Angel (1984) (Movie Review)

Movie Review
Starring: Donna Wilkes, Rory Calhoun, Cliff Gorman
Directed by Robert Vincent O’Neill

Robert Vincent O’Neill’s Angel is a far better movie than it has any right to be. The sexploitation thriller has some head-scratching plot twists and devices, corny dialogue, and questionable acting, but the sum of all the parts equals a fairly watchable film. Just not a film that you would go out of your way to see or something you’d want to see again. It’s good enough to make the bad seem less obvious.

Angel (Wilkes) seems to be your typical straight-A student. She’s polite and cares deeply about her studies. However, unbeknownst to her school and classmates, she works as a prostitute at night. Living in on her own since her parents left her life, she’s making a living on the dangerous streets of Los Angeles. Her world turns upside down when an unknown threat (John Diehl) begins a rampage and killing all her friends. On top of that, she gets outed at school about what she does at night. Despite the best efforts of Lieutenant Andrews (Gorman), her world is falling apart with each chilling discovery of another friend being murdered.

This film should make serious film watchers angry, but for most, it won’t. For the most part, this movie does not take itself too seriously. The pure goofiness of Angel’s world shows that this film is not trying to be provocative film-noir, but more along the lines of pulp fiction (the genre, not the movie). The crazy world that Angel inhabits doesn’t come across as sinister; the people that surround her are comrades and nobody seems to be labelling her as a victim. It’s very bizarre to watch a movie where the main character is a teenage-prostitute and save for a few people, it’s more of a slightly taboo subject that something heinous. This film could have been more edgy and tackled this issue head-on but instead it’s used as nothing more than to add a little bit of colour to Angel’s character.

Which, as a viewer, I felt extremely uncomfortable with how Angel is portrayed. Aside from the fact that a few people think that Angel should get out of the trade, there doesn’t seem to be any outrage of what Angel does for a living. For some, this may be completely distasteful and enough to make this film destined for the trash heap.

If you can get past that, and some won’t, the film itself is a mixed bag. Sometimes the plot doesn’t make too much sense. For one, Angel seems to be working the streets of Los Angeles without much fear of her clients (except for that one guy hellbent on trying to kill every last prostitute) or pimps who might try to exploit her. Also, despite several adults who know about Angel’s situation and concerned about her wellbeing, nobody seems to put too much though into calling child welfare. Another big issue with the movie is that Diehl’s character doesn’t seem to be given any explanation as to his motives, other than he’s a psychopath. Also, the final act gets pretty silly and takes liberties in regard to realism (for example, everybody seems to be able to run the same speed or faster than you would expect, despite being wounded).

There’s also the campy dialogue and cheesy acting. Gorman, while decent in his role as the tough, but fatherly Andrews, feels more like he’s trying to channel his inner-Clint Eastwood a la Dirty Harry. Rory Calhoun, who plays the street-performing cowboy Kit Carson, does a fairly good job of making the involvement of an over-the-hill cowboy in Angel’s world make sense; part of which is probably due to his previous acting roles in westerns. Then you have Dick Shawn as Mae the cross-dresser, who is incredibly charming and charismatic, but if this film were more serious, it would be very questionable as to how this character fits into Angel’s world.

Yet, for the most part, this film is enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the fact that the film is suspenseful throughout and that there is so much going on that it genuinely feels like anything could happen at any given time. This movie is not boring, and the sometimes lame dialogue or inferior acting does not get in the way. It tells a story that you would expect from a dime-store thriller story and doesn’t try to trick you into thinking something different.

Angel does not set the bar for its genre and there are things about the movie that people will find too unsettling to enjoy. O’Neill doesn’t have much to work with here, but still manages to make a perfectly adequate thriller. However, once it’s done, it’s a film that will quickly disappear from your mind. Then again, it’s hard for me to recommend a film that treats the idea of a teenage prostitute as something normal. There are other ways that the film can tell its story with that being addressed properly that would either keep the film just as interesting, or even make it better by giving it some additional depth.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Jamie Gore

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