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The Films of 1985: Avenging Angel

1985

1985 happened 30 years ago and so did I. Now I’m looking back at the films from the year of my birth. Join me, won’t you?

avenging angelAvenging Angel (Robert Vincent O’Neill) 93 min
Release Date: January 11,  1985
Cast: Betsy Russell, Rory Calhoun, Susan Tyrrell, Ossie Davis
Writer(s): Joseph Michael Cala & Robert Vincent O’Neill
Synopsis: Four years after the events of the first film, Angel’s legal guardian is gunned down. Now, to solve the murder she’s going to have to put her college plans on hold go undercover as a prostitute one more time…

Review: Louder, goofier and way less edgy than its predecessor. For those who aren’t familiar with the Angel series—this is the first of three sequels—it’s the story of a teenage prostitute working with the police to help track down a necrophilic serial killer who dismembers two of Angel’s fellow hookers. The tagline was, “High school honor student by day. Hollywood hooker by night.” And it’s as sleazy as it sounds! But like other LA exploitation movies of the era (Vice Squad), it’s also super watchable and the salaciousness of the premise only made the stakes that much higher. Basically, you can’t trust the kind people who make movies about teenaged prostitutes to play nice.

A year later, we got this sequel, which jumps four years into Molly/Angel’s future. She’s in law school now, completely reformed and safely “of age.” She’s also a different actress—Betsy Russell (the Saw series) replacing Donna Wilkes—which co-star Rory Calhoun says was down to Wilkes asking for too much money. Anyway, the cop who became Angel’s legal guardian (at the end of the first movie) is gunned down by thugs working for a development creep. He wants to turn the boulevard where Angel and her friends used to work into condos (or something). So on top of being a murder/mystery/action movie, it also has a “save the rec center” undercurrent. That’s where things go really wrong, because the movie wants to make a case that all of Angel’s kooky, street performing friends are like the Na’vi, indigenous to this sacred land that must be protected at all costs. Not so much slobs vs. snobs, but blue collar crime vs. white collar crime.

It’s not that gentrification isn’t something worth exploring, especially since the LA depicted in this movie is almost entirely gone. The problem lies with characters like Johnny Glitter, a cartoonish, cowardly guy who dresses like Adam Ant and throws glitter on people, claiming to add happiness and dreams to the people around him. He’s not. When he isn’t being dragged into violent and dangerous situations where he’s a complete liability, he’s accidentally shooting people to death or leaving people to die in the street. You see, Johnny witnessed the shooting of Angel’s guardian and instead of helping him get to a hospital, he walked away as the man died in the street. So not only is he a self-centered asshole, he’s also too vital to the plot to get rid of.

Not much better is Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell) as Kit Carson, a former western actor who has to be rescued from a sanitarium by Angel, presumably because he can’t go half a second without saying “dern tootin'” or brandishing a six-shooter in the middle of the street. Calhoun is usually much better than this, but here he looks confused and sickly. None of the hair on his head (or face) looks real and all of his dialogue sounds like someone left a parrot in front of a Gunsmoke marathon. Again, I’m usually a big fan of his, but his performance and appearance were so off that I had to look up to see if this was his last movie before dying of cancer (it wasn’t, he died of emphysema a few years later). There’s also Susan Tyrrell as Solly. She’s basically Susan Tyrrell throughout the movie, so if you like that (I do), you’ll like her here.

The biggest problem, really, is that this is the epitome of what bad sequels do. It’s a retread that defangs the original premise by trading an underage prostitute for a college student pretending to be a prostitute and a serial killer for three-piece suit wearing henchmen. And that’s weird, because while the first film more than quintupled its $3 million budget, it wasn’t an R-rated movie that appealed to kids like Robocop or Aliens. There were no toys to be sold here, but we get scenes of people slipping on soapy water, sliding all the way down a loooooooong hallway and out of a window. To their death! Our heroes kill so many people by accident, you can’t fear or respect the bad guys even a little. Although I will say, one of the main bad guys is named Miles (he looks like Mick Jagger accidentally fucked Mark Hamil in the midst of a quaalude bender and science found a way to keep the baby). So that’s pretty cool.

I had fond memories of this movie going into this re-watch, so it pains me to be so hard on it now. Ultimately, I can’t recommend this when the first movie does everything better. There’s just no point in watching this unless you’re marathoning the series. And if that’s the case…you’re cool.

Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing?: Better off dead.

Next Up: Tuff Turf

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