Directed by Abel Ferrara
Once in a while, a simple exploitation film ages well and becomes something far more than it may have ever been intended. Such is the case with Ms.45. The 1981 micro-budget Abel Ferrara film is basically Death Wish with a woman, but has withstood the test of time much better than the more famous Charles Bronson film. Ms.45 revolves around Thana, played by the teenage Zoë Tamerlis, a mute garment worker who goes on a vigilante killing spree after being raped twice in one evening. After being raped for the second time within an hour, Thana kills her attacker with an iron. She then dismembers the corpse and begins to deposit the body parts throughout the city. After shooting a would-be attacker on her second trek with her gruesome bundles, Thana begins nightly excursions, killing predatory men, including gangs, a Sheik, and a sleazy fashion photographer. By the end, she is merely killing any man she can, until she is stabbed in the back, literally, by a female co-worker.
What really sets this film apart is the performance of Zoë Tamerlis. Without the benefit of dialogue, the strikingly beautiful Tamerlis carries the film, and is rarely off camera. One of the creepiest things about her performance is how her character gains personal confidence with each successive killing. The film has been hailed has a feminist masterpiece and a misogynist disgrace. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I would lean toward the feminist reading of the film. The film is directed in a very tight fashion by Ferrara, who went on to make films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, which was written by and co-stared Zoë Tamerlis, who tragically died of heart failure in 1999. Ferrara keeps the action going. He moves from set piece to set piece without giving the viewer time to analyze any loopholes in the plot. Loopholes like how does Thana become a crack shot so quickly, and how does she keep shooting so many people without ever having to reload her gun and how does she eat since her refrigerator and freezer are full of a hacked up rapist? Ferrara also laces some dark humor through the film, like Thana grinding up a piece of the dead rapist she’s been disposing of and feeding it to her nosy landlady’s dog.
Although made on a miniscule budget, the DVD of Ms.45 looks absolutely striking. The reds are particularly vivid and put to great use by Ferrara. Truly a small amount of blood, especially for the early eighties, the evolution of Thana from timid victim to cold-blooded avenger is portrayed largely through her lips, which get increasingly made up as she gains self-confidence and becomes a more efficient killer. By the finale, set at a Halloween party, Thana is dressed as a sexed nun with huge crimson lips, habit, and garters with black stockings. Ms.45 may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but is a cornerstone of the vengeful female sub-genre. It is far better than big budget attempts like Thelma And Louise, and holds up far better than most exploitation films from the early Eighties.