Star Angel (Cecil Howard, 1986)
[note: review originally published 26Dec2009]
I’d thought that porn films had lost all sense of plot by the mid-eighties, but Cecil Howard’s justifiably batshit-insane Star Angel provides evidence that such is not the case; in fact, this movie has more plot than a lot of big-budget Hollywood movies of the era. Granted, it’s not as well acted, and plot development has to take a pause now and again for some hardcore, but still, I think I spent half this movie with my jaw on the floor. Longtime Howard collaborator Anne Wollff, with help from Roberta Findlay (Snuff) co-conspirator Allen Leider, turns in a script that’s actually nuanced and gritty. Of course it’s sleazy as well, that’s to be expected, but they have the perfect setting for it.
Plot: Luke Frame (Jerry Butler, now best known for a tell-all bio critical of the adult industry that got him blackballed for fifteen years) is a rock promoter whose wife Lola (Chelsea Manchester in one of her final screen appearances; she retired from porn in 1988) went from being the biggest thing in new wave to an addict unable to perform. After one particularly low night, Lola overdoses and dies. Luke, complicit in her death, is eaten up by guilt. Fast-forward a few years, and Luke, still on the edge, is living with Kate (Colleen Brennan, whose non-porn appearances include Shampoo and Foxy Brown), who’s trying to get him to move on with his life. One day, while he and Kate are off on some errand with their driver Mario (the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy), he spies a hitchhiker he’s certain is Lola reincarnated. She turns out to be Terry (Angel), a waif from the east coast who’s come west to chase her dreams, but is more than willing to take a detour in order to try and seduce Kate. (This being a porn film, it doesn’t take much.) There’s also a comic-relief subplot featuring Mario and his girlfriend Franny (Taija Rae, one of porn’s most beautiful actresses), but the focus of the film, once we get to that point, remains on Luke being unable to separate Lola and Terry in his head.
While I know porn’s early days were vastly different than the industry we have now, which cares not at all about making decent movies, it still floors me when I see a porn film that actually has pretensions to, if not artistry, then at least half-decent moviemaking. Another reviewer mentioned that Star Angel contains the minimum amount of sex needed to make this a hardcore movie and spends most of its time moving the plot along. Indeed. There are also some odd echoes that make me wonder how many filmmakers have seen this over the years and had it imprinted into their memory (one scene, in particular, will evoke a similar set-piece from A History of Violence, made two decades later). While it is, first and foremost, an “adult film”, for the discerning viewer who isn’t turned off by porn (or for the less discerning viewer who isn’t turned off by porn that doesn’t feature surgically-enhanced actresses and a complete lack of body hair), there’s more under the hood with this one. I grant you, the acting is pretty bad in most cases (and Manchester’s attempts to sing are gag-inducing), but if you can get past that, there’s a lot to like here. ** ½
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