your traditional B-movie action fare. Of course it’s every bit as unsettling when one inmate is killing another and the porno “bom-chicka-wow-wow” starts up – still not as bad as the song over these credits.
So, how is life on Terminal Island? Most everyone lives in the same little village which is lorded over by a cruel psychopath Bobby (Sean Kenney). Most everyone works together in farming and building new parts of the village so it seems like a great community. However everyone in this village is crazy. People murder each other without cause and no one bothers to intervene because “that’s one less mouth to feed.” The 4 women on the island are constantly rotated between all the men as sexual rewards for their hard work. As I mentioned before, psychopathic Bobby rules over all of this and I have to wonder how that came to pass? This is an island where there are no rules, no semblance of a social structure; its a place where, we’re told, it’s all about survival of the fittest. How did this weak man come to be Lord of the island? Well, he does have one loyal henchman, Monk, played by Roger E Mosley – and I swear they cloned this guy 30 years ago and named that clone Terence Howard. Anyway, it’s mostly Bobby giving orders and Monk enforcing those laws.
There are a group of rebels on the island led by A.J. (Don Marshall) who rescue the girls and they all plot to kill Bobby and make the island a pleasant place. It’s at this point that the movie ventures into the unbelievable portions of Gilligan’s Island terrain. I have no doubts that all these people have talents they learned in whatever their careers were before landing on this island – but this movie would like you to believe they were all chemists or magical electricians ala The Professor from Gilligan’s Island. These people are able to brew poisons, make gunpowder and grenades and at one point they even make a radio out of tree branches. What The Professor was able to do with coconuts, the denizens of Terminal Island are able to do with leaves and sticks. Then there’s all this chicken that they ear. Where did it come from? There’s not a single animal on Terminal Island but somehow these prisoners are able to glutton on roast chicken? Did they harvest this from the Cornish Game Hen Orchard on a corner of the island, next to the distillery where they make mead (yes they actually drink mead on this island). I’m sorry – it’s too difficult to believe that ALL of these people are that resourceful.
There is one scene in regards to this absurd resourcefulness that I want to mention. One of the girls finds herself a constant target of sexual harassment and attempted rape from one particular gentleman. Her solution is to obtain all the sticky royal jelly from a nearby beehive. She seduces him and starts spreading the honey all over his body – she even gives him a honey handjob. Have you ever eaten anything with honey? It’s sticky and gets everywhere and it’s not very comfortable to have on you. A honey handjob is no better than sticking it in a bottle of maple syrup. Anyway, the bees attack his privates and laughter are had all around.
The ending is predictable but fulfilling enough. SPOILER ALERT: Good guys win… duh! However, everything post-reign of Bobby is too goddamn happy. Everyone’s working together and having babies and it’s a perfect little hippie island utopia. A new prisoner comes to the island and Tom Selleck is there with his girl to welcome this new girl to their Happy Island Wonderland.
Overall, I rather enjoyed Terminal Island. It was an exciting little film and I got into it. Sure it’s a bit cheesy, but once you get past the bad intro and some of the illogical bits – a pretty fun story develops. I may have to revisit this movie again however when I’m not in the middle of a month of WiP films. I may just be so burned out on Women in Prison that any movie that DOESN’T have a lesbian rape scene at this point is pure Oscar-worthy GOLD! But, I jest. Terminal Island is really fun and a good investment of the 90 minutes it takes up. Considering that the whole “island prison” theme has been done over a million and one times, it’s nice to see a humble movie like this that just tries to entertain without any attempt at being pretentious.