With all the gravitas of the famous scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey in which early man gaped and gawked at an otherworldly, majestic power, so begins The American Angels: Baptism of Blood, with moody synthesized music backing a slow-motion sequence of women’s wrestling.
I’m not really joking here, either. This movie starts off like it’s the most important display of “jiggle filmmaking” there is.
American Angels is helmed by husband and wife producer/director duo Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, who created many female-focused B-movies through the 1970s and ’80s (see: Gator Bait and The Hitchhikers) before they turned their back on sexploitation filmmaking for a life of religious fulfillment and saving greyhound dogs in need (a story that should become a feature film in its own right). As 1990 rolled around, right towards the end of their moviemaking run, American Angels provided the perfect vehicle for scantily-clad women to roll around with one another in the name of storytelling.
And let’s shoot straight: you’re going to get two things from American Angels, and one of them is wrestling. Lots of wrestling. While the movie exists alongside so many others in that weird world of Hollywood shoot-wrestling storytelling, where they don’t know how to tell a Rocky-style story without giving up the fact that the sport is scripted and staged, at least it takes the wrestling scenes seriously. More on that later.
The other thing it takes seriously is what the fictional film producer Moe Fuzz from the comedy Tapeheads declared as the only things that add real production value: T & A. So it is that our diamond-in-the-rough protagonist Lisa (played by Jan Sebastian) spends her first few scenes contesting in a whipped cream wrestling match at the strip club where she toils away, dreaming of the big-time and a legit pro wrestling, and not long after is approached while taking a shower by wrestling promoter Diamond Dave (played by Tray Loren).
That’s not weird, right? Most wrestling contracts are offered in between shampoo and conditioner, I’ll bet.
Sebastian, who starred in the Sebastians’ 1998 direct-to-video sequel Gator Bait 2: Cajun Justice, shares the last name as the producers after marrying their eldest son, Ben, who is one of the writers of American Angels and had parts in several of his parents’ prior movies. Prior to all of this, though, Jan appeared on TV in The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as Luscious Lisa, so she brought some actual wrestling chops to the movie.
Even better than that, she brought some friends. The Sebastians rounded out the cast with more GLOW standouts: Trudy Adams (AKA Amy, the Farmer’s Daughter); Jane Hamlin (California Doll); and Lynn Braxton (Big Bad Mama) for starters. Bringing even more in-ring experience are Mimi Lesseos (Magnificent Mimi of the American Wrestling Association) as the main protagonist, plus veteran Titi Paris (who wrestled in the 1960s), and also Jean Kirkland (Black Venus) and Susan Sexton, both of the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association.
Bridging the gap between wrestling and adult films, which is the zone in which American Angels operates, are Tiffany Million, who had also appeared in GLOW, and Julia Ann whose appearance as a club dancer in the opening scenes is her first listed acting credit on IMDB.
Wresting is the main focus, though, and it’s worth expanding upon how the wrestling scenes are no lightweight tack-ons in this movie. It must be pointed out, though, that one of the film’s promotional taglines calling it the “first feature film about professional female wrestlers” is, well, wrong (check out our interview with actor Laurene Landon about her role in 1981’s …All the Marbles, to cite just one example).
Lisa gets the bulk of the action, naturally, as she first goes through training led by Pattie (Sexton), who is “a firm believer in pain” and doesn’t want “girly shit.” Pattie puts them through a standard, repetitive training regimen. It’s not offered as a montage set to inspirational music, and so you’d be forgiven for thinking the scene is boring, but I’d suggest looking at it through the lens of a 1990s movie offering a stark look at the legit, tough beginnings of a wrestling career. Just to keep you entertained, though, Lisa and the other trainees are subjected to a hazing ritual which involves many wrestlers stripping and slathering cake over one another. The Sebastians certainly know how to keep up the pace of real production value.
There are nods to wrestling being a performance, though, first by Pattie as she discusses how she wants the ladies to present themselves in the ring, and also by a diminutive performer named Sampson who plays it up when Lisa does a run-in and saves him from a beating. He says it’s part of his job to be laughed at when he wrestles the women. Even Lisa talks in brief about the development of her character. After those few hints, though, it’s full-speed ahead to the big upcoming fight at the end of the movie.
Pattie sets up Mimi as the top dog, telling the newbies they have to work their way up to wrestling a champion like her while they watch her fight Black Venus. Mimi and Lisa’s paths are doubly certain to cross as Mimi jealously watches Dave flirt with his newest find. It turns out that Dave has managed to get his hands on wrestling infamy, too, as we learn that Lisa’s grandfather was Killer Kane who had used his devastating finishing maneuver “The Snap” to end the life of an opponent, sending him to retirement away from the ring.
On the way to the big battle between Lisa and Mimi, there’s the return of Lisa’s grandfather (when you see him, feel free to yell out “That’s gotta be Kane!”) played by Robert Bergen, who just may come to love wrestling again thanks to his granddaughter. There’s also a little love inside the ring, as Dave and Lisa have a late night talk that leads to sex on the mat, surely completing his bingo card of an overtly creepy wrestling promoter. There’s a fight on a beach and a more classic training montage, all of which leads us to the big show: The Baptism of Blood!
Once more showing that this movie doesn’t take wrestling for granted, we actually get two matches from the event. First is a tag match featuring Magic Genie and Black Venus against Malibu and Biker Mama, which we watch through to the conclusion. We’re also treated to commentary throughout the film by Lee Marshall, who lent his smooth voice to WCW commentary in the ’90s. In pure storytelling terms, having this extra match doesn’t advance the plot in any way, but it helps to create the feel of watching an actual event.
Then, it’s Mimi versus Lisa that closes out the show and movie, and it’s booked and presented as a bona-fide main event. There’s a ref bump, emotional support for Lisa from Gramps, and, would you believe it: the dreaded “Snap” finishing maneuver. For those that are going to make the effort to find this movie, I won’t spoil the details of the ending of the match. If you ever watch it, you’ll have earned seeing it unfold for yourself.
Look, if you want an R-rated skin flick, then this movie will do just fine for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for some solid wrestling content, then you can have that too. You just can’t get it without the skin.
The American Angels: Baptism of Blood (1990)
|Tag Line:||They’re Slamsational!|
|Directed By:||Ferd and Beverly Sebastian|
|Written By:||Ferd, Beverly, and Ben Sebastian|
|Cast:||Jan Sebastian, Mimi Lesseos, Tray Loren|
|Runtime:||1 hour and 39 minutes.|
Slam Wrestling's Hollywood Headlock Rating Scale:
1: Unsafe Worker (Avoid!)
2: Pre-Show Performer
3: Mid-Card Material
4: Main Eventer
5: World Title Winner