So once again we have survived.

Ms. 45

featuring Abel Ferrara as “First Rapist”

MS. 45 is a simple, palatable slice of early sleazy arty Abel Ferrara. Much like his previous film DRILLER KILLER it’s his New York art scene take on a genre movie, and a great time capsule of that world, but it’s a much more captivating story and – crucially – the people in it are far less obnoxious. Instead of playing the insufferable lead, Ferrara just plays an alley rapist in a Halloween mask at the beginning.

Yes, it’s a rape-revenge story like THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, and also a vigilante movie like DEATH WISH. The rape scenes are as disturbing as any, but mercifully short compared to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE or something. The vast majority of the slim 80-minute running time is given over to our 17-year-old protagonist Thana (Zoë Tamerlis, later known as Zoë Lund)’s urban murder spree. When she beats a rapist to death with an iron she could report it as a legitimate case of self defense, but she makes the less orthodox choice of hiding the body and using his gun for the .45 caliber execution of adult men who make moves on her, attempted gang rapists, pimps she sees beating prostitutes, etc. A fun new hobby for a young woman living on her own in the city.

There’s definitely a cathartic payback feel to it (the most passionate MS. 45 fans I know are women) but it’s as much a horror movie as anything else. A major subplot involves her chopping up the bodies to dispose of piece-by-piece in garbage cans and bus station lockers, or by cooking and feeding to the neighbor (played by photographer and Warhol muse Eddita Sherman)’s dog Phil.

Thana is the youngest of a crew of women working for a man designing and sewing boutique fashions. They seem to like her, but she’s always on the outside of their group because she’s mute. She knows how to handle herself, but she’s in this weird position of being a cool kid invited to the cool parties and it’s totally boring because she can’t talk to anybody. You can understand why she prefers her solitary activities that nobody else knows about.

Ferrara depicts the sidewalks as a gauntlet of catcalls. The women walk along and face after face flies at them making comments like animatronic ghouls popping out on a carnival ride. Her friend Laurie (Darlene Stuto) is good at flipping men off or telling them to “get bent,” but it’s harder when you literally don’t have a voice.

Some of the poster art is sleazier when you’ve seen the movie and know how young Ms. 45 is

Thana’s second murder (Vincent Gruppi?) is an aggressively New York dude who spends his afternoons standing around trying to hit on whichever woman walks by and then angrily complaining about her turning him down. When he sees Thana and starts to follow her he witnesses her ditching a bag. He doesn’t understand that it was intentional, so he picks it up and runs after her – I’m guessing more as an excuse to talk to her than as a genuine act of good samaritanism – which doesn’t turn out well for him. Either from the trauma of being chased by a man in an alley again, or in desperation to cover her tracks, she shoots him in the head. And now she has a taste for blood.

That’s bad news for men in this world where every one of the fuckers is on the prowl 24-7. She can’t even let down her guard at work because her sleazy boss Albert (Albert Sinkys) is always calling her “honey,” putting his hands on her shoulders, pressuring her to go to his Halloween party, then to be his date at it.

“I just wish they would leave me alone” she writes in a note. But they won’t, and she starts to see the fun of putting on makeup (which makes her look older and more in control) and going out with the gun. This is, after all, the “inner city” we know from vigilante movies of the era and now from Trump speeches, where walking outside is like walking into a bear cage wearing a suit made out of raw salmon. She goes into Central Park and is instantly surrounded by a circle of up-to-no-goodniks, who she takes out like it’s the OK Corral. She literally gets about ten feet out of the park before a limo pulls up and a Sheik (Lawrence Zavaglia) tries to hire her as a prostitute. When it comes to finding deserving targets she’s hitting all the green lights.

The killing starts to become her passion, and she has a flair for the dramatic. She wears thick lipstick, high heeled boots, leather pants and gloves, sometimes a cloak like Red Riding Hood, but black. Quickly she’s wobbling on the line between “this is morally wrong but it’s entertaining” and “oh no she’s a total lunatic.” She sits with kind of a Denis Leary type guy at a bar (Eddie Eisele, MP DA LAST DON) who tells her the long story of his broken heart, and it’s unclear if he ever notices that she’s not talking at all. Nobody seems to care that communicating with her is a one way street. But you do feel sorry for this guy knowing what he’s in for because he just seems a little self-absorbed in his grief, but then all the sudden his story takes a dark turn that makes you realize oh shit, Ms. 45 has a good radar for finding these dudes. She’s like Spider-man or the Toxic Avenger.

But then there’s the part where she realizes that Phil (the dog) knows too much and needs to be taken out of the picture. And I’m positive that Phil never laid a finger on that girl. Not cool. When she shows up at the Halloween party in a nun’s habit we’ve gone from DEATH WISH to more of a CARRIE prom situation. As the revelers (dressed as Dracula, Raggedy Ann, Mr. Met, Squiggy, etc.) dance to an endless horn-centric live disco jam, we hear bits of conversations such as a guy raving about the economical pricing of virgin hookers in Puerto Rico, and see drunk Albert sticking his face all over her, so it’s a ticking time bomb. But when she goes off in this crowd, in front of her female friends, it’s like the spell is broken. They hear gunshots and their first instinct is to make sure she’s okay. Laurie watches in slow motion horror as her (literal or figurative?) little sister commits a massacre, friends piling against the wall, cowering, crying. A fucked up tragedy, even if those guys are slimeballs.

Anyway, to this day the annual Ms. 45 Pageant is one of America’s fondest traditions.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 at 10:45 am and is filed under Crime, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Ms. 45”

  1. Awesome review of one of my all time favourites, Vern. For a while now I’ve been partitioning these types of movies into distinct “rape-revenge” and “rape-avenge” categories. Personally I think it’s an important distinction to make. I’m much more of a rape-revenge (Ms. 45, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, THRILLER, BAISE MOI, LIPSTICK etc) than rape-avenge (DEATH WISHES, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, CLASS OF 1984 etc) kind of guy but obviously there are fine examples of quality exploitation filmmaking in both brackets.

  2. I love Abel Ferrara – I even interviewed him once – but have never seen this movie. Gotta catch up with it one of these days.

    I find him fascinating not just because of the themes in his work (you think he’s Catholic? I feel like there’s a good chance) but because of the image he’s created of himself. When you say the name Abel Ferrara to most movie fans, those who know of him at all will immediately think of him as a walking bag of street drugs and untreated venereal diseases, yet this supposed hopeless junkie maniac has somehow made something like two dozen movies, many of them with studio money. I don’t know why he decided to create the character of “Abel Ferrara,” but it’s kind of hilarious.

  3. Mixalot – is the distinction that in one category the victim gets the revenge, and in the other it’s a relative or something? I like it.

  4. Vern – Yep! Pretty much nailed it. I’m sure some people will just see the distinction as straight semantics or something, which is totally fair, but I think that there are enough recurring patterns, motifs and formulas specific to the individual categories that it can be fun and interesting checking for all the ways that they reflect each other but also in all of the ways that they are clearly distinct. A really slept on example of the rape-revenge sub-genre in my opinion, and a really influential one at that, and a western to boot, is HANNIE CAULDER starring Raquel Welch, Robert Culp and Ernest Borgnine!

  5. From a gender studies perspective, the distinction couldn’t be more significant. It’s the difference between the movie treating women merely as macguffins to motivate the male characters or treating them as active participants in their own destiny.

  6. I strongly recommend “Handgun” from 1982 – it’s like a more realistic, more naturalistically stylized version of “Ms. 45” I really like “Ms. 45” but “Handgun” just felt more intense and nuanced in it’s depiction of rape and gun culture in America. “Ms. 45” has the classic cinematic roving rapists on the street, “Handgun” has the main character dealing with the more common rape-by-acquaintance and then having to interact with him after the fact. I was screaming at the screen but it’s very powerful and not something I see very often transposed onto a rape-revenge film. I just saw both films within the past year and am really glad they both exist, but feel that “Handgun” is unfairly obscure …

    Abel Ferrara, though – “Driller Killer”, “Ms. 45”, and “Fear City” all in a row! He should be lauded if only for that streak of films alone.

  7. Majestyk – Absolutely, which is why I fall predominantly into the “rape-revenge” category when it comes to these joints and why I started mentally distinguishing the two sub-genres from each other in the first place.

  8. does a guys really attempt to use nun-chucks on her?

  9. I wish I could answer that question but the UK version I saw a million years ago was cut.

    I’m getting a real Ferrara-y vibe from, of all people, Walter Hill’s New one, THE ASSIGNMENT.

  10. Nice juxtaposing theory, MIXALOT. So where would a film like SUDDEN IMPACT fit in? Since both Sondra Locke and her sister are violated, and Sondra becomes Revenging Angel and Avenging Angel, do we need a sub-category of Rape-Ravenge?

  11. But does not also Harry avenge for her as well? She kills several of her tormentors but not all. Harry kills a few.

  12. True, Shoot. But Harry emerges near the end in more of a Release The 44 Magnum Kraken type role. Up to that point he was enjoying domestic bliss with a farting dog called Meathead.

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