Scorpion Releasing // 1978 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 20th, 2013
Girls can make a difference.
If you're going to knock off one of the most absurd television shows of the 1970s, it's best to go all out and head right off the rails into the idiotic. Angels' Brigade does that and more with its reimagining of Charlie's Angels. More angels and washed-up former movie stars don't make for a very good movie, but it does result in one of the most enjoyably awful retro films Scorpion has ever released.
After her little brother is beaten up in a drug deal gone wrong, Vegas lounge singer Michelle (Playboy playmate Susan Kiger, H.O.T.S.) decides it's time to get back at the pushers who are hooking little kids on the junk. Collecting six tough but hot friends of various backgrounds and skills, she plans to rob a right-wing militia camp and then take the fight to the dealers. After they meet with unlikely success in all their endeavors, though, they run afoul of the kingpins, the cruel Mike Farrell (Jack Palance, Cops and Robbersons) and the big boss, Burke (Peter Lawford, Ocean's Eleven).
Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 might recognize Angels' Brigade from their 1995 spoofing of the film, then under the name of Angels' Revenge. While that has never been my favorite way of digesting exploitation films, it's perfect fodder for Mike and his robot friends. Not only is it a plainly terrible, it features a supporting cast of big time actors from twenty years earlier. I never saw the episode in question, but I can only imagine the jokes at the expense of these former stars. Palance and Lawford (who performs from a chair because, according to cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back to the Future), he was completely drunk) aren't the only ones. Jim Backus and Alan Hale (Mr. Howell and the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, respectively) make appearances, as do Neville Brand (Eaten Alive), Pat Buttram (Night Stage to Galveston), and Darby Hinton (Malibu Express). Of course, aside from Palance, they're all on screen for a collected five minutes in highly regrettable roles (Backus, for one, plays the leader of the militia, complete with WWI-era German military garb), but that's half the fun.
For all the credits of the supporting actors, the titular angels are a group with almost no other roles to their names. They're there to look hot while running around, and they do, but the collective lack of acting skill is clearly present every moment they're on screen. They do a lot of running around and mugging for the camera, but not much else. That's quite alright by me; the movie is so wacky, whether it's trying or not, that I can't help but enjoy myself.
The movie seems to be trying for comedy and drama at different times, and switches between them at random. The troubling topic of teen drug addiction is almost instantly undermined by the appearance of Palance as he chastises the dealer, even though he's clearly trying to be serious. The militia scene is where it completely goes over the edge into pure action farce, but even then, there are points where it slips back into a failed attempt at drama. There's plenty of gunplay and explosions, including a building getting blown up by riding a motorcycle through it, as well as the Airwolf of '70s vans, so exploitation fans should be well-satisfied by what they find in this trashy little gem.
Angels' Brigade marks another entry in Scorpion Releasing's Kat Skratch Cinema, hosted by former WWE diva Katarina Waters. The review copy was a screener, but the release version should be very close to what I watched. The anamorphic 1.85:1 image transfer looks as good as could be expected for a film of its age and budget. It's relatively clear, though the amount of dirt on the print mars the overall experience. Colors are soft and it's lacking much fine detail, but that misses some of the point of watching this level of exploitation film. It looks good enough. The mono audio track fares similarly, with basically no background noise, but no dynamic range, either.
The two extras include an alternate cut of the film that runs about ten minutes shorter and, I am guessing, is the cut used for the MST3K episode. Its condition relative to the feature cut leads me to believe that Scorpion actually did some decent work on the film's restoration, despite its limitations. A fifteen minute interview with the cinematographer, who actually made it pretty big through John Carpenter no matter how shoddy the photography here is, gives some interesting insight into the film, though he seems a little too proud of his work on it for its quality. A bank of trailers for other Scorpion releases rounds out the disc.
Angels' Brigade is absolutely terrible; there's no doubt about that. It's giddy and insane, though, so no matter how poorly made it might be, it's still a very fun watch. Exploitation fans should get quite a kick out the film and, if watching with friends, could easily make their own brand of joke commentary for it.
A great time, but still very guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Cut