3 out of 5
Directed by: Robert Vincent O’Neil
There are probably two movies going on in Angel: one is definitely an 80s sexploitation slasher – a killer stalks prostitutes on the LA streets! – and one is an odder thing, taking a look at 15-year old “Angel” (Donna Wilkes), who splits her time between getting good grades at a private school and spurning the advances of the local jock, and consorting with her fellow ladies-of-the-night, as they each run their hustle on those same LA streets. Obviously it’s fairly easy to marry those two ideas, and in fact the latter would seem well suited to the former, allowing this particular prey of our killer (John Diehl) to seem more “virginal” and final girl-y by dint of her youth… except writer / director Robert Vincent O’Neil doesn’t play it that way. I mean, yes, there’s T&A and some bloody stabbings and Diehl goes whole-hog on making his killer crazy, doing naked body scrubbings ‘neath flashing neon lights and sucking on raw eggs while staring at a picture of his mother, but that T&A – often in the context of private school locker rooms, where “Angel” listens to her fellow students gossip about her – is done with an interestingly mundane camera, and those stabbings are mostly offscreen. In other words, it’s as though the real idea was to make a character study, and then the rest was added in to sell the pic, and it is a New World production, after all.
But these things are also brought in effectively: if you want to watch it for boobs, you can; if you want to watch it as part of an 80s slasher pile, Diehl’s kookiness makes that entirely possible. However, you can also watch it for Wilkes, who gives Angel – real name Molly – a ton of depth, and the movie doesn’t shy away from making you know she’s not virginal, while also not accomplishing that by being explicit. There’s a sense of respect for her plight, and those of the other working girls, even when the easy path would’ve been to mock how some of them present themselves. The visual stereotypes are there, and perhaps of the time, but the script – and the actors – make the characters feel real. The same goes for the police officer (Cliff Gorman) who’s investigating the killings, and becomes curious about Molly’s split lifestyle: easy would’ve been to either make him the incompetent cop, or an easy father figure; he’s neither. He’s good at his job, and the cops, in general, are given a good showing (even if the fate of one falls into another typical stereotype…).
Alas, the movie doesn’t resolve any part of this more “serious” side. During its runtime, it explores it, but that’s about it; once it gets into the cat-and-mouse stuff towards the end, any sense of followup is tossed out; credits roll and there’s been approximately zero consequence to anything we’ve learned about Angel’s life – it’s only the credits on the exploitation flick.
But that flick still is an entertaining, if average one, with amazing cinematography from Andrew Davis – the LA streets look beautifully scuzzy – and a great score from Craig Safan. …Which makes all of the solid character stuff in the movie’s first three-fourths or so sort of a bonus.