Sunday, January 11, 2015

Newsploitation: AVENGING ANGEL (1985) now a 30-year-old MILF

This post was totally going to be about the 30th anniversary of ANGEL (1984) and how that sleazy indie from New World managed to snag $17 million at the U.S. box office when it came out on January 13, 1984.  However, sharp-eyed Mark Tinta pointed out last month that it would be the 31st anniversary since we’d be living in 2015 in the New Year.  Dammit!  Thankfully my grist was saved when I found out that the sequel, AVENGING ANGEL (1985), came out almost exactly a year later on January 11, 1985. Exploitation filmmakers save the day!

ANGEL (1984) was the brainchild of writer-director Robert Vincent O’Neill.  Working in film since the 1960s, O’Neill participated in classics as varied as EASY RIDER (1969), where he was a prop man, to COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), where he was the production supervisor. As a writer-director, he made his debut with the deliciously titled LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER (1969) and followed that with THE PSYCHO LOVER (1970) and BLOOD MANIA (1970).  Now the sheer fact that he maintained a career after BLOOD MANIA is amazing.  In the 1980s, he co-wrote two flicks starring Wings Hauser – VICE SQUAD (1982) and DEADLY FORCE (1983).  Now this is just a stab in the dark, but I’d venture to say the box office success of the first one paved the way for his idea to co-write the ANGEL script with Joseph Michael Cala as both films deal with the sordid nightlife of the L.A. streets. ANGEL was officially announced by New World in May 1983 and went before the cameras the following month.  The film was released on January 13, 1984.  Now I’d love for this to be a case where it shot to the top of the box office, but it debuted in 8th place with just over $2.2 million.  The remarkable fact is that ANGEL did this on just 330 screens.  For comparison, the other new release, HOT DOG…THE MOVIE (1984), debuted in second place with $4.5 million on 1,273 screens.  Despite being on so few screens, ANGEL had the highest per screen average of any film in the top 15.  I’m going to lay all of the success at the amazing poster that declared: “High School Honor Student by Day.  Hollywood Hooker by Night.”  ANGEL kicked around the box office for a few months; it only got as high as the sixth spot, but raked in a cool $17,488,564. The film ended up being New World’s highest grosser that year, even outgrossing their “big” release CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984).

With such immediate success, you know a sequel would be coming soon.  New World was prepared and announced the sequel, titled AVENGING ANGEL, at the 1985 Cannes film market.  It went into production under writer-director O’Neill again with a few changes.  Donna Wilkes, who played the original Molly “Angel” Stewart, was replaced by Betsy Russell in this follow up.  And the character of Lieutenant Andrews, Angel’s cop guardian originally played by Cliff Gorman, was now played by Robert F. Lyons.  That second bit didn’t matter too much as it was the death of Lt. Andrews that sets the plot into motion.

Hoping to repeat the success of their first film, the company penciled in a release date of January 11, 1985, two days shy of the first film’s original release date with a wider release (Variety, January 10, 1985: “Avenging Angel, sequel to last year's Angel, break through pic which successfully launched the new regime at New World, will be launched with 550 prints as it goes out to 14 markets”).  This time, however, they missed their mark.  The film opened in 10th place with a small $1.7 million dollar haul.  To its credit, it was the highest debut for any new release that weekend (the other being New World’s own TUFF TURF [1985]) and it had the second highest per screen average.  But audiences didn’t return, perhaps due to the less sleazy nature or the general confusion with the title.  The American audiences fell out of love with Angel as quickly as they had fallen in love with her.  They wouldn’t bestow another prostitute with box office dollars until she was sanitized in PRETTY WOMAN (1990).

Oddly, AVENGING ANGEL would turn out to be O’Neill’s last film.  He was attached to an action picture called VENGEANCE from writer-producer John Brascia.  It was set to lens in the fall of 1992 in Texas with a cast that included Gary Busey, Telly Savalas and Jordan Michael.  Despite repeatedly being mentioned in Variety (with an ever-shifting filming date), it appears to have disappeared into the “never got made” files.  New World, on the other hand, kept trying out the vigilante streetwalker concept and filmed ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1988) in October 1987.  With O’Neill gone from the series, the director’s chair was filled by veteran exploitation director Tom DeSimone.  Naturally, Angel was recast and played by Mitzi Capture this time around.  The film received an R-rating and by all evidence went direct-to-video later that year.  Amazingly (or amusingly), a fourth entry titled ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER (1994) followed and featured Darlene Vogel as Angel.  It also co-starred Roddy McDowall, probably much to his dismay.

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