In this ongoing SHOCK column, journo Trevor Parker sifts through discount stores for the cheapest and coolest DVDs and Blus he can find and lives to tell the tale.
After the last installment of this column sagged with monstrous disappointment at the Roger Corman-directed FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, it seemed the safer option was to retreat into examining some of Cormans many dynastic adoptions rather than deal with any more of his direct lineage. Hence cometh THE ANGEL COLLECTION: a cheap single-disc compilation from Image Entertainment that assembles all three ANGEL movies originally released by Corman’s New World Pictures shingle (though as one reader mentioned, the spirit of Corman may live in these films, but the mogul had sold off New World by the time ANGEL saw release – Ed).
ANGEL (1984) is one of those titles, alongside questionable fare like GHOULIES and SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS, that is likely better recalled due to its striking key art than for the actual film contained underneath. That cover, here reproduced on the ANGEL COLLECTIONs case, was a salacious Jekyll-and-Hyde split photo featuring star Donna (JAWS 2) Wilkes decked out as a virginal pig-tailed schoolgirl on the left and then sporting hot pants, heels, and a come-hither pout on the right side.
That art pretty accurately summarizes the plot of ANGEL: Molly is a cheerful, cherubic fifteen-year-old, attending an L.A. prep school and fending off advances from some comedic nerd and jock caricatures. Once the sun dips below the hills, Molly is off prowling Hollywood Boulevard as the prostitute known as Angel, trolling for tricks and dodging vice busts with the survival acumen of a ghetto veteran. Also plying his trade on these same streets is a serial switchblade slasher, and Angel is forced to team with a police detective (Cliff Gorman, whose eyeballs have the distracting propensity to point in different directions at once) to prepare for an inevitable clash as the slasher whittles his way through the ranks of her fellow working girls.
ANGEL is a specimen of exploitation film at its purest, in the sense that its so baldly two-faced: The sympathetic, earnest melodrama of an abandoned minor subsisting on the meanest of streets couches no shortage of lascivious leers at the disturbingly-babyfaced Wilkes strutting along in a leather miniskirt and navigating a nasty clientele (often lit from beneath their chins for maximum spookiness). With that duality reconciled, director Robert Vincent ONeil pulls together a fairly compelling thriller around his ANGEL; He grants John Diehl, as the killer, enough solo moments to truly sculpt out his characters lunacy (all about that egg scene Yikes!), and tests the parameters of an R rating with a lurid necrophilia angle. ANGELs supporting cast of wacky boulevard denizens is, to be kind, spottybut its difficult not to adore the great Rory (MOTEL HELL) Calhoun as a washed-up cowboy actor patrolling the strip and signing autographs. This ANGEL, as does the other two films in the trilogy, definitely deserves some retroactive applause for offering several positive, occasionally heroic gay characters in a decade not exactly renowned for tolerance.
ANGEL became a modest box-office success, and thus a sequel was rushed into production and appeared in theaters barely a year later. AVENGING ANGEL (1985) sees the departure of Wilkes studied girlishness and husky voice; she would vacate the role over a salary dispute with producers and was replaced with the muscle tone and thousand-yard glower of Betsy Russellyes, the TOMBOY herself.
AVENGING finds Molly now a student at law school and happy to leave her sordid past behind. However, once she gets word that her mentor Detective Andrews (Robert Lyons replacing Gorman, he of the wayward eyeballs) has been killed in a shootout, Molly resurrects Angel to go undercover on the now-gentrified boulevard and solve Andrews murder. One might assume that a simplistic revenge premise like this would be foolproofthat is, until returning director ONeil expends far too much of AVENGING on scenes of Angel reuniting and kibbutzing around with her motley collection of compadres. Changing antagonists from a creepy, misogynistic killer to generic sport-jacketed gangsters involved in real estate schemes shrinks the dramatic factor of AVENGING considerably, and the tone is overall much sillierwitness Angel organizing a hilarious WEEKEND AT BERNIES-type of gambit to swindle the baddies with a corpse in a wheelchair, for example.
Angel would lie dormant for a three year period, and then rise back up with ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1988). Completists please note: As with another Final chapter, this was hardly the end of the Angel saga, as a fourth film was made in the early nineties but is not included on this disc. Writing and directing duties on FINAL CHAPTER are inherited by exploitation veteran Tom (REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS) DeSimone, and the title role is again recast, this time played by Mitzi Kapture of later SILK STALKINGS fame. Apparently, that whole law school doddle just didnt pan out for Molly, as the FINAL CHAPTER has her relocated to N.Y.C. and working as a freelance photographer. Molly gets a lead on a long-lost family member and returns to Los Angeles to investigate. There Molly learns that her heretofore-unknown sister has been abducted into sex slavery by an evil madam (a haughty Maud OCTOPUSSY Adams), and so once again dusts off the Angel persona to mount a rescue.
By this point, the whole ANGEL routine is fatigued to the point of boredom constantly nipping at both filmmakers and audience. The tepid action moves from the dark and sticky byways of Hollywood Boulevard to a sun-dappled beachfront (?), and while Kapture is close enough to Russell in physical appearance, she rejects the camp of AVENGING and plays the role in a very dry and over-serious manner. The three-year gap has FINAL CHAPTER feeling disconnected to the first two films, and the total recasting grants Angel with a new and far less interesting supply of street sidekicks (seriously, her old gang makes hustler Spanky (Mark Blankfield) look like an insurance salesman).
The transfers on the ANGEL COLLECTION are unimpressive; theyre likely unmodified from those used for the old Anchor Bay ANGEL box set, and there are no extras other than a trailer for the second and third films. The disc is still a recommend simply for the grimy first film, though anyone out there who happens to be craving flicks pickled with that distinct Eighties syrupneon glow, saxophone wailing over the soundtrack, abundant nudity, and chunky bullet squibswill find themselves well satisfied by the entire ANGEL enchilada.