Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Angel (1984)

Directed by Robert Vincent O'Neill
Starring Donna Wilkes, Dick Shawn, Susan Tyrell
Rated R

"It's pretty lean out there tonight."

One of the most quintessentially 80’s exploitation films ever, Angel tells the tawdry tale of Molly (Donna Wilkes), a 15 year old high school student abandoned by her mother and forced into prostitution to pay for her private school tuition. Absurd, over the top, and self-consciously goofy, it’s part teenage-wasteland melodrama, part gritty action thriller, and part pitch-black comedy. And quite often, it attempts to be all three at once.

Angel was written and directed by Robert Vincent O’Neil, who previously penned the bug-eyed, ultra-violent Vice Squad (1982), an unforgettable and unforgivable piece of cinematic slime starring Wings Hauser as a deranged pimp who occasionally beats his girls to death. Angel mines similar material – and also takes place almost exclusively on Hollywood Boulevard – but aims for a lighter touch.

Molly’s father is currently MIA, and presumed dead. Her mother – well, she ran off with some dude and has no plans to come back anytime soon. And so, he forms a surrogate family with the denizens of the flophouse where she lives. Susan Tyrell is Solly, Molly’s bizarre, cigar-chomping landlady and mother figure. 70’s character actor Dick Shawn is Mae, Solly’s flouncing transvestite lover and Molly’s best friend/ father figure. And the other whores are her adopted sisters. By day, Molly’s a distracted but committed honor student in a fancy-pants prep school; at night, she’s blowing dudes for $20 and trying to stay out of jail and out of the clutches of mysterious hooker-killer that’s slicing through all of her friends. And that’s life in 1984, man.

If there’s one thing this movie has plenty of, it’s colorful characters. Like the Charlie Chaplin dude on the boardwalk who does yo yo tricks - that seems like a pretty random mash-up, but whatever - who is friends with all the teenage hookers. He has a special shine for one of 'em, though - Headband Girl. In one heart-melting scene, he gives his secret crush a toy top, and she promises to hang out with him after work. So, you pretty much know right away that we're never going to see Headband Girl again.

Moments later, she is absconded by the Hooker Slayer. He stabs her in the guts in an alley, and then drags her home and fucks her corpse. Ain't no love in the heart of the city, man.

Her best friend Lana (Graem McGavin) gets jacked by the necro as well, as Angel discovers when she brings back a loudmouth pedo back to the fuck-shack she shares with her.

Angel gets interrogated about the murder by Lt. Andrews (Cliff Gorman), who gives her the tough love she so desperately needs. Eventually, she fingers the psycho during a line-up and he goes berserk, grabbing a cop's gun and shooting everything in sight. He makes a hasty getaway into the night.

Meanwhile, the Lt. visits Angel and discovers what he's expected all along - she has no stroked-out mom. She actually lives alone because she was abandoned by her mother - she has the letter from mom memorized, and recites it, between tears, to the cop. Oscar moment!

Angel gets a gun from the dude at the fried chicken stand and the creaky old cowboy teaches her how to use it. She figures she's going to have shoot the hooker killer herself. While she's out prowling the boulevard, the asshole jock from her high school and his two toadie friends spot her. The grab her and throw her in the backseat of their car. Of course, Angel/Molly has a nasty surprise for her schoolmates. She pulls her pistol on ‘em and Rick pees his pants. It's a big mess.

And then, out of nowhere, shower scene! With full bush!

It's actually a convenient excuse for Molly to eavesdrop on a couple catty girls gossiping about her streetwalkin' escapades on Hollywood Boulevard. Her guidance counselor gets wind of the rumors, and Molly's double-life begins to unravel.

She visits her new buddy the cop for advice. It's another Oscar moment sorta deal.

Meanwhile, Molly's counselor drops by her house to visit her non-existent mom. Mae tries to cover for her, but somehow, the counselor sees through his ruse. He explains her situation, and she seems alright with it. They even chat good-naturedly about dresses. And then she splits. Moments later, however, the psycho - now dressed up like a Hari Krishna, shows up to carve Mae an extra hole, and one of the 80's more ridiculous apartment brawls ensues.

Long story short, the tranny gets snuffed, and in one of the most iconic scenes of the 80’s, Angel takes to the Boulevard, pistol in hand, to hunt down the psycho. Blood and mayhem soon follows.

While it does suffer from an uneven tone, Angel is nonetheless a crucial piece of 80’s exploitation. Aggressively weird, unnecessarily schmaltzy and thoroughly over the top, it’s like a 1970’s TV movie of the week gone completely off the rails. Donna Wilkes – 25 at the time of shooting – does an admirable job at essaying a completely ridiculous character, and her supporting cast – especially the lipstick smeared Dick Shawn and perennial creep John Diehl as the killer – all take chomp the scenery with ravenous glee.

An even campier semi-sequel, Avenging Angel (1985), followed a year later. Both are essential for fans of cheeseball 80’s trash.

- Ken McIntyre


  1. I fucking love this movie, It's the ultimate sleazy 80's flick.

  2. Uhm. They should like put a disclaimer on the box for Avenging Angel that Betsy Russell does not get naked. Whoever heard of such a thing?

    I'm seriously outraged!


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