Code Red // 1973 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // October 1st, 2010
"If I tell you to kiss my ass, I want you on your knees before I finish talkin'!"
Blatant sexism is funneled through an excess of ass kicking, not to mention naked women aplenty, to form the bedrock of Terminal Island (a.k.a. Knuckle Men), director Stephanie Rothman's 1973 exploitation flick. Also getting a co-writer credit, Rothman tells a simple story of a lawless society abandoned by the rest of the world. Having decided that the death penalty goes against the US constitution, inmates on death row are shipped off to an island where there are no guards and, prepare yourselves, no rules!! The isles Newest inmate, Carmen (Ena Hartman), immediately makes it clear that she will reject the status quo of the island, which is ruled with a vice-like grip by Bobby (Sean Kenney) and his ever-present enforcer, Monk (Roger E. Mosley, Magnum P.I.). Under their rule, nobody, but nobody, is safe. Men get beaten with fresh vegetables (there's a brutal attack involving a butternut squash), while women are given a roster of men they are to "service" and forced to provide sustenance for the male inmates. Quickly joining up with a rebel group opposed to Bobby's leadership, Carmen sets about leading her fellow female captors against the misogynistic males that rule the island.
Clocking in at 88-minutes, Terminal Island begins with a leisurely paced opening act where we see the island and its hierarchy through the eyes of newcomer Carmen, which allows us to better understand the rules of the lawless regime. And then, having witnessed savage beatings, multiple stabbings, attempted rape and the general degradation of womenfolk; the film shifts its focus to the small group who set out to overthrow Bobby and his ruling gang. It's here that the film really gets going, and the women begin taking their revenge. Steadily the violence quota builds, until a final 15-minutes crescendo of bloodshed that sees all-out war declared between the islands two factions. Remembering the importance of pacing, director Rothman frequently slows things down from time to time to have some fun; an early favorite scene, involving buxom lovely Joy (Phyllis Davis), sees a sex-pest get his comeuppance by having honey rubbed over his genitalia before having a swarm of bees unleashed on his no good ass. It's that combination of the vicious and the plain goofy that makes Terminal Island a perfectly entertaining Friday night movie that even an unnecessarily happy ending can't spoil.
The screenplay is where Terminal Island really shines, so rich is it with endlessly quotable dialogue. It's all cheesy as hell, of course, but when delivered with the right amount of gusto lines like "I'm gonna smash his balls till they turn to jello!" can't help but raise a smile. It's difficult to judge the direction on a movie like Terminal Island. Rothman clearly isn't one of the greats, nor does she posses much in the way of a signature style. Yet she knows exactly how to craft an entertaining piece of feminist exploitation that, over thirty years since its original release, can still entertain audiences with its combination of violent confrontations and social commentary that never gets too obtrusive. Whilst the feminist overtones are obvious, and work well within the context of the film, its subtext on violence in society is handled with a lesser degree of skill. The small band of rebels who stand against Bobby's gang are apparently opposed to violence, and yet are only able to achieve their goal by going to extreme measures -- in one scene even resorting to blowing up a defenseless man on the toilet -- which seems to suggest violence is an acceptable means to an end. Fear not though, this is not a film to be studied or deliberated over, it's a movie to enjoy on a purely superficial level.
The performances from the ensemble cast range from the poor to the passable, with only Roger E. Mosley really standing out as possessing real screen presence. It is interesting to note the appearance of a young Tom Selleck, several years before he became a global star thanks to Magnum P.I.. I couldn't help but feel that, thanks no doubt to his family-friendly image, Selleck's involvement makes the film feel less edgy and dangerous than it clearly wants to be, and no doubt felt when originally released.
Code Red has put together a nice little package for Terminal Island that is spearheaded by a reasonably good anamorphic transfer. Though numerous shots are a little on the soft side, and the print is showing signs of its age, the overall quality is probably as good as the film is going to look on DVD. Audio is a little flat, but still manages to ensure the dialogue and score are easily discernible. The supplemental materials included are surprisingly good. Kicking off the extras is an audio commentary, which makes up in laughs and amusing anecdotes what it lacks in technical smarts. Along with the original trailer, the disc also contains interviews with cast members Sean Kenney, Don Marshall and Phyllis Davis, who reminisce on their experiences on set. The recollections offered up are both insightful and amusing, with some frank admissions made that are a refreshing change from the norm.
I came into Terminal Island not expecting a great deal, but was pleasantly surprised. Fans of exploitation cinema and newcomers alike should find plenty to enjoy here, while Code Red gets a pat on the back for putting out a quality DVD release.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated R