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Thursday, 14 January 2021

Karen Allen Film Of The Week: Terminus (1987)

My most unexpected Christmas present this year was a DVD (and VHS tape) of Terminus, the obscure Karen Allen film I'd been hunting for.

Having seen my blog post last year, my best mate Paul had scanned the world for a VHS tape of the film and then he, with an assist from Rachel, had had it transferred to DVD for my enjoyment.

While my expectations for the movie were tempered by the obvious "80s-ness" of its Mad Max-style narrative, I was still excited by the prospect of viewing a genre movie starring my first - and most enduring - celebrity crush.

Imagine you were a massive Janet Leigh fan in the 1960s and you'd heard of her new film, Psycho...

That's exactly the bait-and-switch that Terminus pulls. Spoilers for a three decades old B-movie, but Karen's character, Gus, gets killed off at the end of the first act.

But there's nothing Hitchcockian about Terminus, and, anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Picture an ill-defined, possibly post-apocalyptic 2037. America seems to have been divided up into different countries or something, but, anyway, there's this new "game" that features a truck driver being deposited in a random location and then having to take their rig west to "the end of the line"... for reasons.

Gus (Karen Allen) is driving one such big rig, but is being assisted by a freaky computer system that communicates through a disturbing interface that manifests as a rubbery human mouth operated by metallic rods.

Surely only a masochistic pervert would design a computer interface like this? Not a child...

This computer, Monster, was programmed by a child genius, Mati (Gabriel Damon), as a way to prove his worth to some super-shady subterranean scientists, fronted by The Doctor (Jürgen Prochnow, of In The Mouth of Madness, the truest Lovecraftian horror yet committed to celluloid).

There's a whole sub-plot/theme about cloning here with The Doctor as well as one of the major henchvillains, The Driver of The Yellow Truck, being clones of the "unseen" big boss, Sir.

As an aside, the Yellow Truck can turn itself invisible... but that major scientific breakthrough gains no traction in the story.

Mati the boy genius is a clone as well. Is he meant to be a young Jürgen Prochnow? I like to think so, but who knows.

Anyway Gus, being chased by government forces (aka Greys) and having crashed her way through an innocent civilian village en route, ends up captured by some rando thugs and thrown into prison with one-handed tough guy Stump (Johnny Hallyday). 

They fall in love. Naturally. 

Gus gets taken away by these minor league baddies and tortured, but not really tortured. She dies anyway, having bequeathed her truck to Stump (who she'd met the night before).

Stump - having nothing better to do - then opts to finish "the game", with escaped slave, Princess (Julie Glenn), as his co-pilot. This little girl, co-incidentally, is Mati's "sister" and another clone.

Terminus is so 1980's sci-fi it hurts. A mess of dreadful dialogue, lurching from cliché to just plain nonsense, brutal editing that makes events just happen rather than adeptly segueing into them, and creaky special effects make this a drinking game waiting to happen.

Superficially, it's trying to remake 1981's Mad Max II: The Road Warrior with the resources of Mad Max.

A jumble of seemingly undeveloped plot threads woven through with some vehicle stunts and half-hearted fight scenes make a hilariously bad - but nonetheless enjoyable in its awfulness - movie.

And it all builds up to a Deathstalker-style climax where Sir declares he is escaping to somewhere no one can touch him and promptly explodes for no readily explainable reason.

Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that I got to see Terminus.

There are certainly elements of this 85-minute French-German co-production that could have elevated it above its trashy period peers: such as the whole cloning sub-plot that, as is, is just colour but could have gone in interesting directions.

I also, kind of, reluctantly, admire the bait-and-switch with Gus. As limply as it is executed.

But conversely, it's also rather insulting that even more open-minded European filmmakers didn't believe audiences could handle a post-Raiders of The Lost Ark Karen Allen as the action lead of a sci-fi movie.

What we see of Gus - right up until she, bizarrely, steps out of her truck to face the army of hoodlums who bar the road to her - is really spunky and engaging.

More so, I would say, than uncharismatic French rock-and-roller Johnny Hallyday, sporting a Billy Idol hairdo and possibly some ill-defined cinematic PTSD. 

By no definition of the term could Terminus be considered a good film, but I'm still deliriously happy to have it now in my collection.

Primarily for the Karen Allen-ness of it (all be it rather truncated), but also because it's so totally bonkers (some of which can be attributed to its translation into English, no doubt) that it will stay with me way longer than a lot of the current cookie cutter Hollywood fare that gets churned out.

Among all its randomness, it's also worth noting that Terminus boasts a theme tune by none other than the legendary Stan Ridgway (of Camouflage fame), which was a nice surprise.

My Christmas present from Paul


  1. Glad it filled a hole in your KA archive, even though she was absent for most of the nuttiness!

    1. But while she was onscreen, she looked as lovely as ever ;)


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