ANGELS BRIGADE (1979 – aka SEVEN FROM HEAVEN, ANGELS’ REVENGE)
Directed by: Greydon Clark
By the late 1970’s, movies had long lost their grip on American audiences. When the now-legendary Charlie’s Angels debuted on ABC, ushering in the era of “T&A TV,” the movies had to try even harder to get butts in seats. How to do this? With sex, naturally.
While T&A bump-and-grinders had long been a staple of back alleys and seedy rundown cinemas, mainstream audiences were planted firmly in front of the boob tube. Producers took notice. By turning down the sleaze and bumping up the tease, sexy action-comedy films became a new staple of drive-ins and multiplexes. This brought in audiences who wanted to see beautiful bods but weren’t quite ready to go “all the way” into hardcore.
Naughty comedies like H.O.T.S. (1979) and THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (1974) are perfect examples of this jiggling genre, as is our feature today: the demented, delirious and hilarious ANGELS BRIGADE (1979).
Schoolteacher April and Farrah-haired disco diva Michelle join forces to take on the drug pushers who beat up Michelle’s little brother and left him for dead. They enlist the help of a bevy of beautiful commandos to defeat the cartel: martial arts expert Kako, stuntwoman Terry, policewoman Elaine and model Maria (yeah, THAT will be useful against a drug gang). Once banded together, they start hatching a plan of attack. When April’s precocious student Trish finds out what they’re up to, she blackmails them into letting her join the brigade. The “Seven from Heaven” are now complete.
This plucky bunch of vigilantes spend the rest of the film pimping out their van with rocket launchers, heisting ammunition from a neo-Nazi militia led by Jim Backus, beating up drug smugglers on the beach while clad in string bikinis, and torturing a street pusher with Kako’s samurai sword – all while keeping their hair and makeup looking flawless. It’s all in a day’s work for these spicy girls.
While our seven heroines are played by relative unknowns, the supporting cast is populated by just about everyone with a SAG card on the verge of expiry in 1979. Jim Backus, Alan Hale, Jr., Pat Buttram, Darby Hinton, Arthur Godfrey and Neville Brand poke their noses in for a paycheck, while Peter Lawford and Jack Palance take top billing as a drug lord and his deputy. These veterans are presented with a script that defies description in its irresistible lunacy, but to their credit, none of them look nearly as embarrassed as they probably should have been to round out their careers in a goofy, nil-budget jiggle-fest. Watching them nibble the scenery while simultaneously trying to hide behind it makes you wonder what sort of favors they owed to get mixed up in this.
The female cast actually fares much better. While none of them will be causing Meryl Streep any sleepless nights, they play their roles with a tongue-in-cheek lightness that really makes them likable. They know what they signed up for: to utter silly lines while kicking ass, blowing up baddies and looking stunning. Boy, do they all deliver the goods. Sylvia Anderson (EBONY, IVORY AND JADE) as stuntwoman Terry is particularly good and Jacqulin Cole (SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS, wife of director Greydon Clark) is adorable as ringleader April.
While none of the actresses starring in the film would become household names, a few did carve out a little niche for themselves. Susan Kiger was a Playboy Playmate of the Month in January 1977 after doing a bit of “sword swallowing” in the hardcore film HOT NASTIES (1976). Kiger appeared in a string of B-movies and TV guest spots before retiring to become a hair stylist. Jacqulin Cole appeared in many of her husband’s films before succumbing to cancer circa 2004. Robin Greer has the most extensive resume, appearing in numerous TV guest roles including a recurring role on the series Falcon Crest. Greer and her younger sister Liza (who plays schoolgirl Trish) later were among the women who contributed to the salacious memoir You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again where they dish about their time as call girls to the stars. Bad Trish!
The production is rife with slapstick comedy bits (complete with cartoon sound effects) but really pulls out all the stops when the action kicks into high gear as the film enters its second half. The explosions and hand-to-hand combat that ensues is worthy of any drive-in action film of the day.
ANGELS BRIGADE is sort of a “jiggle-fest for the whole family.” While the women are generally sparsely-attired they don’t bare all, the violence is played in a comic book style and the disco-ready soundtrack is infectious. The film may be silly, it may be cheesy, it may be absolutely ridiculous, but it’s a hell of a lot of good, clean fun. Unlike so many “angry women vs. nasty men” movies, this one never takes itself too seriously.
For many years this film was largely forgotten other than a briefly-available VHS release. It wasn’t until it was resurrected by Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) that the film began to find its audience. A newer DVD release has become available and the Angels’ exploits can now be enjoyed anew in full, garish, girl power glory by a new generation. Riffed by MST3K or un-riffed on DVD, a good time is guaranteed to all who succumb to these luscious angels.
ANGELS BRIGADE is a daffy delight, perfect for a weekend double feature with a few friends. Take a moment to leave your double feature suggestions in the comments section of this page and let the jiggling begin!
Contributed by Johnny Stanwyck