Running time: 80 mins
Director: Roy Rosenberg
Starring: Susan Lee, Stella Jone, Laura Sode-Matteson
Genre: Action, Prison, Exploitation
After three weeks of bats on the brain it’s back to normality for me with an Exploitation review from 1982 and the tried and tested formula of women in prisons, the bad girls and the terrible men who police them, white flesh on the black market and all that. When three inmates of
Hong Kong’s most fearsome women’s
prison bust out their goals are simple…revenge and lots of it.
On paper Strike of the Tortured Angels has pretty much everything you could come want from a “fem-pen” flick, exotic location, young female leads and a lingering camera thanks to the lens of Jimmy Yu (Snake Strikes Back). Oddly Tortured Angels takes the argument against exploitation films like The Hot Box, Women in Cages, The Big Doll house and all things wonderfully Filipino and shows you why that argument doesn’t stand up. For the most part the female prisoners of Strike of the Tortured Angels are anything but…tortured that is. The prison guard Mr. Lee argues against punishing an inmate Susan (Susan Lee) who has attempted to escape. He also ignores an attempt to throw him a blanket party thanks to the mistimed jump of two inmates…the words “ok ladies everybody outside for sunbathing” are uttered. If this is Gary Capra Jr’s idea of torture then his old lady is a lucky woman. Consider the actions of the prison guards in The Hot Box – a box designed for close quarters incarceration while the inhabitants are blasted with steam or the brutal treatment of Pam Grier and co in The Big Bird Cage. Yes these actions are brutal, masochistic and demeaning but it serves several purposes. Firstly it highlights the strength in character of the female prisoners, their resilience, second that regardless of their crime the punishment is too severe and third is that whatever punishment the male guards (usually Sid Haig) dish out it is going to come back to them ten fold…because they do deserve it. The nicely nicely approach of
highlights only how these inmates consider themselves above the law. Their punishment is no more than the loss of
their freedom yet they refuse to pay for their crimes. It works completely against the laws of the
genre and against the values of the audience making all of the characters unwelcoming
The casting of Laura Sode-Matteson as (Julia) was an odd choice, certainly this film could not afford a Pam Grier or Marlene Clark but even in 1982 the "art" of Blackface was surely on the way out. Saying that Laura is rather good in the role, even if it is fighting against rather timid injustices (‘oh I have TB and my boyfriend has brought medicine to the prison for me…what a bastard’). Susan Lee has a similar problem in that her scripted role does not justify her actions. Which is a real shame. There are plenty of women in prison films, there are plenty of revenge films but the marriage of the two subgenres is a film that fans of Joe Viola or Jack Hill would cherish. Instead they’re treated to soft liberal prison guards, a holiday resort with a lookout tower and gloves on fight sequences. There was never a worry that Judy Brown or Margaret Markov could throw a punch, sadly Strike of the Tortured Angels is neither a film that strikes nor tortured.
There are, however, some good points to the film. Namely
direction and use of the camera.
Contrary to a lot of Exploitation films which carry great on screen
times from a relatively unskilled director. Tortured
Angels showcases the work of a wasted talent. Rosenberg’s
use of layering and framing is remarkable, his close-ups are not only deeply
connotative but also beautiful and his use of reflective surfaces demonstrates
an ability that, if nurtured, could have rivalled the likes of Brian DePalma
for visual story telling. Sadly this was
not the case and SOTTA is Rosenberg’s only credit. The soundtrack is similarly every inch the
sensory treat even if it does carry an ABBA instrumental. This is all too little too late, for every moment of cool cinematography there's 20 minutes of extremely painful and laborious dialogue and some acting that would put Korean TV series Hello God! to shame. The written word in this film is dreadful, just terrible...a kind of evil that can not be killed.
Like Kung Fu Cannibals and 3 Supermen Against Godfather this film is on the endangered list – it’s DVD existence made possible thanks to a relatively clean VHS copy. Where Kung Fu Cannibals showcases the remarkable talents of cinematic daredevils willing to put their lives on the line for their art and 3 Supermen demonstrates the pleasure and inventiveness of film making Strike of the Tortured Angels demonstrates a beautiful and incredibly rich sensory experience let down by a screenplay that simply didn’t have the nerve to expand of the greats that had gone before it. Terrible script...bad Gary Capra...bad! You've made a wonderful and entertaining genre beyond boring and helped turn what could have been a visually rich thrill ride into a film almost impossible to watch...nay endure.