Worth a rental.
The name angel refers to the street name of our main character Molly Stewart (Donna Wilkes). Honor student by day, she hustles the streets of Hollywood Blvd by night to pay the bills after being abandoned by her parents. Shit turns worse when a serial killer starts brutally murdering her friends and she goes all Charles Bronson to take her revenge. Can a vice cop help her catch the killer while at the same time convincing her to get off the streets for good?
For an exploitation picture, "Angel" is relatively well made with some good actors well handled by director Robert Vincent O'Neill. Sure the dialogue and gratuitous nudity can get in the way of its story telling (imagine an exploitation film doing that?!) but O'Neill is still able to craft empathy for our main character and her questionable moral decisions to get by.
For me the best part of "Angel" is the colorful secondary characters that aid Angel in her goals and ambitions. We get Dick Shawn as the witty transvestite Mae, Susan Tyrrell as the Jewish dyke apartment manager Solly, Cliff Gorman as the respectable empathetic vice cop (with a crazy eye) and Steven M. Porter as yo-yo street entertainer Charlie. The real winner though is Rory Calhoun as Kit Carson, a loveable snile ex-western actor turned street entertainer. He totally owns the scenes that he is in.
What helps "Angel" is that it strives to be more than just merely another exploitation picture by providing the audience with empathy for our lead character, a suspenseful killer and even some good old fashioned vengeful action with likeable secondary characters. At it's heart it's still an exploitation picture with some silted dialogue and a few subplots that go nowhere (what happened to Angel's guidance counselor?) that keep it from being better. "Angel" really struck a chord with the grindhouse audiences who in turn made the film a modest hit, paving the way for four sequels: "Avenging Angel", "Angel III: The Final Chapter" and "Angel 4: Undercover".
If you need proof of that you need to look no further than the knock-down, drag-out fight that occurs between the hooker killer disguised as a Hari Krishna and Dick Shawn's aging drag queen. I don't know what's worse, Shawn's hilariously bad one-liners or the clunky choreography.
There's nothing at all fresh about the story here, the killer is given no motivation whatsoever and it leaves a slew of unanswered questions in its wake but it's so much fun I couldn't be mad at it. The cast is peppered with stars of another era past their prime, but the two most memorable actors here are Cliff Gorman, ridiculously serious as the cop on the case and the wonderful Susan Tyrell playing Angel's landlady. She gets laughs without even opening her mouth, but when she speaks, it's priceless.
I could take or leave the serial killer aspect of the story simply because it's so routine, but I was interested in seeing the fallout from Angel's hidden life getting exposed. That, to me, was the much more interesting plot development, but not enough is done with it. Still, for whatever reason, "Angel" was a solid hit. I can't say it's good, but I can say that I enjoyed it for what it is.