A Coming of Angels (1977)

Imagine, if you will, an unholy hybrid of that fluffiest of '70s TV cop shows and French New Wave cinema. Now people it with some of the finest adult film stars of the time, feel free to substitute "ever" at this point, and you just may get the inkling of an idea of this movie's unique look and feel. Then again, maybe not...

Though passed off as a porno version of TV's popular if (because ?) spectacularly inane Charlie's Angels, the film's surprisingly downbeat tone proves quite the departure from its cheerful source, as my virtual friend John Lynch a/k/a avmaniac John Lyons rightly pointed out in his definitive "classix comment" on www.adultdvdtalk.com. The air of sadness and seclusion that permeates A Coming of Angels is furthered by shooting much of the film's footage in the desolate wintry landscapes of upstate New York and the presence of a comparatively compact eight person cast, each of them a bona fide legend or cult favorite which lead to late great porn historian Jim Holliday dubbing the movie "Superstar City" in his seminal 1986 tome Only the Best. This was an apparently one time only directorial outing for Joel Scott, whose single other (verifiable) credit was as producer of the also not quite mainstream Sometime Sweet Susan. Taken together, both films show a willingness to break away from fornication film formula in both form and content.

The screenplay by Robin Marks and Gary Stevens takes a basic Charlie's Angels type situation – white slavery ring infiltrated by the intrepid (not to mention perfectly coiffed) sleuths – and goes on to deconstruct, presenting events out of context and continuity, dropping the viewer smack dab in the middle of the story without a compass. For all we know, Robin (the formidable Lesllie Bovee, nicely shading her familiar light comedy persona with a tinge of darkness) is just a regular girl coming down to visit with old school chum Jennifer (Abigail Clayton, a/k/a "Gail Lawrence" as butchered in Bill Lustig's relentlessly grimy Maniac, delivering her finest adult film performance bar none) who – apparently unbeknownst to her – has been kidnapped by a gang headed by the charismatic Mark (a typically terrific turn by Jamie Gillis), charmingly chatting up the new girl after snapping her photo while making out with boyfriend Andy, played by the ever dependable Eric Edwards.  Surely, the latter must tire of this description by now. All is not as cut 'n' dried as it seems however. Mark proves a far nastier piece of work than his handsome exterior suggests, Gillis subtly exuding menace without so much as raising his voice. The obvious brains of a unit including intellectually challenged henchman Robert (an amusingly cast against type John Leslie) and his sarcastic squeeze Sherry (Amber Hunt, exhibiting an assurance several of her higher profile performances lack), he sets out to brainwash his charges into complete sexual submission before delivering them to wealthy clients.

Though S&M elements have been much commented upon elsewhere and are indeed present, these don't include any sort of physical violence. The women are duly restrained with chains and dog collars and psychologically subjugated by their masterful mentor. It makes perfect sense within such context that Jennifer develops a major case of Stockholm Syndrome, incapable of injuring her tormentor even at triumphant climax. Abigail's halting confession of her conflicting emotions to her recently captured friend constitutes some of the best acting I have ever witnessed in adult movies, and from such an unexpected source no less ! Pitiful Andrea (the massively underrated Susan McBain, the hauntingly speechless star of both Chuck Vincent's Visions and Gerard Damiano's Odyssey) exemplifies what Jennifer and Robin have to look forward to, free will completely obliterated and ready for shipping. The scene where Mark "redirects" her desire for him by having her submit to Robert, softly (almost gently, in fact, if the term didn't seem so incongruous given the context) talking them through proceedings, provides one of the film's most haunting erotic encounters. Fortunately, Andy's actually in charge of a special detective unit and sends in clever Carrie (Annette Haven, 'nuff said) to save the day.

Once Haven literally takes over the show, the film's tone changes drastically, Carrie casually tossing bons mots around like a latter-day Roz Russell, albeit with much better breasts, as if Scott suddenly recalled what this project started out as. While this doesn't hurt the movie much as a whole (only Annette's laughingly delivered last line seems completely out of place), it makes for something of a schizophrenic experience which, in turn, adds further still to its fascination. Composer Scott Mansfield, who had already contributed an impressive soundtrack to the Scott-produced Susan, delivers a couple of entrancing original songs perfectly in tune with the movie's mesmerizing melancholy. Most prolific among the tech credits, Pierre Schwartz II – DoP on endeavors as diverse as Duddy Kane's bittersweet Wet Rainbow and Vincent's riotous Misbehavin' – makes the most of the contrast between the bleached out, snow-covered wide open spaces and the oppressive darkness of shuttered interiors, dramatically illuminated by small pools of light. Though not all of these disparate elements necessarily converge to craft a coherent whole, the very attempt at piecing together this occasionally ill-fitting puzzle deserves considerably more credit than it has generally received thus far. An altogether decent 1985 sequel of sorts, with only Haven returning (now supported by captivating Kelly Nichols and starlet du jour Ginger Lynn) and both Gillis and Edwards back in different roles, took a far more conventional approach, inarguably closer in spirit to its not exactly hallowed source subject yet also a much less exciting film as a result.

Directed by Joel Scott. Written by Gary Stevens and Robin Marks. Produced by Scott for Artemis Film. Photographed by Pierre Schwartz II. Music by Scott Mansfield. Edited by Nishey Editorial. Starring Annette Haven (Carrie), Lesllie Bovee (Robin), Abigail Clayton (Jennifer), Jamie Gillis (Mark), John Leslie (Robert), Amber Hunt (Sherry), Susan McBain (Andrea) & Eric Edwards (Andy). Running time : 87 minutes.

Only Jamie Gillis could have made the ringleader of a white slavery ring both a figure of menace and a credible source of seduction