Wild Women With Steak Knives: DARK ANGEL - THE ASCENT

Director Linda Hassani takes us from softcore Playboy anthologies to horny horror fantasy.

By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas · @suspirialex · February 17, 2023, 4:00 PM EST
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Editor's Note: In each Wild Women with Steak Knives entry, author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas examines a woman-directed horror film that's been largely overlooked or forgotten. Read them all here!

Sitting down to feast on the visual banquet that is Dark Angel: The Ascent, you could be forgiven for not realizing that you are, in fact, watching a woman-directed horror film. A humble "L. Hassani" is briefly splashed across the screen, but that - or any of the other credits for that matter - are not why you are here, no. Fellow connoisseurs of Full Moon Entertainment films largely want the same thing I want; wild, excessive and sometimes, it must be admitted, plain dumb fun. On this front, Dark Angel does not disappoint.

Hassani is a filmmaker who has worked extensively across film and television, earning her stripes in commercials, shorts, and promos as well as feature films. She came to this, her feature debut, off the back of work in a number of softcore anthologies for Playboy - Inside Out and Inside Out II - turning her attention here to the realm of horror fantasy, albeit continuing to demonstrate her flair for directing sexy good times.

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The film stars Angela Featherstone, then best known as a Canadian model before turning to acting, writing, directing and advocating for foster children, the latter based on her own experiences in foster care as a child. By the time her starring role in Dark Angel came about, Featherstone's only screen experience was in small uncredited appearances in Roman Polanski's Frantic and Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness. It was quite a jump from these to the central role of Veronica, and while it would be fair to observe a stiffness to her performance, in her defense, the role perhaps did not offer what we might consider a great deal of depth to whet her professional appetite (Featherstone would go on to do much more solid work in films including Risa Bramon Garcia's 200 Cigarettes and Bernard Rose's superb Ivans Xtc).

We meet Veronica in Hell, where we quickly discover she is the dark angel of the film's title. With cute little horn stubs on her forehead and bat-like flesh wings, she's bored of the every day moaning and groaning that marks her life in Hell and dreams of something different, something better. Her father is disgusted and threatens punishment, but her mother is more understanding; escaping the ire of the former, who can no longer tolerate Veronica's perceived insubordination, her mother and a friend help her flee, leading Veronica to cross over into the land of the living. While not exactly suited to the world of mortals, she is almost immediately taken under the wing of a horny doctor called Max (Daniel Markel), who is largely unaware of Veronica's violent rampage to protect the innocent and punish the guilty until it's too late.

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Dark Angel is a delightfully silly movie, but the emphasis here is on the "delight" as much as it is on the "silly." The first ten minutes alone should be framed and put in a late twentieth-century pop culture museum, a masterclass that captures the essence of what makes Full Moon films such a deeply satisfying viewing experience. In this introductory segment that focuses on Veronica's life in Hell, all the ingredients are there; red lights, camp, excessive acting, plastic devil horns, and a sweeping orchestral score by the great Fuzzbee Morse. This is a styrofoam hellscape as seen through the lens of Hieronymus Bosch.

There's nothing here as smug or condescending as a "so bad it's good" or - even worse - a "guilty pleasure" watch (why be guilty about the things you enjoy doing if they don't hurt anybody? Lighten up!). Dark Angel is genuinely a lot of fun. Some key moments such as the gender-flipped Taxi Driver porn film date, the angel-in-a-bubble scene, or one of the most '90s nightclub scenes ever committed to video surely etch themselves onto our memories, for better or for worse. But most of all, it's Featherstone we remember most of all; while not exactly mastering the acting craft as such here, she sinks her teeth into the role with impressive gusto. Galavanting with unrestrained gusto across the film's runtime in her latex hotpants, Featherstone guides us warmly through this offbeat, kooky ride.