ANGEL is a story about a young girl named Molly (Donna Wilkes from JAWS 2 and GROTESQUE) who lives near Hollywood Boulevard and buses out to the North Oaks Prep School. She gets straight A’s, she seems very innocent, and when a super nerd at school (who looks easily 35, but it’s okay because she’s 24 in real life) asks her on a date she turns him down by saying her mom says she’s too young to date. I thought she might be telling the truth, but after school she goes back to the boulevard, where everyone calls her Angel, she puts on makeup and starts walking the strip. Yep, our little angel is a teenage prostitute. It quickly becomes clear that she’s paying her own way through school, and that there’s a reason she’s not letting anyone into the room where she says her paralyzed mother is holed up.
“High School Honor Student by Day. Hollywood Hooker by Night,” is the tagline on the poster. That sounds like it’s supposed to be a shocking and gritty portrait of Hollywood’s seedy underbelly, but that’s not the approach the movie takes. It’s completely sympathetic to the prostitutes, and it’s a love letter to the eccentrics of that neighborhood, the weird lifestyles that sprout up in the wake of failed dreams. Angel’s best friends are a guy who says he’s Kit Carson (played by the prolific western actor Rory Calhoun), a guy who does yo yo tricks (Steven M. Porter, LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD), and a fellow lady of the night named Mae who is what I guess you would call a female impersonator (played by Dick Shawn, the voice of Snow Miser, and face of the hologram that Hooter throws an egg on in CAPTAIN EO).
Angel is friends with the street performers, the 24 hour diner owners and the people who scrub the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She walks by jugglers, street preachers, Hare Krishnas, rollerskaters and a guy on one of those old timey bicycles with a giant wheel on the front. Her landlord is Susan Tyrrell, rocking crazy makeup, spiked hair and suspenders. Angel butters her up by hanging her terrible paintings in the apartment.
At school Angel deals with normal problems. Some asshole jocks call her a slut when she turns them down, her teacher (Elaine Giftos) wants her to take part in extracurricular activities, stuff like that. But not surprisingly her night life is worse. Some psycho is going around chopping up prostitutes. Of course nobody knows who it is, but we keep seeing him, some weirdo who works out shirtless, manically scrubs himself with a brush and lustily sucks raw eggs straight out of the shells. He’s played by John Diehl (KICKBOXER 2, FIRE DOWN BELOW). We hear that he’s a necrophile, and when he’s about to live up to the description the soundtrack acts like it’s a romantic love scene.
Of course the killer gets some of Angel’s friends, and Angel gets mad. Lieutenant Andrews (Cliff Gorman, GHOST DOG) is on the trail, but not making much headway. He’s introduced talking about the case with a beat cop while eating an ice cream cone, then he hands the cone to the other officer when he leaves.
Andrews starts following Angel around after she sees the killer. It’s from a distance and in the dark, but she’s the best lead he has. He gets a lucky break when he puts the killer in a lineup. Angel doesn’t recognize him, but he’s crazy enough to steal a cop’s gun and shoot his way out.
So the killer is specifically after her now, and she’s not gonna take it lightly. She buys a gun from the black market (delivered to her hidden in a box of fried chicken) and gets Kit to train her how to shoot. That comes in handy when the assholes from school see her on the street and try to gang rape her. Two birds with one stone.
It’s not a straight-up action or revenge movie, but I really like it. It’s all about friendship between outcasts and weirdos. And it has great on-location shooting, really showing the personality of touristy Hollywood at the time – the architecture, the lights, the signage, the people, and an appropriately ’80s soundtrack. A good time capsule. Just when I was trying to place exactly which stretch of the ’80s this was filmed in I noticed this fancy RETURN OF THE JEDI marquee (upper left corner):
And later this one for BLUE THUNDER:
The plot is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s peppered with lots of fun strangeness. There’s Mae, wearing a dress but no wig, in a knock down, apartment smashing brawl with the killer, who’s disguised as a Hare Krishna. Angel terrifying tourists by walking down the crowded sidewalk at night holding a gun – I’m convinced some or all of those people were real. Kit Carson riding bitch with some random biker looking for her. Any scene with Susan Tyrrell. Even the standard scene where the Lieutenant is telling the skeptical locals to give him a call if they have any information seems unique because these are the locals:
Director/co-writer Robert Vincent O’Neill wrote THE MIGHTY GORGA and the sorta-similar-to-this VICE SQUAD. The director of photography was ABOVE THE LAW/UNDER SIEGE director Andrew Davis, his last in that role as he was transitioning to director, and that’s probly why it looks a little slicker than your average b-movie of the era.
Something about that cover always put me off, I pictured this being one of those terrible movies with a big-haired Playboy model doing slow kicks and firing guns, delivering lines like she’s reading off a card. In fact Wilkes is very natural and likable in the role, young and girlish (though not as young as she’s playing) but good humored and sure of herself. You can see why all these weirdos like her and are protective of her. And yes, it’s got the gratuitous shower shots and what not that you’d expect, but it never feels like exploitation is high on the list of goals. It has way more heart than it has sleaze. But a little sleaze, don’t get me wrong. It’s a special little movie.
Special thanks to Franchise Fred, who suggested this when I asked for a good movie series to follow up the LETHAL WEAPONs with.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.