You won't find a drive-in movie much more late '70s than Angels' Brigade, a disco-packed, trashy chunk of PG-rated hokum that feels like a female revenge fantasy filtered through an episode of Three's Company. The film was originally entitled Seven from Heaven, a not-too-subtle attempt to cash in on network TV sensation Charlie's Angels; that's actually not inappropriate as this is a also a jiggly story about crime-fighting women, though this time with four more ladies than the small screen original. The first theatrical round from Arista was 96 minutes, with the Angels' Brigade title (sometimes missing the apostrophe for some reason) slapped on by Roger Corman's New World Pictures for a 1980 reissue with ten minutes trimmed out to make it fit more snugly on double bills.
However, its most infamous moment was still to come when a heavily doctored TV version called Angels' Revenge popped up in 1995 as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with several key scenes edited out including the arguable highlight of the film, a long split-screen, disco-scored sequence with the ladies handcrafting their costumes and custom crime-fighting van. That cut also shuffled the scenes around to have the entire first half told as a flashback, apparently some editor's attempt to punch up the opening with a framing device and some narration. Of course the film's reputation plummeted as a result of the episode (just check its IMDB rating), with virtually no one outside of resourceful VHS collectors able to see the film in its original form until the 2013 DVD release from Scorpion.
There's really not much plot here, but the gist is that Vegas schoolteacher April (Cole) gets ticked off with the local drug pushers ruining her students' lives and teams up with six other drug-hating women to fight back. Among them are busty nightclub pop singer Michelle (Playboy model Kiger of H.O.T.S. fame who briefly became notorious for appearing in the horror porno Deadly Love), with the other members including a martial artist, a high school student, a cop, and a model, all determined to take down local drug honcho Burke (rat packer Peter Lawford) and his right hand man, Mike (Jack Palance). Of course, that means they have to first come up with some snazzy satin outfits and deck their van out with some artillery to make their mission complete.
While none of the Angels themselves are particularly high on the star meter, there are enough familiar TV faces here to keep any fan of boob tube pop culture cracking up for the entire running time. You get two Gilligan's Island vets here courtesy of Jim Backus (aka Mr. Howell) and the Skipper himself, Alan Hale, along with Laredo's Neville Brand (fresh off of Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive) as a cop, Daniel Boone's Darby Hinton (who went on to star in Andy Sidaris' Malibu Express), and Green Acres' good ol' boy Pat Buttram. Perhaps the most surprising cast member is Palance (in a role that probably took about five hours to shoot), who obviously hit it off enough with this film's director, Greydon Clark, to reunite with him a year later for the nutty sci-fi favorite Without Warning. A familiar name to cult film fans, Clark was also the man behind films like Black Shampoo, Satan's Cheerleaders, Joysticks, The Forbidden Dance, and the really peculiar Dance Macabre; say what you will, there isn't a dull film in the bunch.
The Scorpion DVD release marks the first availability of the film in a non-MST3000 version since the VHS era (when it was trotted around by Vestron), with the longest Seven from Heaven version defaulting as the main version with or without wraparounds from hostess Katarina Leigh Waters (as part of her Kat's Skratch Action Cinema line) in a variety of angel and cross-themed outfits, fending off a mugger and contributing a few facts and figures about the cast and crew. The image quality is excellent, with all the colorful, very shiny outfits looking as fresh as they day they were shot. The shorter New World cut is also included as an extra, taken from a theatrical print obviously in less pristine shape but still pretty decent. The only other extra is a 16-minute video interview with ace cinematographer Dean Cundey, whose work on John Carpenter's Halloween and The Fog bookeneded this film. (No, really!) Of course, he later went on to shoot films as diverse as Escape from New York, The Thing, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jurassic Park, and Back to the Future. He actually talks quite fondly about the film, discussing his early days in the industry and noting how all of the actors were enthusiastic and cooperative unlike the "tantrums" he experienced later in his career. It's always great to hear from one of the era's most gifted cameramen, even in a context as bizarre as this!