Friday, September 6, 2013

Angel & Vice Squad

Cinefamily "is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films."  Located in Los Angeles, Cinefamily screens programs in the old Silent Movie Theater.

In August, they brought up two 35mm prints of classic films from the 1980s.  Both films screened at the Roxie as a double feature.

Angel starring Donna Wilkes; with Cliff Gorman, Rory Calhoun & John Diehl; directed by Robert Vincent O'Neill; (1984)
Vice Squad starring Season Hubley, Wings Hauser & Gary Swanson; directed by Gary Sherman; (1982)

I've seen both of these films many times but I've never seen either in a movie theater.

The premise of Angel is that Molly (Donna Wilkes) is an honors student and "good girl" at the elite, private high school she attends.  At night, Molly becomes Angel, a streetwalker on Hollywood Blvd.  Her parents have abandoned her and she tells everyone her mother is an invalid who cannot be disturbed.  She pays the bills by hooking.  Molly/Angel has nicely compartmentalized her life and does not exhibit the emotional damage one would think from a 15 year old girl who has been streetwalking since age 12.

There is a serial killer on the loose.  John Diehl plays the killer with gusto.  He's not just a serial killer but a necrophiliac.  LAPD Lt. Andrews (Cliff Gorman) is investigating the killings and takes an interest in Angel who doesn't seem to belong out on the street.  When examined objectively, his interest and actions are suspect.  He follows Angel to her school.  When he confronts her at home, he discovers that she is minor living alone and supporting herself through streetwalking.  Rather than contacting Child Services and taking her off the street, he warns her to stay off the street despite her not having another means of income or a legal guardian.

Angel is one tough cookie though and she has her friends - Kit Carson, a silent film cowboy who does tricks & signs autographs, Mae, a tranny streetwalker who bears a resemblance to Rip Torn and Solly, her bull dyke lesbian landlady.

Angel's life comes crashing down when some schoolmates see her streetwalking.  They pick her up and are ready to gang rape her but she is packing heat due to the serial killer.  They piss their pants and run off but the damage is done.  They tell the whole school that Molly is a streetwalker.  Why the rest of the school is so quick to believe these jerks is an open question.  Humiliated and distraught, Molly returns home to discover Mae has been murdered in her apartment.  Angel ID'd the killer in a police lineup.  He escaped and no is stalking Angel and knows where she lives.

Molly becomes an avenging Angel at this point.  Taking a long-barreled handgun and hitting the streets, she stalks the killer.   A running gun battle ensues with Angel chasing the killer and Kit and Lt. Andrews chasing Angel.  In the end, Kit has exchanged his cap revolvers for the real thing and shoots the killer dead.

Angel wasn't quite a sleazy as I remember.  Considering she is an underage prostitute, I would have expected more of a pedophile angle.  Maybe that is because Donna Wilkes was 24 at the time of filming and made up like a streetwalker she looked well over 15.  John Diehl as the serial killer is very creepy.  Seeing the film 29 years after its release, I was most surprised at the portrayal of Angel.  She is a child prostitute, living a double life and has knowledge that both her parents abandoned her.  Today, that character would have to exhibit psychological damage from her circumstances.  Angel is resilient as all get-out and never seems to have down moment until her secret is revealed.  Friend and fellow streetwalker is murdered; no problem.  She discovers the mutilated body of another fellow streetwalker; no problem.  The killer she just identified in a police lineup grabs a gun, sees her and shoots his way out of a police station; no problem.  It's only when her secret is revealed that she begins to lose her composure.

No one performance really stood out except Diehl.  Susan Tyrell as Solly and Dick Shawn as Mae seemed designed to provide comedic relief.

Whatever is lost in hindsight review of the execution is made up for by the outrageousness of the plot.  In other words, it's impossible to make a film about a 15 year old streetwalker and necrophiliac serial killer that isn't exploitation.  My complaint is that from the viewpoint of 2013, this 1984 film wasn't exploitative enough.

After seeing Angel, I wondered if my memory was playing tricks with me.  Then I wondered how much I've changed from my teenage years that a film about an underage whore and corpse molesting killer isn't debased enough for my tastes.  I'm glad I stayed because Vice Squad reaffirmed my faith in 1980s exploitation films.

In Vice Squad, Season Hubley is Princess, a failed businesswoman with a daughter who has to walk the streets to make ends meet.  She doesn't dress like a streetwalker and she doesn't act like a streetwalker but that's not important.  When her friend (Nina Blackwood who become the original MTV VJs) is murdered by the pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser), Princess is caught up in a squeeze.  She is picked up by a vice squad cop and forced to wear a wire or be prosecuted for prostitution and risk losing custody of her daughter.

Princess gets Ramrod to incriminate himself on tape and he is arrested but unbeknownst to her, Ramrod escapes police custody and is hunting her down.  Most of the film takes place in this situation.  Princess is off seeing stranger and stranger clients while Ramrod is tracking her down and the cops are one step behind Ramrod.

Wings Hauser elevates Vice Squad to something sublime.  Ramrod (great name) is the most violent and maniacal street pimp I can recall seeing in the movies.  He's like a tornado tearing through the sleazy parts of LA.  He kills Nina Blackwood with a pimp stick (a bent wire hanger).  When Rerun from What's Happening! shows up as a fey sugar pimp, Ramrod kills him too. He drives off with an Asian hooker named Coco hanging halfway out of the passenger window and then dumps her in the garbage.  When he finally captures Princess, he doesn't kill her on the spot but takes her to an abandoned warehouse and starts in with pimp stick again until the cops bust in.  Vice Squad could be subtitled Ramrod on the Rampage.

There is a scene at the beginning of the film where two vice squad cops are on stakeout.  The less experienced partner recites the sex acts available on the streets and their slang names.  The fact that I knew all the words despite not having engaged in several of the acts leads me to believe that society is raunchier today than 30 years ago.  I also wonder if Vice Squad was an appropriate film for a teenage boy.  Everything I need to know about sex I learned from 1980s exploitation films...

I can imagine what Joe Bob Briggs said in his movie review of Vice Squad - four dead bodies, pimp stick fu, Drive-In Academy Award for Wings Hauser, Joe Bob says check it out.

I hope Cinefamily comes back to the Roxie again.

Speaking of exploitation films, I received an email from the Film on Film Foundation.  On October 1 and at the Roxie, they are presenting a double feature of Matt Cimber films:  The Witch Who Came From the Sea and Lady Cocoa.   I missed The Witch Who Came From the Sea earlier this year at the Roxie.  Unfortunately the FOFF double feature conflicts with an Elmore Leonard double feature at the Castro which includes 3:10 to Yuma (the Glenn Ford version), a film I am anxious to see.

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