It’s kind of funny that I finally watched Mimi Lesseo’s first movie AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD shortly after that GLOW show, because it has many parallels. A group of newbies try out for an all-female weekly wrestling show, have friendships and grudges, one falls for the sleazy but nice guy that runs it, the women live together, learn how to take falls, have training montages, a rivalry develops, they have the big match and bond through wrestling.
A couple big differences:
1) “American Angels” is not a startup, but an already established and successful promotion
2) Wrestling is treated (at least sometimes) as real fighting. It’s weird
3) It’s genuine exploitation with raw acting and laughably gratuitous T&A business
A group of women (three of them introduced with documentary style text) audition for the famous American Angels wrestling outfit. Lisa from Bakersfield (Jan Sebastian, GATORBAIT II: CAJUN JUSTICE) is a stripper who, as part of her show, will wrestle a man from the audience (after being rubbed in whip cream). For some reason her boss believes in her talents enough to get his old friend American Angels promoter/commentator Dazzling Dave (Tray Loren, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, also GATORBAIT II) to come watch, and he witnesses her punching the volunteer in the dick for pulling her bra off during the match.
Dave goes backstage to talk to try to recruit her and finds her standing naked in an open shower. He tries to talk to her while she screams and throws things at him. The comedy is awkward in this one, but luckily there’s not that much of it.
Lisa comes to the audition in her American flag “wrestler” jacket and she becomes friends with the other fresh meat, Pam (Trudy Adams, SHADOW OF THE DRAGON) and Marita (Patricia Cavoti). They eventually declare themselves “three rotten apples” and bond together to survive the training of their Australian trainer Pattie (Sue Sexton, stunts in MAN ON THE MOON) and the competitiveness of Black Venus (Jean Kirkland) and reigning queen Magnificent Mimi (Lesseos, PUSHED TO THE LIMIT).
In this one they really are fighting over a man. Magnificent Mimi hates Luscious Lisa (as she comes to be called) because she’s jealous that Dave has a thing for her. I’m unclear whether Mimi and Dave are dating, or whether she’s just possessive of him and what he means for her career, but she’s already mad well before Dave and Lisa have sex in the wrestling ring while a little person is underneath (long story).
And this one definitely considers cheesecake a top priority. There’s a shower scene, the strip club scene with the erotic whip cream wrestling, frequent scenes of sitting around in nighties or bras or towels, or the sauna scene with a tattooed ass in the background like decoration. After they get accepted, there’s a mild hazing ritual where they get smeared in cake and beer and roll around on the floor. I guess alot of men like that women-covered-in-food-and-beverage stuff, or at least they did in 1989. And it’s kinda weird how much directors Beverly and Ferd Sebastian (THE HITCHHIKERS, GATOR BAIT, RUNNING COOL) showcase Luscious Lisa’s large chest, considering she’s their real life daughter! I wonder if they know Dario Argento?
But Sebastian’s qualifications run deeper than family ties and breast size, because she was actually a G.L.O.W. cast member under the same Luscious Lisa moniker. Adams was also in G.L.O.W. as Amy the Farmer’s Daughter, Kirkland and Sexton were in LPWA (Ladies Professional Wrestling Association) and of course Lesseos was in AWA (American Wrestling Association). In smaller roles you have G.L.O.W.’s California Doll (called Malibu here), Big Bad Mama (called Big Mama), Tiffany Mellon (Margot) and Envy (Whoopie). And there’s a possible reference to the Housewives when Lisa looks at some costume designs and says “Look at this, Luscious Lisa in a robe and curlers. Somebody’s idea of a joke.”
That’s the one thing this has over the show I will stop mentioning is that the cast is primarily experienced wrestlers, so there’s a much heavier emphasis on the action in the ring, and the climactic match is long and in real time. I enjoyed just watching it as wrestling.
Of course in 1989 there was still kayfabe – professional wrestlers had to play along that it was real. I wonder if they were intentionally trying to get around that by being unclear about it here? I guess when they train to take falls and be thrown around by their hair you could interpret it as preparing to take a real beating. But what about the scene where Black Venus twists Sampson (Jeff Lundy)’s feet around backwards and Lisa says “This is bullshit!” and runs in and dropkicks Venus? Everybody gets mad at her saying she ruined a match (“it’s part of my act” he explains).
But whenever Lisa fights they act like it’s an actual competition. She says, “I’m going to beat her. If it kills me I’m going to beat her.” It turns into a ROCKY movie. Yes, there is a training montage, and it includes ROCKY III style beach-racing (but not the greatest music).
Another thing that confused me a little is the matches in the gym with no audience or referee. One wrestler just declares herself victorious and comes over to be interviewed by the commentators, who seem to be taping on the sidelines. Otherwise I’d assume it was practice.
This is not the type of movie where the drama is gonna be real moving, but I like the nice, corny scene where Sampson tries to comfort Lisa and teach her how to do his foot-twisting trick. When you first see that there’s a little person in the movie you assume it’s gonna be exploitative, so it’s a surprise that they gave him a moment like this.
The big emotional through-line for Lisa is that her grandfather (Robert D. Bergen) is a famous wrestler named Killer Kane, who disapproves of her career. She keeps it a secret, but Dave decides to exploit it for promotion. This is kind of the same plot twist as CREED, except instead of her relative having been killed in the ring he was the one who killed somebody with his trademark move “The Snap.” Everybody wants to know if she can do the move, and she says she learned it as a little girl, but won’t use it because it’s too dangerous.
She doesn’t get upset when everybody finds out. They don’t really milk it for all the potential drama. They do get one really weird line out of it though when a guy from the network says “The press is gonna soak this up like a buffalo shitting golden nickels.”
You know how the press is about buffaloes that shit golden nickels. They soak that up.
Another funny accidental weirdness thing is when they’re in the sauna and there’s an announcement over the intercom that there’s a phone call for Pam, and suddenly we see that there’s a phone sitting on the bench right next to her for her to answer. Why was that there?
Pam has the most b-action backstory. At the beginning we saw two drug dealer guys throwing her in an alley garbage can threatening her. Now they come all the way from Chicago to leave her a threatening letter. She tries to split but Lisa convinces her the Rotten Apples have her back, and sure enough they all get to wrestle the drug dealers on the beach. It’s silly and awkwardly edited but satisfying. They literally kick sand in one’s face and make them stumble off cursing each other out.
Apparently Mimi’s catch phrase that Dave always says about her is “B, A, double D, badd!” I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a bra-size reference or if it’s just working on the theory that adding an extra letter to a word makes it more powerful.
In the opening match there are some NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER style audience reaction shots, where they clearly have non actors pretending to react to something that’s not happening. For the climax, though, it really seems like they put on a real event in front of wrestling fans. I mean, this guy in the Freddy mask is obviously showing off, and all the shots of Killer Kane in the audience crying are possibly staged in my opinion
but there’s alot of stuff that seems like legit reactions.
This is a huge SPOILER to tell you the outcome of the match but it’s a nice ROCKY ending where she doesn’t win the title, but impresses Mimi by knocking her out with “The Snap” (a flip off the top rope and drop kick to her face, making her spit blood). She satisfied Dave by doing the famous move, and I guess maybe her grandfather by doing it without killing anyone. I don’t know.
This is Lesseos’ first movie role, and I’m guessing that working on a low budget production like this gave her the confidence to do it on her own. In the first half of the ’90s she wrote, produced and starred in PUSHED TO THE LIMIT, BEYOND FEAR, STREETS OF RAGE and PERSONAL VENDETTA, plus another one called DOUBLE DUTY in 2009 (still unreleased, I believe). In her interview with david j. moore in The Good, the Tough, & the Deadly she says she always wanted to be an actress, but trained in martial arts with her uncle Gene LeBell, which got her into wrestling, which got her into this movie.
I really enjoyed AMERICAN ANGELS, but when I used the remote to check the running time it looked like it was gonna be two hours long and I kept wondering how it was gonna sustain. Turns out to be a standard 99 minutes, but the DVD ends with “A Visit With Ferd & Beverly Sebastian” where they talk about their passion for teaching convicts to help rescue greyhounds. Ferd tells a story about having a heart problem and being told he had a week to live, then praying for Jesus for the first time and being instantly healed.
So talking about Jesus at the end of these T&A movies is a good way to balance the two chapters of his life. He explains:
“I held these films back for 25 years out of release, ’cause I said well there’s some sex in some, there’s some dirty language in others, nah I said, would Jesus would be proud of all that? I said I don’t think so, so I won’t put these films out anymore,” but Jesus told him “put your testimony on the end of every one of these films” because it might be the only chance that some people who don’t go to church would find out about Him.
If anybody out there converted to Christianity because they rented AMERICAN ANGELS or GATOR BAIT or something, I’d love to hear your story! Even moreso, I’d love to hear from anybody out there happened to win a contest to meet one of the American Angels. There’s an ad for it on the beginning of the VHS:
They don’t specify which one you get to meet, but hopefully it was a real wrestler at least, not just some random person. Do you think they really picked a winner? And did they really give away thousands of instant prizes? I feel like there is a possibility that less than two thousand people called a 1-900 number for AMERICAN ANGELS. But maybe I’m being too cynical.
Anyway, it seems Sebastian Films LTD put the entire AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD on Youtube, so I do believe you can watch it legally here:
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.