Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Angel (1984)

A real classic slice of '80s exploitation, Angel is a movie that I had been wanting to see for many years, ever since catching sight of the poster with the tagline: "High school honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night". Even as a young boy I sensed that this was something sleazy, which made it more appealing to me in my youth. Of course, I grew up and tried to act mature. Thankfully, that didn't last long and my love of horror and exploitation fare eventually put the film back on my radar and, as an adult, I sensed that it was something sleazy. Which made it more appealing to me.

The story is covered by that tagline. Donna Wilkes plays young Molly Stewart, a schoolgirl who spends her evenings making money as a prostitute named Angel. It's a dangerous time to be in that line of work, however, with a crazed killer on the loose. The police are trying to do what they can, especially Lieutenant Andrews (Cliff Gorman), but the girls, and guys, are determined to look out for each other. Molly/Angel is especially reluctant to be watched by anyone in a position of authority, perhaps because of her double life and whatever she has to deal with at home.

Directed by Robert Vincent O'Neill, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Michael Cala, Angel was popular enough to spawn three sequels (each with a different actress in the main role). It seemed to have something to appeal to everyone, even if that something was an uncomfortable mix of crime, quirkiness, sleaze and more than a dash of Lolita.

Donna Wilkes is fine in the main role. In her mid-twenties at the time, she still looks believably young enough for the character while also being able to handle the more sordid aspects of the material. Cliff Gorman is a decent enough authority figure, Elaine Giftos is very good as a teacher taking extra interest in Molly, and Susan Tyrell, Dick Shawn, Rory Calhoun, Donna McDaniel and Graem McGavin are all . . . . . . fun as the interesting characters who make up Molly's unconventional family unit. And then there's John Diehl, who puts in a fantastic and creepy performance as the killer, lifting the whole film up a notch when he's onscreen.

This is a very basic review, that's the way I tend to approach films, but there's certainly a lot more to look at in Angel. The 1980s seemed to be, perhaps more than any other decade, a time when it was okay to put minors in some very adult situations. This may have been due to a combination of censorship relaxation and an acceptance of how much faster kids seemed to mature in the modern age or it may have been due to something else entirely. I'm no expert, but I know that films such as this one, My Tutor and Private Lessons, to name the first few that come to mind, all feature a mixture of sex and lead characters who are some years away from being classed as adults.

I've already said more than I intended to about a cross-section of movies I don't know enough about, I just think that in discussing a movie like this one it's important to remind people of the time and the context. Or maybe that's just what I keep telling myself when I catch up with such films three decades after they were initially released.


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