[review by JA Kerswell]
There’s not much ‘terror’ on Alcatraz - and sadly precious little entertainment. However, if your idea of a good time is to watch two geriatric men chase each other slowly round a building site then this could very well be the film for you!
|Believe me, you'll need beer to watch this! Mona (Sandy Brooke) in TERROR ON ALCATRAZ.|
Former Hollywood star Aldo Ray - who worked alongside the likes of George Cukor and Rita Hayworth in the 1950s - was busy with the exploitation and horror genres in the 1970s and 1980s. Unsurprisingly, he appeared in a number of slasher movies including DARK SANITY (1982) , TERROR NIGHT (also 1987) and TORPOR ON ALCATRAZ. Sorry, I mean TERROR ON ALCATRAZ.
Arguably parodying his tough guy roles of his hey day, the film sees him as an ex-con intent on retrieving a map to a safe deposit key he left on the prison island when he escaped. The film’s masterstroke - if you can call it that - is that Ray plays the real-life escapee Frank Morris. Morris escaped from Alcatraz in 1962 with other inmates. Their fate was never discovered. Clint Eastwood portrayed Morris in the, ahem, slightly better known ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ in 1979. I think it’s fair to say that Aldo Ray’s portrayal of Morris is slightly less sympathetic - as he butchers anyone who’ll get in his way with a meat cleaver!
The film opens with the axe murder of a couple by an unidentified assailant in a dirty yellow sou’wester and latex gloves, who snaps away with a camera before whacking them with the hatchet. The wife is offed in the kitchen as she bakes, with the cake mix artfully splattering the ceiling and she succumbs in a puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. Her husband gets it after he forgets his keys and makes the fatal mistake of returning home.
Morris hatches a plan to return to the now closed Alcatraz 25 years after escaping by joining a boatful of tourists as cover. Although he never explains why it’s taken him so long (or why, after meticulously planning his escape, he forgot the map). He details his plans to his drunken girlfriend Mona (Sandy Brooke), who laughs at him when he - after successfully completing possibly the greatest prison break of all time - gets stuck in the bathroom! Proving that this ex-com hasn’t been rehabilitated, he beats her up and extinguishes a lit cigarette on her naked breast. Morris then pretends to be a journalist to track down an old warden (Phil di Carlo). He slits his throat, which seems to do little to slow him down and the two have a very leisurely chase scene around a building site before the ex-warden is eventually impaled on a stake after falling from a height.
|Frank Morris (Aldo Ray) can sure hold a grudge in TERROR ON ALCATRAZ.|
Morris contemptuously shares the tourist boat to Alcatraz with a bunch of twenty-somethings of varying degrees of obnoxiousness. There’s Greg (Scott Ryder), the Alcatraz know-it-all, who, when he’s not hurling over the side of the boat from sea-sickness, woos fellow tourist Terri (Lisa Ramirez). Amongst others, they’re accompanied by a chubby lawyer called Kenny (Gary Gorman) and Native American protestor Matthew (Peter Rodriguez). One of the first things you might notice about TERROR ON ALCATRAZ is the dogged determination of its makers to stretch its wafer thin plot to the designated 90 minute mark. I’ve visited Alcatraz and I swear that the boat journey in the movie appears to happen in real-time; with the various characters indulging in a seemingly never-ending stream of inane chit-chat.
The tedium continues once they finally reach the island with, what again seems like a tour of the prison in real time, as Ranger Emily tells the glassy-eyed tour group how many toilets there are and other fascinating factoids. A more interesting factoid is that Ranger Emily was played by Verónica Porche Ali, who was famously Muhammad Ali’s ex-wife and who divorced the boxer the year this was made. As Alcatraz super fan, Greg can’t help chime in at every moment to the annoyance of everyone. Morris, for no discernible reason, conspicuously hangs around the prison’s balconies staring daggers at the tour group. Despite his disguise of fedora and rain coat, Greg spots Morris and recognises him. Yet, unsurprisingly, initially no one believes Greg as they return to San Francisco. Despite this, after a few beers they all agree to go back to Alcatraz on a rickety boat for a “Cell block par-tay!” Morris is as incredulous by this turn of events are you will be dear viewer. Coke-sniffing youngsters with a boom box seriously cramp Morris’ style, so he stalks them one-by-one with his trusty meat cleaver …
|"There are 364 toilets on Alcatraz - only two are working." The ex Mrs Ali's would-be starmaking turn in TERROR ON ALCATRAZ.|
TERROR ON ALCATRAZ lists two directors (Philip Marcus and an uncredited Marvin G. Lipschultz). This is never usually a good sign. The film plays out like a crime thriller - albeit a very bad one - with a sizeable slasher movie filling. Aldo Ray was only 60 when he made this, but looks much older. Around this time, he had less physically demanding cameo roles as Sherrifs and the like in films such as TERROR NIGHT and HATEMAN (both the same year). He never cuts a particularly imposing character as he shuffles after potential victims; most of whom could escape him by just picking up the pace. Still, he hacks, chops and drowns his way through the assembled party-goers and random rangers until a final girl is left. Now, I will spoil what happens next if only to illustrate the film’s bizarrely schizoid approach to story-telling (although not the semi neat twist at the very end).
In an ironic turn of events, the final girl manages to sidestep Morris as he quips: “And then there were none!”, as he takes a lunge at her with a scalpel and dodders off a cliff - presumably to his doom in the waters below. The police tell her she must have been dreaming and blame the deaths on the Native American for no particular reason. And then that’s the last we see of her. Poof. She’s gone and the film still has twenty odd minutes to go. Exit slasher movie and enter seemingly random scenes of Morris and his squeeze Mona (who has seemingly forgiven him for his violent ways) celebrating the fact that he is within grasp of the treasures the safe deposit box holds. Presumably, Morris was so adept at negotiating the infamously dangerous waters around Alcatraz back in 1962 he not only survived his dive onto the rocks below but managed to doggy paddle into San Francisco, too. So, we are treated to an interminable scene of them ordering dinner at a fancy restaurant - where the waiter reads out what seems like the whole menu in monotone in an effort to reach that 90 minute running time. If we didn’t dislike Morris enough already, he even manages to throw in a homophobic slur. So, at least the last couple of minutes give some satisfaction.
|Hatchet face gets it.
Sadly, I can’t say the rest of the movie gave much of the same. Despite the film’s backdrop the people behind it manage to give Alcatraz all the menace of a Walmart. I mean, really, it’s almost awe-inspiring how they managed to wring so little suspense out of filming at the world’s most notorious prison. Let’s just say they’re lucky that making dull movies isn’t a crime. Characters split up. Wander into a cell. Get a meat cleaver to the face. Rinse repeat. It’s all done with such little enthusiasm it’s difficult for the viewer to care. Still, at least there are enough presumably unintentionally hilarious moments scattered through to at least cheer the little black hearts of bad movie fans. Scott Ryder deserves some alternate universe Oscar for dry retching for what seems like five minutes after finding the body of someone who looks like they had a pot of ketchup thrown at him.
Producer Lipschultz, who went onto a career with casinos in Vegas, has a sole credit on this. He also appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as a policeman. French-born director Marcus IMDB trivia lists him as having a “sarcastic humour” - which may explain something (although I’m not sure what exactly). TERROR ON ALCATRAZ was his first directorial credit. Perhaps surprisingly, it hasn’t been his last.
The likeable Sandy Brooke - who has the ultimately thankless role as Morris’ moll - appeared in other 80s slashers SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) and the all together more bonkers BITS AND PIECES (1985). After appearing in David DeCoteau’s NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1988), with Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, she quit acting to start a successful wedding videographer career. She stated on her own Facebook page that she liked Aldo Ray very much, but drinking was his downfall - and that she could have hidden small animals in her 80s hair!
|Aldo Ray finds out the bar is shut in TERROR ON ALCATRAZ.|
Most of the rest of the cast are one-and-done types. However, Lisa Ramirez appeared in the similarly San Francisco set semi-slasher thriller TORMENT (1986). Alisa Wilson, whose character flashes her breasts at Morris in an ill-fated attempt to stop him killing her, had a small role in PSYCHO COP RETURNS (1993). Robert Axelrod has a small cameo as a motel boss. He also had many credits including SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986) and the remake of THE BLOB (1988).
TERROR ON ALCATRAZ was possibly inspired by the 1982 TV movie, the similarly titled TERROR AT ALCATRAZ, which involves a hunt for Al Capone’s buried treasure on the island. It seemingly pre-dated Renny Harlin’s PRISON (1987) and the short vogue for prison-set horror movies of the late 1980s. It was filmed on location in San Francisco and on the island itself in 1986. As far as I can tell, it was shot on video especially for the STV market. It was edited by one-time Russ Meyer collaborator Richard S Brummer (who also worked on fellow slashers NEW YEAR’S EVIL and SCHIZOID (both 1980)). It was followed by another Alcatraz set horror movie SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK in 1988. Although not credited on IMDB (presumably intentionally), the not especially realistic special effects were the work of future Sfx guru Todd Masters. In an interview with Gorezone magazine back in 1992 he recalled it simply as a film “… which had a lot of blood pouring” in it.
TERROR ON ALCATRAZ got an unusually big promotional push on video by Trans World Entertainment (TWE) in the US. This included a scratch card for video store owners buying the movie to rent out which gave them a chance to win an all expenses paid trip to Alcatraz (not to mention $500 cash and Pierre Cardin luggage!). Other promotional items included countertop marketing and posters. TWE got quite the reputation for releasing trashy delights in the heyday of VHS. Other TWE titles included THE GHOST DANCE (1982), BITS AND PIECES (1985) and VIDEO MURDERS (1988). Most of which trumped this for entertainment value.
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female: 2 / male: 7
1) Male has throat slashed and impaled on stake
2) Male gets meat cleaver to face
3) Female drowned in barrel
4) Male gets meat cleaver to the head
5) Male discovered hung
6) Male discovered disembowelled
7) Male fstabbed in gut
8) Female strangled
9) Male stabbed in chest and has hand chopped off