Thursday, July 18, 2013

Angels' Revenge (1979) - MST3K Review


Teacher April Thomas (Jacqueline Cole) has had enough. The neighborhood kids are getting hooked on drugs and the cops won’t do anything about it. So she pulls together an elite force of seven sexy ladies to fight crime and look hot while doing it. They include singer Michelle Wilson (Susan Kiger) who’s little brother is hooked on drugs. Marital arts teacher Kako Umaro (Lieu Chinh) and stuntwoman Terry Grant (Sylvia Anderson) join the team. Then there’s a cop Elaine Brenner (Robin Greer) and her super model friend, Maria (Noela Velasco). Rounding out the group is spunky teen Trish (Liza Greer).

But they’ve got their hands full dealing with the villainous Mike Farrell (Jack Palance) who is running the show for the evil Burke (Peter Lawford). They’ve got the money and the muscle to shut these gals down. But nothing doing! Because they are going to be out spandexed, out jiggled, out discoed and even out acted by these gals. Nothing can stand in the way of the Angels’ Revenge.

Movie Review:

"Remember when everyone had this poster, except it
was only one of them, and it was Farrah Fawcett?"
Angels’ Revenge (or 7 From Heaven or Angels’ Brigade) is an odd movie. On the one hand it is the story of a group of women vigilantes who are out to stop crime lords Jack Palance and Peter Lawford from selling drugs to kids. It’s got action, jiggling cleavage and a dash of brutality. On the other hand, it’s a wacky story of a group of girls looking hot and fighting silly and stupid drug dealers. It’s got cartoon sound effects and cameos by comedic stars like Pat Buttram, Alan Hale Jr. Jim Backus and Arthur Godfrey.

It would take a deft hand to combine these two types of films. Someone like Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez could create something that would be perfect for their Grindhouse concept. In fact, Tarantino has Uma Thurman mention a very similar concept in Pulp Fiction – a television pilot for Fox Force Five.

Drugs compliments of Palance and Lawford.
Unfortunately deft is not a word you would use to describe Angels’ Revenge. It almost feels that when the movie was started, a more action-oriented tone was picked. But about halfway through they decided to switch tactics and make the film lighter.  But the humor is so obvious and blatant that it nearly reaches parody levels. The film is obviously inspired by Charlie’s Angels, but as a parody of the television series it just doesn’t work.

Palance and Lawford play the whole thing very straight. Lawford is the scowling mob boss obsessed with maintaining control. Palance is his right hand man who has no problem killing in cold blood, or watching as one of his pushers beats up a young kid. In fact the scenes with the drug dealers talking with each other and doing business could all come from a late 70s action film. The other scenes that seem serious deal with singer Michelle Wilson and her singing career. Hale Jr. plays her enthusiastic manager. While he’s jovial in the part, it’s not a comedic role. Godfriey plays himself, encouraging Wilson on her career. While the disco-tastic number, “Shine Your Love” is a perfect slice of 70s cheese, it is not a parody performance at all.

The Angels even have their own souped up attack van!
However the other 70% of Angels’ Revenge is played for laughs. You’ve got the comic relief character of Trish, who just wants to be part of the gang, but is to young to really help (until the script allows her to find the gangers hideout at the end). The teacher April can never find a thing in her purse, so of course she always puts the most important items into the bottomless bag. Her imitation of Olive Oyl from Popeye drives my wife up the wall. Maria the airheaded model is pretty much around to make dumb comments and shake her cleavage. Even kung-fu Kako seems to be in the movie to show how hilarious it is to have a girl doing martial arts. Yeah movie, tell that to Michelle Yeoh.

The odd flip-flop of tone carries over to the action scenes. The raid on the drug processing shacks is filled with explosions, gunfire, and evil drug dealers getting killed. It also includes a really stupid outhouse joke, but for the most part it’s played for thrills. The final battle against Lawford at his mansion home is also pretty brutal, including the attempted drowning of one of the girls and Palance’s character begin mauled by deranged dogs. There’s still humor injected into the scene with Kako being so fearsome with her blade that the dogs run away in terror. (As a side note this mansion also appears in the 70s sci-fi flick The Brain Machine).

Teen Trish ends up saving the day, and looking cute
all at the same time.
Then you’ve got the other “action” scenes. There is a covert operation on the beach. Not only does this get our seven lovelies into bathing suits, but it also allows them to seduce two knuckleheads using their wiles. But when their cover is blown, a really silly fight breaks out. This includes sound effects straight out of Looney Tunes. The other sequence involves Jim Backus doing his shtick and is so goofy that you can’t take anything else in the film seriously.

The music is really something else. Instead of going for your typical wacka-jo-wacka guitar that seemed all the rage in these films (see Mitchell for a perfect example), the team goes for something with a bit more classical feel. There’s moments where you can swear the music was based on “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss. Then you have a section that sounds like Ravell’s “Bolero”. These pieces stand out mostly because they sound so out of place and kinda cheesy.

And then there’s the whole “Shine Your Love” sequence. I’ll let that speak for itself.

So maybe I’m reading too much into Angels’ Revenge. After all, it is just a low budget take on Charlie’s Angels, right? It’s got the bouncing cleavage covered. It’s got some token lines about girl power in there. It’s got action, bad guys and a heroic ending. So really I should just relax and enjoy the jiggly ride, right?

For the most part I agree. This was never meant to be great art, or anything more than some silly entertainment that guys will enjoy. Yeah it doesn’t’ paint the gals in the best light (ironic considering how much the girl power theme is touted), but it is an exploitation flick, and it was made in the 1970s. Mike and the bots are up to the task, even if it means sitting through the painful Jim Backus scenes.

Episode Review:  

These women will all bounce and behave.
This episode came near the end of season six of the series, and that means that boys were firing on all cylinders at this point. Mike, Trace and Kevin had reached their pinnacle of riffing delivery by this point and combined with the right movie and the writing team at the top of their game, you can expect one hell of an episode. Angels’ Revenge delivers in so many ways.

Everything in this movie is up for grabs, from the opening credits using their odd “parallelogram vision”, to the clothes, to the music to the acting (or lack of it). Even when scenes get bogged down in talky moments (luckily not too frequent in this film), the boys have a target rich environment commenting on the cars, fashions or slang of the day. And since this is Comedy Central era episode, the riffing is still pretty good natured, and never gets too nasty.

Angels’ Revenge is filled with classic riffing moments. During an extended flashback that opens the film (in which teacher April tells us how she got involved with her posse), the girls are all posing in a field wearing their spandex and stumbling over their lines. Crow comments, “I keep waiting for Johnny Wad to show up.” Later as Michelle climbs a ladder to surprise a guard, the camera is placed directly below her, so we won’t miss a minute of her butt in action. Tom despairs with “Oh man, they’re giving away the plot!” About halfway through the film after all the cleavage and jigging, Crow finally shouts, “Ok, I’m giving in. I’m looking at the breasts!”

Mr. Buttram unleashes a torrent of homespun chestnuts.
I'll try to avoid using the words chest and nuts in this
review again.
Not all the jokes are based on the girls. Jack Palance is doing his typical craggy acting style and obviously there for the paycheck. The boys have a field day with him playing the enforcer and adding their own lines to his grumpy dialogue. They even do a call back to his previous appearance on the show in Outlaw. As a kid makes off with some drugs, the pusher chases after him. Jack shifts into high gear – which turns out to be a half interested jog. Tom growls, “Jack isn’t being paid enough to run.”

Nearly all the guest stars in the movie get some prime riffing. Of course Alan Hale Jr. is perfect for a few “Little Buddy” references. Pat Buttram keeps using barnyard slang, so the boys come up with some creative terms of their own. But the king of shame in Angels’ Revenge is poor Jim Backus. His scenes are really, really unfunny, and pretty painful to watch. His over the top portrayal of a right wing militant, combined with the poor acting by our heroine, and the comic relief militiamen form a perfect storm or un-funny. But the boys go to town, with Tom finally saying, “I’m just going to look away until the funny part ends”.

Mike Nelson is Lorenzo Lamas!
The host segments are quite a bit of fun too. Things start off with Crow realizing that he has amnesia. He can’t remember anything, or actually he can remember a bunch of stuff, including that he actually has Ambrosia. Then the mad scientists reveal that the ratings for the show are down, so they need to do something to increase interest quickly. They dress like their favorite relief pitchers from the 1970s. Then they use a food additive to turn Mike and bots into the cast of the 1990s series Renegade (with Lorenzo Lamas). Biker Mike is pretty hilarious. At the first break Crow shares a script for his new blacksploitation film. Mike doesn’t think he has enough funk to pull off the part. At the next break Mike does his Fonzy impression. The bots respond with a cannon aimed at him. Later Aaron Spelling’s house drifts by the satellite, because it is so huge, you see. After the movie ends Tom unveils his Shame-o-meter. It measures waves of shame from a performance in units of Lawfords, up to Giga-Lawfords. They use it on clips from the movie, and the Shame-o-meter nearly explodes. But it finally does go crazy when the Mads appear one last time dressed as Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King – because they “like to be topical and current”.

"Jim Backus' performance reaches Giga-Lawford levels
of shame."

Mike declares “This movie is a shrine to twelve year old boys!” and I’m hard-pressed to disagree with him. But it also makes for one of the funniest episodes of season six and certainly in my top twenty list for all time best episodes of the series. If you enjoy a heaping helping of 70s cheesiness and don’t mind a large dose of cleavage, than you’ll get a kick out of this film.

I give it five souped up attack vans, out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater Volume 1.


  1. This is, hands down, my favorite episode of MST3k. I don't know if it's the cringe-inducing attempts at humor you covered, the cringe-inducing stereotypes (I love how Kako is a Vietnamese woman with a Japanese name played by a Chinese actress), or maybe it's just my weird fascination with the 70s. I just love it.

    It's also very quotable: "~Vaguely Strauss... but not!~"; "It's Dworkin-fest 79!"; "And here's where we're putting a fascist petting zoo..."; "Hey, mister, you're dragging your high school girl!" Yeah, I'll stop. I'm glad to find someone else who loves it since I know people who dismiss everything past season five as terrible, but Angels Revenge is just gold.

    1. Yes, it is certainly a favorite around our house. I completely forgot to mention Kako's very odd background. Thanks for pointing it out!

      As for people who dismiss everything past season five as terrible, well they are flat out wrong. Have they not seen "Space Mutiny"?

    2. I find that they're people very attached to the nostalgia of the early seasons. Eventually, this mutates into "everything sucked after they got rid of Joel", even though that's incredibly far from the truth. It's one or two people in my experience, but they repeat it like a sacred mantra of pigheadedness.

  2. This sounds marvelously awful.

    When faced with a role in a movie like this, I suppose all an actor like Jack Palance can do in a movie like this is play it straight and hope the check clears. I remember John Wayne in an interview describing how -- on the advice of John Ford -- he dealt with dialogue that was maudlin or in some other way uncomfortable for him. He just said the lines completely straight. They either worked or they didn't, but nothing else he could do would make them better. I've kept the advice in mind for sales work, which is acting of a sort.

    1. I've never heard that story about Wayne. It makes perfect sense. I think you may be right about Palance. He had to know what kind of movie "Angels' Revenge" was going to turn out to be, so he just played it straight and it only makes the film more fun.

      Sales is acting. Working in retail for 10 years convinced me of that. :)