A Las Vegas singer and her six friends take “girl power” to ass-kicking levels in Greydon Clark’s ANGEL’S BRIGADE.
When she learns that her kid brother has been brutally beaten, singer Michelle Wilson (1977 Playmate of the Year Susan Kiger, DEATH SCREAMS) heads home to Los Angeles. She is shocked and angered to learn that her brother has been on drugs and is unwilling to divulge the identity of his attackers. The boy’s schoolteacher April (Jacqueline Cole, SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS) has done some pretty impressive detective work and has determined that the drugs being pushed on her students are coming from overseas but being processed at an isolated compound. April has hatched a plan to blow the place up, but she needs Michelle’s celebrity recognition to allow her to approach and recruit other women with the required skills for the mission. They first approach stunt woman Terry (Sylvia Anderson, EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE) to rig up a vehicle and drive it, karate teacher Keiko (Lieu Chinh) for obvious reasons, and top model/ex-junkie Maria (Noela Velasco) as eye candy to distract the guards. Maria brings along cop Elaine (Robin Greer, GOODBYE, FRANKLIN HIGH) who provides supplies some organization (in between informing to her sexist boss [Neville Brand, EATEN ALIVE]). The group becomes a septet when April’s student Trish (Liza Greer, Robin Greer’s real sister) blackmails her way into the action. As the girls close in on the compound, wealthy drug dealer Burke (the Rat Pack’s Peter Lawford) orders – from poolside – enforcer Farrell (Jack Palance, JUSTINE) to track down whoever is making inroads towards cutting off their livelihood.
Greydon Clark’s ANGELS' BRIGADE – aka SEVEN FROM HEAVEN aka ANGEL’S REVENGE – is pretty preposterous in its plotting, the musical montages and acts feel like padding, the actual leads (the seven angels are billed as co-stars after the better-known male cast members) are extremely uneven in acting talent, and the more prominently-billed and recognizable cast members fill glorified cameos; yet, these and the many explosions are quintessentially “Grindhouse” qualities. Throw in some nudity (there is none), some outrageous gore, and quite a bit more ham in the performances, and this film might actually resemble the modern perception (as informed by Tarentino) of a vintage Grindhouse movie. The film moves at a nice clip, even when filled out with scenes that allow for the insertion of various recognizable personages. The girls buy their van from GREEN ACRES’ Mr. Haney himself (Pat Buttram), they steal ammo from an extreme rightwing terrorist group headed by Commander Lindsey Marsh (Jim Backus, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND’s Mr. Howell), TV/radio host Arthur Godfrey is in the audience of Michelle’s Vegas performance and drops by her dressing room to invite her to a get-together, and Backus’ fellow island castaway Alan Hale Jr. (THE CRAWLING HAND) plays Michelle’s agent in two scenes. Clark regular Darby Hinton (also of Andy Sidaris’ MALIBU EXPRESS and Cirio H. Santiago’s FIRECRACKER!) plays a pusher who undergoes painful (and comical) interrogation from the girls and further victimization from Palance, and Palance’s son Cody and stuntman Kenny Endoso appear as two of Burke’s thugs who get ambushed by the girls on the beach. Clark himself appears as a film director in Terry's introductory scene. The film was the fourth of five films cinematographer Dean Cundey would shoot for Clark. While the photography looks nothing like his masterful work on John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, it is colorful and fairly slick. The fight choreography is kind of lame, but the stuntwork and pyrotechnics – respectively the contributions of James Winburn and Conrad Rothmann, with whom Cundey would worked on HALLOWEEN along with this film’s production manager Don Behrns) are very accomplished for the film’s budget. Most of the film’s humor is intentional, but the slightly ditzy depiction of the septet of heroines might not entirely be throwaway humor since their choice of flashy white jumpsuits hardly camouflages them during their maneuvers.
Scorpion’s dual-layer disc actually features two versions of the film. The longer feature presentation version (95:51) presents the film under its original title SEVEN FROM HEAVEN. The progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) is near colorful and virtually spotless with clean Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio. The shorter New World Pictures version of the film features the more widely known ANGEL’S BRIGADE title (86:33). The transfer of the shorter version – which opens with the colorful New World Pictures logo – is slightly darker, slightly softer, and has frequent scratches and dings (as well as some staining during Brand's second scene). Other than that, it would actually be an acceptable transfer – certainly for a film of this vintage, budget, and likely level of preservation – if not for the superior presentation of the complete version.
Running roughly nine minutes shorter, ANGELS' BRIGADE mainly loses a couple full scenes and the tops and tails of others. The first major deletion is the scene in Michelle’s dressing room, which is not only the second of two scenes featuring Arthur Godfrey – and the first of Alan Hale’s two – but also the scene in which she receives a phone call about her brother (the first few lines of Hale’s dialogue from the next scene are also curtailed). The scene in which Elaine delivers her first report to her boss is nearly cut in half, removing information that is redundant to the audience but also reducing Neville Brand’s screentime. Most of Elaine’s description of the American Rights group is trimmed from the latter half of the van unveiling scene. This is appropriate because the film’s largest deletion is a roughly four minute scene where Maria poses as a wealthy woman considering making a donation to the group as a ploy to gather intelligence about the compound’s security. ANGELS' BRIGADE cuts from the beginning of Elaine’s description of the terrorists directly to the girls’ infiltration of the compound by night (this also significantly truncates Jim Backus’ screentime, even depriving him of an introduction by name: rather than the leader, he appears to be just a cook). The beach sequence is largely intact, only losing a few seconds of Palance Jr. shedding his shirt under the assumption that he is to be seduced at gunpoint. From that point on, the only differences appear to be a few frames here and there possibly lost to print damage or an attempt to shave off a bit more running time from an accumulation of milliseconds. At 86 minutes, the shorter cut is still about ten minutes longer than some of the other pickups New World truncated for double and triple billing. While the shorter version can be said to be an improvement pacing-wise, it sacrifices in part the kind of cameos and guest star bits that make these films so pleasurable. The Palance and Lawford scenes were apparently hands-off; and their first scene probably could have stood to be shaved a bit (according to Dean Cundey in his interview, Lawford was drunk in this scene, and one of his lines does come across a little incoherent). Reportedly, the version titled “Angels' Revenge” is yet another alternate cut with a different structure told in flashback with narration by Cole (which would have been convenient since she’s the director’s wife). Presumably this is the cut that got the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment (if it’s available on one of the Rhino DVD sets, it presumably does not contain a non-MST3K version of that cut).
The only other extra is a nice interview with Cundey (16:39) in which he recalls getting his first job as cinematographer on Clark’s BLACK SHAMPOO after initially signing on as a gaffer. He describes his experience on these early films as learning to work with actors (he distinguishes stars and working actors, and seems to prefer the latter) and learning to move the camera efficiently. He is complementary of the cast – particularly Clark’s wife Cole who also helped out behind the camera – and the stunt team. He does not recall much about the film’s reception, but says paying attention to the box office was not much of a consideration with these films until the surprise success of HALLOWEEN. The film is introduced by Katarina Leigh Waters – as part of her "Kat Scratch Cinema" line – and she highlights the other credits of several of the actors and crew (after an amusing sketch in which she takes out a thug in what looks like a CGI ski-mask). Strangely, Clark does not appear anywhere on this disc (he did a commentary and interview for Scorpion’s disc of JOYSTICKS); nevertheless, both the film and Scorpion’s DVD are highly recommended. (Eric Cotenas)
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