Terminal Island (1973)

Article 3107 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2009
Posting Date: 2-15-2010
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Featuring Don Marshall, Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation actioner masquerading as social science fiction

In the future, the death penalty has been outlawed. Murderers are sent to an inescapable island to live out the rest of their lives with other murderers. Much carnage ensues.

I may be misremembering, but I think I recall having read an article once that talked about the social and political subtexts of this movie. I’m not surprised; the central concept lends itself strongly to finding just those types of subtexts, and the opening sequence of the movie (which features short man-on-the-street interviews and cynical TV newsmen) certainly taps into them. Once we reach the island, though, the movie heads straight into exploitation-style action flick territory and doesn’t look back. It ends up a bit like a cross between a women’s prison picture (four of the murderers are women, and they get the lion’s share of the screen time) and your basic jungle action flick; I was tempted to compare it to THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but the plot doesn’t match. It basically turns into a standoff between the good murderers and the bad murderers. Those who find this kind of shtick satisfying will like it most, and “Magnum P.I.” fans may want to catch Tom Selleck and Roger E. Mosley working together before that series. The oddest thing to me about this movie is that it ends on a rather upbeat note, which, given the context, is pretty surprising, because the concept is inherently cynical; in order for it to work, the government will need to only send good (as in non-evil) murderers to the island, and what’s the likelihood of that happening?


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