Description on the hind of the box: “When it first hit the screen, Ms 45 impressed the critics and stunned audiences across America. Over three years, this violent tale of one woman’s vengeance has garnered a cult following that rivals the most popular “midnight movies.” It’s the story of Thana, a beautiful young woman who is raped once, then again the same night by a burglar whom she manages to kill with his own gun. Physically unable to speak, Thana does her talking through her new found pistol – and takes her bloody message to the streets! Dressed to kill, she stalks and slaughters the same breed of scum who once terrorized her. Soon the city is abuzz about the feminine vigilante, and Thana finally purges her hatred when she goes public at an apocalyptic Halloween Party.”
Audience members remain perplexed by the rape-revenge elements and feminist undertones which had caused a bit of controversy during the Drive-In cycle. I have to make note of the fact that this isn’t necessarily a rape-revenge film. This is not a film about justice. It becomes less and less a film about righteous justice and more a film about a traumatized woman and the threads of her sanity unraveling. Like many, I like to think of it as Death Wish meets Repulsion with a likeness to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Ms 45 is also not a feminist film. Abel Ferrara claims it was never about feminism for him but that the film’s star, Zoe Lund, was the ultimate feminist and would often talk about the feminism taking place. Now there is symbolic punishment as Thana shoots a man’s dong but I am going to have to side with Ferrara. This was a time where New York had mass violence and Ferrara reflected that in his work. If you look at all of his films, they’re all about the violence in New York. Ms 45 went from rape-revenge to killing anyone with a wang that reeks of aggressive male behavior. The effects of rape-revenge films on its viewers varies and there are several different types of revenge films. This film focuses on the EFFECTS of rape. The rape scenes are nowhere near as graphic nor as IN YOUR FACE as others like I Spit on Your Grave nor The Last House on the Left. Ms 45 meets in the middle with the mainstream and independent rape-revenge sub-genre becoming a hybrid sub-genre in the end.
Now I’d like to break down this charming plot. Thana is a mute working in the hectic world of fashion design where all of her co-workers gossip and spy on business neighbors mid coitus while her creepy designer boss is pro-sexual harassment in the work place. After a casual gathering with her co-workers she is dragged into an alley and raped by a man who looks like he borrowed his mask from Alice Spages. This was actually a cameo performance by director Ferrara. As if this isn’t traumatizing enough for the poor girl she is raped a second time by a burglar in her apartment. What are the odds of being raped twice in one night? The second sexual assault is uncomfortable to watch as the guy barrels into the girl with icky moaning and facial expressions. This time Thana fights back by knocking him over the head and smashing an iron into his face. After the exhausting excursions of this traumatic evening, Thana decides to call it a night and get some sleep before work. It’s impossible for Thana to focus at work and she begins to have an anxiety attack with her co-workers crowding around her. Note: When someone is having an anxiety attack you do not crowd around them asking, “What’s wrong???” She is excused and returns home where she decides to use a kitchen knife to cut the rapists body into pieces, placing them into garbage bags only to store them in her refrigerator. Thana continues to be tortured by nightmares and startling hallucinations of her perpetrators. This is when she decides to take care of the male population once and for all. For the remainder of the film we see her dumping individual body pieces in random parts of the city. Pieces are fed to her neighbor’s dog and one of the bags even makes its way out to Georgia. Every man that so much as looks at her the wrong way or implies male dominance meets their demise. This is all followed by an epic, slow motioned massacre at a Halloween costume party.
Charismatic Zoe Lund performs brilliantly as a mute whose skills are garnered through her facial expressions and body language. This is rarely done. Lund helps us understand her emotional pain as she cannot speak for herself. She’s helpless and unable to cry out as she is being violated. As she grows stronger we witness her becoming more and more unhinged. There is no back story on Thana. We know nothing about her family or why she’s mute. Maybe some flashbacks could have solved this mystery. You cannot help feel sympathy for her character though soon you realize it’s time to put this puppy down. Lund is a natural beauty who was only 17 which is probably why we do not get any nudity. She resembles a Robert Plant video model. Actually, she modeled with Gia Carangi and she was very vocal about her drug problems and heroine use. It’s unfortunate that the drugs took over her life and she passed at such a young age.
The supporting characters are hit or miss with Jack Thibeau standing out as a grieving man who nearly gains sympathy from Thana as he tells the heartbreaking story of his wife cheating on him. You can see how sympathetic Thana is to his story until he admits to strangling his wife’s cat. The old, busybody landlady was perhaps the most annoying character in the film who heckles on over poppycock and snoops around in places she has no business being in.
Director Abel Ferrara is no stranger to exploitation. Pre-Ms 45 he shot the controversially banned Driller Killer and he went on to direct several more exploitation films including Bad Lieutenant, which Lund co-wrote. Driller Killer captured Ferrara’s gritty style but he expanded his visuals with Ms 45 significantly. The director’s eye for style and daring sense of editing makes you forget all about it’s cheap production and steers your focus towards the mean streets of New York. Even the score helps the feel of early 80s New York. The sound is a bit out of control as the gun shots go off with an incredibly loud saxophone. The score starts off with a synthesizer that is reminiscent of a Fulci film soundtrack then out of nowhere comes this saxophone that makes the kill scenes a little more intense. Honestly, I am not a fan of the sax unless it’s the greasy mullet sax man in The Lost Boys.
Upon my revisit to Ms 45 I noticed subtle things during the scene transitions. Now I do not know if they were all placed on purpose or simply a coincidence. It’s little things like Thana using iron at work directly after planting an iron in the rapists face. Then there are silly things here and there. For instance, there’s no way she could have chopped that man up into pieces with a kitchen knife. The odor doesn’t seem to bother her as bits and pieces of the man remain in her apartment. We never see her buying any bullets for the gun. There’s comedy when she tries to get a dog ran over because she fears that mutt will give her away. Lets not forget the comedic scene with a homeless woman ranting in the middle of the street about how all women do is sing and talk about their “pussies.”
If you’re hoping for a graphic and gratuitous rape scene then you have come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for a decent exploitation-thriller with substance and style then you have reached your destination. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There is a wonderful scene where we see the decapitated head but that’s the most gore we see on screen. Ms 45 is such an effective and powerful film. It’s disturbing intensity separates itself from the majority of exploitation thrillers and it’s a shame we will never get to see Lund and Ferrara collaborate again.