There are some times when the description of a movie’s plot ends up sounding a lot more graphic than what the we see in the actual film. Take today’s film…1984’s “Angel.” The main character is a high school honor student by day, Hollywood Boulevard prostitute by night. She goes head to head with a serial killer who is targeting ladies of night. Sounds like an exploitation filmmakers dream, but the end result is actually quite tame.
Our main character is Molly (Donna Wilkes), the world’s oldest 15-year old. Wilkes was actually 24 when she made this film and looks it. She’s a good student at a private school in Los Angeles, but she doesn’t have many friends. That is, except for her friends on the Boulevard, where she works nights as a prostitute known as Angel. There’s a whole little community out there on the street including fellow hookers Lana (Graem McGavin) and Crystal (Donna McDaniel), Mae the transvestite (Dick Shawn), former movie cowboy Kit Carson (Rory Calhoun), and juggler Yoyo (Steven M. Porter).
There is fear out on the street ever since a serial killer has begun murdering hookers. This fact hits home for Molly and her pals when Crystal ends up the latest victim. Yoyo, who had a bit of a crush on Crystal, is especially upset. Police Lt. Andrews (Cliff Gorman) is put on the case, he quickly cautions the girls to work in pairs and only go with johns they know. “Stop hooking” might’ve been a good piece of advice, too…but oh well.
Molly and Lana do take the Lieutenant’s advice, but even that doesn’t help. Lana goes off with a client, but when Molly goes back to the room with one of her own, she finds Lana dead in the shower. Turns out Lana’s date for the night (John Diehl), was the killer. Molly goes to the police and they are able to create a composite drawing of the suspect. She even ID’s him in a lineup, but he manages to grab a lazy cop’s weapon and shoots up the joint as he makes his escape.
At this point, Molly’s had enough. She gets Kit to teach her how to use a gun, preparing herself for a showdown with the killer. But things gets complicated when some of the jocks from her school spot her hooking on the street and tell a teacher (Elaine Giftos). Now, the teacher and Lt. Andrews try to keep Molly from taking matters into her own hands.
So…there’s plenty of exploitation film fodder here, but the approach the film takes is closer to a Lifetime movie. Having a 15-year old hooker as the lead character is shocking on the surface. But Donna Wilkes is about as convincing as a 15-year old as Wilford Brimley would be. Ok, let’s forget the under-age part of things…just the fact that our main characters are hookers is controversial enough. But these hookers spend all their time chit chatting and buying ice cream. In other words, there’s nothing that happens to raise tension in this story.
However, the character of the killer is somewhat intriguing. We never know his name, we never know his motivation…although he does get quite a bit of screen time. John Diehl’s performance actually reminds me of elements of Ted Levine’s performance as Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs,” which came seven years later. The other performances are characterized by extreme over-acting and desperate attempts to make the whole thing meaningful.
This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, yet something resonated with audiences. “Angel” actually ended up being a somewhat popular film. There were three sequels, each with a different actress in the title role. The James Bond of teenage hooker movies, apparently.