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THE ANGEL COLLECTION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Donna Wilkes, Betsy Russell, Mitzi Kapture
Directors:  Robert Vincent O'Neill, Tom DeSimone (Angel III)
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Trailers, Deleted Scenes, Stills Gallery
Length:  285 Minutes
Release Date:  June 10, 2003

Films:
Angel **
 

“My mother thinks I'm not old enough to date.”

Angel is one of those movies whose reputation has become a lot larger than the film itself.  In fact, a lot of people seem to remember the classic, titillating tag line “High School Honor Student By Day, Hollywood Hooker By Night” more than they remember the movie.  Though I don't know for sure, it wouldn't surprise me if I ever learned that the poster line came first, and they made a picture to go along with it.

The truth is, despite the promise of that juicy ad line, there's nothing much about this film that will shock or surprise…or for those looking to really appease their jollies, not much there either.  It bears the skeleton of a good old fashioned exploitation flick, but didn't go in either of the directions that might have made it a staple of the genre.  It could have been an all out orgy of sex and violence, but it isn't, and it might have been a serious look at the issues of teenage prostitution, but instead, it makes life on the street almost look fun.  Well, except for the psychopath who goes calling on call girls, of course.

The filmmakers seemed a little too timid to make the movie I think they really wanted to see.  Though lead character Molly Stewart, aka Angel, is supposed to be 15 in the story, she was actually played by 25 year old Donna Wilkes, who looked every bit her age.  If they'd wanted to pursue the shocking route, in other words, they could have, with no legal repercussions.  But we never see Angel really engage in her trade.  In fact, the movie's only brief scenes of nudity don't feature her, and are flat and unerotic, as well as completely gratuitous.

The story is, of course, about an honor student who supports herself in the oldest of professions because her parents have abandoned her.  Her street friends include a colorful array of supporting caricatures, including an aging quasi-celebrity cowboy (Rory Calhoun) who hands out photos of himself on the street, and an overly butch transvestite (Dick Shawn) who offers attitude and matronly advice.  Both have less screen time than Ms. Wilkes, but greatly overshadow her.

As Angel tries to bang out a living, a psycho killer has begun preying on the hookers of Hollywood Boulevard.  One by one, some of Angel's friends turn up horribly killed.  A cop actually warns the ladies to stick to their regular customers for safety.  Would a real cop actually ever say something like that?  Hard to believe.

Anyway, when Angel later identifies the thug from a lineup, he gets away.  Fearing for her safety, she arms herself and prepares for the worse…but when the killer makes a call on her closest friends instead, she goes from passive victim to aggressive avenger…though the climax doesn't really offer what we were most hoping to see.

So the film ends up as nothing more than a middle of the road way to pass a little time and more disappointing than engrossing, because those who made the film didn't have the courage to deliver on their promise.  Wilkes, who as mentioned, looked far too old for the part, didn't return when the inevitable sequels came calling…in fact, Angel joins Friday the 13th as the key 80s film series where the main role was filled by a revolving door trail of actors.  But when a modestly budgeted film turns a big profit, you know it's at least once more into the well.  Or in this case, twice.

Avenging Angel **

“When you get to hell, tell them an Angel sent you!”

Interestingly enough, when we catch back up with Angel, her character's older, but the actress playing her was younger.  20 year old Betsy Russell stepped into Angel's high heels and hits the streets with a vengeance.

In the years (actually only one in real time) since we left her, young Molly has gone on to college to become a lawyer (well, she did have an extensive background in screwing people and taking their money) and has left her life on the Boulevard behind.  But when her old cop friend from the first movie ends up dead, she returns to her roost with revenge on her mind.  Can Angel and her bizarre cast of supporting street pals stand against the mob and incompetence on the police force?

Avenging Angel is no great entertainment, but it benefits from a tone of not taking itself too seriously.  Ms. Russell makes for a much prettier and more athletic Angel, but her acting chops leave a bit to be desired…and as in the first movie, her character is upstaged by the more outlandish sidekicks.  There's even an appearance by the great Ossie Davis, though I'm sure the renowned actor doesn't consider this flick a career high point.

As before, the promise of exploitation comes through a bit truncated…I'm not a lecher, mind you, but come on…why make a movie with a hooker for a lead character and never have her do anything?  The sex is kept in restraints, but the violence is kicked up just a notch, which should please the purists some.

But Angel wasn't through yet…

Angel III: The Final Chapter *

“Chocolate is NOT your best color.”

…though she probably should have been.  With a new writer/director and yet ANOTHER new Angel in Mitzi Kapture, the third installment lives in kind of vacuum and manages to disregard all that made the first sequel fun.  Angel III is more serious in tone, more absurd in content, and more unsatisfying in experience.  In fact, the best single adjective for it is boring.

When we first meet up with our beloved Angel, she's working in New York as a freelance photographer (obviously putting that law degree to good use), when a chance encounter in a gallery leads her to the mother who abandoned her 14 years ago.  Yet a happy Maury Povich reunion of the week is not to be…it turns out her mother is dealing with some bad customers, and she ends up getting a little bit killed.

But first, Angel learns she has a half sister that she never knew, and that she may be unknowingly following in her spiked heel footsteps.  And for the audience, that means only one thing…the return of the leather mini and tight top:  Angel is going back to her old stomping grounds once again.  I could ask why she can't ever return to Hollywood Boulevard without dressing up like a whore again, but why play the spoilsport?

The Final Chapter sorely misses Angel's supporting cast of colorfuls, and though Ms. Kapture is probably the most talented of the actresses to assume the role, there's still not enough going for her character to make her interesting enough to carry a film with practically no help.  Even with the luscious Maud Adams as the villainess and Richard Roundtree as “the cop”, nobody really makes an impact here, which leaves the audience waiting for the finale instead of anticipating it.  Though I will say one thing about the climax:  it at least proves that Angel still has a bit of “hooker” left in her.

Like many multi-sequeled franchises, Angel outstayed its welcome and tried to keep pumping even though the well was quite dry.  Only she didn't burn out…sadly, she just faded away.

Video ***

All three Angel films stand against the normal rule that 80s movies look poor on DVD, thanks to Anchor Bay's dedication to quality.  Anamorphic transfers abound in this three disc set, and every one is well above average.  Though the first film shows a bit of grain here and there, the print is still clean, detail level strong and colors look brighter than their age.  Avenging Angel boasts an even better and brighter color palate, suffering only from an occasional dark scene that descends into murkiness.  Finally, Angel III doesn't have quite the same brightness, but it also lacks more of the flaws of the first two for a well rounded presentation.  Fans of the trilogy should be extremely pleased.

Audio **1/2

The mono soundtracks are all clean and very serviceable, with nice accents of action to add to the dynamic range.  All three can also brag about having some of the worst 80s music scores of any films in memory…and I'm smiling when I say that!

Features *1/2

Each film features one or two original trailers.  Angel also boasts three deleted scenes (the original audio is lost, but subtitles are included), while Avenging Angel has some stills and a poster to peruse.

Summary:

The Angel Collection isn't exactly the Holy Grail of the DVD world, but the audience is out there, and no company was better suited to match them up than Anchor Bay.  Solid transfers and a nice package will make this one a treat for Angel's fans everywhere.