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Angel is a fun exploitation flick that is not only very 80s, but the first movie released by New World Pictures after being sold by Roger Corman…and it was their first hit, grossing almost six times it’s original cost back.
The film tells the story of 15 year old Molly Stewart (Donna Wilkes), a scholarly prep school student who supports herself, after being abandoned by her mother and years earlier by her father, turning tricks on the Hollywood strip. Hooking under the name Angel, Molly is working at a dangerous time. There is a serial killer (John Diehl) on the loose targeting the ladies of the night and more than one of Angel’s friends have been slaughtered. Worse still, is that Angel has seen his face and is now a target herself. Will Angel be just another victim or will the resourceful teen turn the hunter into the hunted?
Flick is directed by Robert Vincent O’Neill, who co-wrote with Joseph Michael Cala and despite being an exploitation flick through and through, O’Neil manages to give it some heart. He surrounds Angel with an eccentric group of colorful friends, such as former cowboy star Kit (Rory Calhoun), foul mouthed dyke Solly (Susan Tyrell) and transvestite Mae (Dick Shawn). There is actually a bit of a sweet element to the story, underneath the blood and boobs, as Molly yearns for the day she can get off the street and the sympathetic cop (Cliff Gorman) who would like to see her succeed. Sure the story is cliché and we know the moment it begins, her life as a hooker with a heart of gold will be discovered at school, but O’Neil does have fun with his story without ever making fun of it. He also does provide some suspense and generates some sympathy for the killer’s hooker victims. This because the street people are portrayed as human beings who are a community among themselves and it is only a somewhat bland killer that fails the film a bit. That and his unintentionally funny…or maybe it was intentional?…choice of disguising himself as a Hare Krishna, when on the lam from the cops and on the hunt for Angel. Otherwise the film achieves what it sets out to do in grand exploitation style.
The cast won’t get any awards, but fill their parts well. Cutie Donna Wilkes was 24 when hired to play the 15 year old Molly and she’s fine. She gives us a sweet but very tough young girl who refuses to be a victim. She could have had a bit more range, but for a B-Movie like this, she’s more than adequate. Same can be said of Gorman’s tough cop. His character is a bit of a bland cliché, but works in the context of the film. Again, the silent killer (he only speaks once) played by Diehl is a bit bland, but is creepy enough to make it work. The supporting characters really shine as Calhoun, Tyrell and Shawn all add some life to the proceedings with their eccentric portrayals of some of the lost souls of the Hollywood Strip. They also do well in creating a foster family for Angel and they look out for her and their affection for each other seems genuine. Also worth mentioning is Donna McDaniel who gives her hooker Crystal a very likable personality in her brief screen time.
This is not Shakespeare, but it is fun. It’s an exploitation flick and knows it and never apologizes for it. It gives it’s cliché story a bit of a heart and treats the story with respect even if it is a B-Movie about a teenage hooker and a serial killer. It’s not a great flick by any stretch, but it is entertaining for what it is and gives us some surprisingly sympathetic and likable characters. Add a lot of fun 80s nostalgia and you have a perfectly suitable Saturday Night flick on the couch with some of your favorite poisons. Box office gross of Angel generated 3 sequels, none of which equaled it’s success.
MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Cinematographer on this flick was Andrew Davis who went on to direct Chuck Norris in Code Of Silence, Steven Seagal in Under Siege and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive!