Director: Stephanie Rothman
Code Red DVD

Writer/director Stephanie Rothman was one of the few women who worked in exploitation pictures in that capacity, starting off her career as an associate producer on several AIP flicks. After co-writing and co-directing BLOOD BATH (which was released to TV as TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE), Rothman was given the opportunity to solely helm a feature with IT’S A BIKINI WORLD, one of the last of the “Beach Party” knock-offs. The early 1970s brought on her association with Roger Corman’s New World Pictures (directing THE STUDENT NURSES and THE VELVET VAMPIRE) and then Dimension Pictures, a company in which she had a financial share in with late husband Charles S. Swartz. TERMINAL ISLAND is probably her most well known of the projects she directed for Dimension, and one of the given reasons for this is an early acting role for future TV giant Tom Selleck.

California has done away with the death penalty and has impelled a law which sentences all death row inmates to an isolated place called “Terminal Island” where they are free to do what they want except leave. These prisoners are dumped off there by boat, and basically it’s “anything goes”. The newest drop-off among the many criminals (who have murdered their husbands, parents, police officers, etc.) is Carmen (Ena Hartman), now one of four women, the others which include Joy (Phyllis Davis), Lee (Marta Kristen, “Lost in Space”) and Bunny (Barbara Leigh). Equipped with machine guns, the punk tyrannical leader of the island is Bobby (Sean Kenney), who, with his muscular sidekick Monk (Roger E. Mosley) force the men to do labor and the women to serve as sexual toys for them after a hard day of work. A group of somewhat more civilized inmates lead by A.J. (Don Marshall) are hiding out at a different part of the island, and they manage to sneak the girls over to their side where they don’t have to be sex slaves. Together, they plan a retaliation involving homemade explosives and ingenuity.

I imagine there’s some social allegory in place here (Rothman also co-wrote the script), and even though it gets off to a slow start, TERMINAL ISLAND is near-perfect drive-in fodder. What the film manages to do is throw in themes from popular exploitation genres, including the “women in prison” cycle and even science fiction, with its futuristic vision of how the state can save the tax payers money. The hodgepodge on screen turns out to be a satisfying 1970s action flick, with plenty of shoot-outs (and Peckinpah inspired bloody squibs) and other R-rated savagery, a fiery climax and good characters played by a vigorous cast, the sort that you’d expect for this kind of outing. It’s also something that these “death row” inmates are for the most part likable, and that you get the feeling that most of them deserve a second chance; accept that fact and go along for the ride. And needless to say, the few women on the island are absolutely gorgeous and have converted their denim jeans into impossibly short shorts (in which Marta Kristen models superbly, which you’ll see).

Phillis Davis (the busty starlet who graced such 1970s exploitation films as BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and more significantly, SWEET SUGAR) does a great skinny topping bit (where she’s seen topless and backless), faux seducing a guy in a practical joke which involves attracting a swarm of bees to his bare private parts. Barbara Leigh (another 1970s starlet who was supposed to get the lead in Hammer’s failed screen version of “Vampirella”) also does a memorable nude scene, and her character is a mute, traumatized after murdering her parents. Tom Selleck (joined here by his future “Magnum P.I” co-star Mosley) plays a drug-sniffing “mercy killer” doctor (ala Jack Kevorkian) who was responsible for the termination (at the wife’s request) of brain dead patient, with the father bringing him up on murder charges and his professional peers not being any help. He’s really good in the humble, sympathetic role of Dr. Milford, and there’s a nice twist concerning the character in one of the final shots (and if Barbara Leigh was standing next me in this predicament, I would most likely make the same decision). Look for bald comic character actor Richard Stahl (SON OF BLOB) and Jo Morrow (13 GHOSTS) as newscasters during the opening, and giant James Whitworth (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and Albert Cole (THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT) can be spotted as two of the island rogues.

Code Red presents TERMINAL ISLAND on DVD in a brand new transfer culled from director Rothman’s archived print. Presented fully uncut, the anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.78:1) looks pretty good, with stable if not overly bright colors, sharp detail and very little grain or source blemishes, only a bit of wear and tear where reel changes occur. The mono English audio is also clear with no noticeable setbacks.

Scott Spiegel and William Olsen moderate a commentary with actors Don Marshall and Sean Kenney, though it’s more a matter of the participants viewing and making comments about the film, and not much behind-the-scenes information is actually shared. Much better are two solid featurettes with the actors, who talk about TERMINAL ISLAND, their careers, and what they are up to nowadays. “Terminally Dead: Interrogating Sean Fenney” (27:08) has the actor discussing the casting, and how he approached his character, and his thoughts on the other actors and director Rothman. He also touches upon his appearances on “Star Trek”, “Get Smart” and T.V. Mikels’ THE CORPSE GRINDERS, as well as other low budget films he’s appeared in. “Legally Dead: Interrogating Don Marshall” (24:16) has the actor discussing his first “starring” feature in TERMINAL ISLAND, and his views on what he thought to be an unorganized production set. Marshall also talks about other stage, television and film work, including THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (which he admits having a lot of fun making), and of course “Land of the Giants”. Phyllis Davis can be heard in a brief telephone conversation, basically saying how her role in SWEET SUGAR lead to this, and that she got along with her fellow actors (except for one) and the director, but was disappointed that some unauthorized nude photos of her from the set were published without her permission. The original trailer is included as are a host of other Code Red trailers: GROUP MARRIAGE, WORKING GIRLS, DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE, THE BLACK KLANSMAN, STIGMA and MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS. (George R. Reis)