Terminal Island—or as it’s known in the UK, Knuckle Men (which is a terrible title)—was directed by Stephanie Rothman. Some may know her as one of the female directors who were hired by Roger Corman in the 1960s and ‘70s. She did several films with Corman, including the comedy The Student Nurses (the first part of his “nurses cycle,” the best known of which was Johnathan Kaplan’s Night Call Nurses). She was also the co-director on Blood Bath in 1966, one of those odd Corman productions where various people directed it. The other director was the legendary Jack Hill and Blood Bath is actually a decent film although there are various versions around.
Although Terminal Island was not a Corman production, you would be shocked to know this if you’ve seen it. It was actually one of Dimension Pictures’ earliest films (not to be confused with Dimension Films). Dimensions Pictures was founded by Lawrence Woolner, along with Rothman herself and her husband Charles S. Swartz. As you can imagine, it specialised in exploitation cinema, and the films the company was best known for were Dolemite, The Human Tornado and Boss Nigger—it moved quickly into the Blaxploitation niche. There is a big chunk of Dolemite Is My Name around selling the film to Dimension, Bob Odenkirk portrays Woolner.
Terminal Island is not a great movie by any stretch, but it’s an interesting little quasi-dystopian film. The basic premise is not too far off from Escape From New York/Escape From L.A.—all that’s missing is a great anti-hero. Sometime in the future, capital punishment has been outlawed and all murderers are sent to Terminal Island (named after the real-life artificial island off Los Angeles). A Lord of the Flies type of story ensues, where all these tyrannical murderers fight each other in a drug-fuelled atmosphere marked by lots of violence. Most of the female murderers end up as sex slaves, so a group of men and women team up to overthrow Bobby (Sean Kenney), the main bad guy on the island. Among the group of resistors is a pre-fame Tom Selleck, alongside Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman (who plays lead female Carmen Sims) and Don Marshall.
You’d think it would be more of a “women in prison” movie, based on some of the posters that are out there. But while there’s plenty of nudity in it, given that it’s an exploitation movie out of 1973, it’s shot differently, perhaps because there’s a woman behind the camera. Apparently Rothman toned down the original script a bit. The result is a fun sort of Battle Royale scenario, although it gets lost a bit as it goes along. It’s a very denim-heavy film, with all the female characters running around in Daisy Dukes. That said, for a film of that time, it’s one of the less rapey ones.
On weird fact is that the art director on the film was Jack Fisk, who was the long-term production designer/art director for David Lynch and Terrence Malick—this is the film Fisk did right before Badlands (he’s also Sissy Spacek’s husband, and plays The Man in the Planet in Eraserhead.)
The new 4K restoration from Vinegar Syndrome includes an extended interview with Rothman, a new interview with Ena Hartman, a new featurette about the film with actress Marta Kristen and Sean Kenney, and a new critical featurette about Rothman’s work and career featuring film historian Alicia Kozman and film author Heidi Honeycutt, plus stills gallery and theatrical trailer. The film is a dual-format release, with a UHD and Blu-Ray discs.