Dir: Robert Vincent O'Neill, 1984. Starring: Donna Wilkes, John Diehl, Cliff Gorman, Dick Shawn, Susan Tyrell. Cult.

There might never be another movie about a hooker who has a heart. The same goes for stories depicting an under aged girl’s sexual exploits, as in movies like The Lover, Lolita, and Pretty Baby. Aside from being a touchy subject, I doubt filmmakers would want to take the risk. These types of movies rarely end on a good note, and rightfully so. Instead of following minors on the wrong side of the tracks, Hollywood eventually turned the spotlight on adults, as in the movie Pretty Woman. However, Angel has a much better story about a hooker leading a double-life—one that is far more nuanced, even though it isn’t very realistic.

Angel is everything that a B-movie should be and much more. It mashes up genres, as any good cult movie should do. In it Donna Wilkes plays 15-year-old Molly, or Angel if you’re one of the few that have ties to her nighttime activities as a prostitute. But unlike most movies that follow the ladies of the night, this protagonist has a compelling back story. At one point in her young life she lived with her parents. By the time she was 12 they both abandoned her for better lives and new lovers. In order to maintain her sense of security and keep their apartment she took to the streets and started prostituting.

Molly has no intention of being a street walker for the rest of her life. She enrolled herself at an upscale private school and secretly pays her own tuition. She’s at the top of her class, doesn’t do drugs, keep boyfriends, nor does she have much of a social life. To calm questions from her teachers about her lack of extracurricular activities, she fabricates an elaborate story that her mother has been paralyzed from a stroke and is in constant need of care. Her landlord (Susan Tyrrell), a shifty but kind eccentric woman, respected her wishes to remain in the apartment and turned a blind eye to the risk of letting a minor rent from her. She and the streetwise drag queen Mae (Dick Shawn) are, in a way, her new guardians. Though her life as a prostitute is far from glamorous, Angel felt considerably safe in her surroundings—that is until a serial killer (John Diehl) with a taste for hookers came into the picture.

Lt. Andrews (Cliff Gorman) hits the streets and informs all the working girls to keep a watchful eye on the streets and use precaution with their clientele. He is especially gearing his efforts towards Angel because he knows she’s a minor who hasn’t been on the streets for years. They simply haven’t caught her yet and she’s too stubborn to take the advice. It becomes apparent to all the girls that the streets are no longer safe when three of their close friends are found butchered by the killer. Still, Angel and the others keep working and are optimistic that they won’t become his victims. In time Angel realizes that she’s next on the killer’s list. Once he has infiltrated her home and takes the life of someone dear to her, she decides to fight back and salvage what small amount of goodness is left in her broken life.

As stated before, the movie takes a ton of liberties as far as realistic scenarios go, but it makes up for them by unveiling 1980s Hollywood in all its filthy glory. The exterior camera work weaves through people on the boulevard in a way that is part nostalgia and part exposé. There are awesome shots of the Walk of Fame before it became a struggling tourist destination, and many shops and street vendors that no longer exist. There are also plenty of colorful personalities presented through supporting roles: Kit Carson (Rory Calhoun), a shoot-‘em-up enthusiast who loves to tell tales of the open West and demonstrate his quick draw to locals; and Yo-Yo (Stephen M. Porter), who does yo-yo and top tricks dressed as a clown and always lifts the spirits of all the girls when their night is through. Among them are tons of extras who might very well have been L.A. natives having a night on the town, or just people willing to show off their good fashion sense and outlandish hairstyles for the camera.

You needn’t pay attention to Angel II and III, the follow-ups to the movie, but Angel is one of those cult movies that just never get old. It’s part drama, comedy, slasher, and thriller, and with a cast that is truly as offbeat as the plot. The subject matter is obviously not what most people would consider entertainment, but cult and thriller aficionados will not be disappointed.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 22, 2011 7:01pm
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