The reason I'm surprised it isn't on DVD—and the best reason anyone would want to see it today—is the appearance of a pre-MAGNUM, P.I. Tom Selleck, who plays a substantial supporting role as a heroin-addicted physician convicted of a mercy killing and sentenced to life imprisonment on the titular island. You may recall Selleck discussing TERMINAL ISLAND years ago on a LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN appearance, where he laughed about the film with good humor.
The premise of TERMINAL ISLAND, which was directed by Stephanie Rothman and co-written by her and her husband Charles Swartz (both partners in Dimension), is terrific. After the death penalty is rescinded in California, convicted murderers are sent to a remote island in the Pacific to serve their sentences. There are no guards or walls—none are needed in the middle of the ocean—and the prisoners—male and female—are free to set up camp, grow their own food, even raise families if possible.
Of course, a civilization made up solely of society's worst offenders can't be very civil, and the prisoners have split into two camps. The vicious Monk (Roger E. Mosley, Selleck's MAGNUM, P.I. co-star) and Bobby (Sean Kenney) rule a sadistic camp where the women are used as sex slaves. A more peaceful one, led by A.J. (Don Marshall of LAND OF THE GIANTS), of course, butts heads with the bad guys. Other familiar cast members include VEGA$' Phyllis Davis (whose enormously popular topless scenes here and in SWEET SUGAR may have distracted male viewers from noticing her forceful screen presence), LOST IN SPACE's Marta Kristen, VAMPIRELLA cover sensation Barbara Leigh, DAN AUGUST's Ena Hartman (the island newcomer through whose eyes the story is told), and THE VIRGINIAN's Randy Boone.
Rothman, one of very few women directors then or now to work exclusively in exploitation movies, delivers a fast-paced action yarn that takes the obviously absurd premise at face value and then rolls with it. The experienced cast essay their roles with great credibility and are always careful to play it straight all down the line. I suspect a remake made today would wink at the audience to let us know how silly it is, but TERMINAL ISLAND is all the richer for taking itself seriously. The nudity and violence probably played very well with drive-in audiences in 1973, and it holds up well now.