For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Angel, directed by Robert Vincent O'Neil, 1984
Molly is a wonderful little girl. She excels in all her classes, always does what's right, and is beloved by her neighbors and teachers. Angel is a street-wise woman of the evening who sells her body on the Hollywood Strip to make ends meat. Her only family is comprised of a washed up cowboy actor and a transvestite prostitute. The problem is that Molly and Angel are the same girl, and Molly's double life is about to cause her problems on both sides. A group of her classmates threaten to expose her nightly business while a hooker-butchering serial killer has made the streets she walks unsafe.
Like the girl on that poster, I am divided. Part of me really wants to like 'Angel.' It has some legitimately impressive performances; primarily from Rory Calhoun and Dick Shawn. Calhoun plays Kit Carson, a once great Western star who now makes a living by selling his autograph on the strip. He is warm, genuine, and his heroics during the film's climax are badass. Dick Shawn plays Mae, a man posing as a woman who finds him/herself in the same line of work as Angel. He is witty and crude, but his caring for Angel feels so authentic that it's quite touching. Part of me wants to love the care and craft that went to what could have easily been a really trashy film. And part of me really likes the quality of the crime story element.
But part of me can't ignore the flat performance of Donna Wilkes in the lead role. She is so petulant as to be unsympathetic. I don't have a problem with the morality of the tale itself, but I don't understand her righteousness toward other people and her expectations. When the killer takes yet another victim and the detective speaks to the streetwalkers very practically and kindly about how they can protect themselves, she chastises him for not doing enough to keep them safe. At which point it's hard not wonder why the thought that breaking the law by prostituting herself might be more to blame than lackluster police work. And honestly, how long did she really expect to keep this a secret from everyone when her bus stop for school and her regular night beat are practically the same spot? That's more a writing issue, but it kept taking me out of the film.
I think ultimately 'Angel' is a decent cult film without being an exploitation film, which given its subject matter is quite astonishing. I think, though some of his psychosis was way over the top, that the serial killer was intimidating enough to pose a believable threat and thereby establish tension. I also really like the fictive family relationship between Angel and her friends. And though it's a bit watered down, I dig the gritty street life/revenge angle of the film a lot. It was almost like Lifetime Network producing an Abel Ferrara film...set in LA. Whatever the case, I got no small amount of joy out of watching this petite vigilante chase the bad guy down Hollywood Boulevard carrying a gun only slightly smaller than she was.
This was a very special Terror Tuesday, and no I don't mean that in the same way 80's sitcoms used it; no one learned a valuable lesson. Co-writer/director of 'Angel,' Robert Vincent O'Neil, was in attendance and was kind enough to participate in a Q&A after the show. This is the first guest Terror Tuesday has had since March. I have always felt that filmmakers/actors working in b-movies have the best stories, and Mr. O'Neil was no exception. He told us all about how he sold the studios on the film with the exploitative concept with the intention of making a better film than they wanted. He also told us about sneaking shots without a permit and promptly jumping into a waiting car to avoid the police. He talked about how Dick Shawn improvised a majority of his lines and he never quite knew what he would say. When asked about 'Angel III,' O'Neil, who directed part II as well, said "I had nothing to do with it, but I still apologize for it." He was such a sweet guy and his passion for making movies was nothing short of inspiring.