Man, it’s true what they say: “It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for.” For in Ms. 45, director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) unleashed a silent killer that racked up a body count worthy of another silent killer…the one who sports a hockey mask. The late actress, model, musician and writer, Zoe Lund (nee Tamerlis) is Thana, a mousy and mute seamstress living in the gritty and glitzy New York in this 1981 thriller. When she’s sexually assaulted twice in the same day, once in an alley and once in her own home, something in Thana snaps and she begins a one woman campaign of deadly vengeance against the male population of the Big Apple. It starts with the burglar who attacked her in her apartment, and continues Death Wish-style via his .45 pistol he leaves behind.
Given how the New York men are portrayed in Ms. 45, it really isn’t all that surprising. Manhattan wasn’t exactly the corporate Disneyland it is today back then; and Ferrara wants to hammer that fact home. The island was rife with scumbags, greaseballs, miscreants, douchebags and assholes. The women have to walk in packs just to survive being accosted, if only in the least by leering street toughs wanting a piece. Thana was especially a prime target: beautiful but shy and unassuming, unable to give the lewd comments back like her friends and coworkers. However, any innocence (my money’s on virgin) Thana had is brutally ripped away by her two assailants, and then willingly surrendered as she becomes more adept at killing and her ability to reason slips away.
There’s an ethereal appeal to the beautiful and pouty-lipped Lund, who was doing the Angelina Jolie thing a couple decades before Jolie came along. Or vice versa if you want to stick strictly with the whole time space continuum thing. Her transformation from victim to psychopath is subtle yet palpable; and the notion of the eyes being windows to the soul is belied by those amazing lips, which best represent the change. By the time Thana gears up in the nun’s habit, and dons that blood red lipstick, she’s become an efficient, if unbalanced wolf in sheep’s clothing, luring in the unsuspecting and gunning them into oblivion.
Some films are timeless and some are timely, and Ms. 45 is definitely a snapshot of a far different time. There are some elements, particularly the street thugs who are sporting jean jackets, bandanas and, laughably, nunchucks, rather than firepower that elicit laughs more than fear. With respect to The Warriors, the late ’70s / ’80s weren’t exactly a benchmark time for portraying fearsome gangs. If Thana tries that .45 thing just a few years later, in the heart of the crack epidemic with gun violence at an all time high, things probably go way different for her. On the flipside though, this film, which has gained notable cult status, does have great things like copious blood squibs and memorable cheesedick victims just asking to get whacked (I laughed my ass off in the photographic studio scene). And Ferrara adds some nice smaller touches about how one becomes a vigilante spree killer and how life’s little annoyances, like too curious landladies and dogs, and disposing of bodies creatively, can make the journey just that bit more haphazard.
It really is a shame about Lund, who passed away at just 37 in 1999 from drug-related heart failure. The camera loved her and it’s regrettable that she didn’t appear in more films than she did. For those not in the know, she also collaborated again with Ferrara on the script for his much more well-known Bad Lieutenant and had a minor role in it. So there was more there than just a pretty face with hypnotic smackers. She and Ferrara definitely elevate Ms. 45 above the cheap, female Death Wish knockoff that it could have become.
Drafthouse Films is re-releasing Ms. 45, remastered from the original negative for the first time in theatres on December 13, and also on VOD and DVD in 2014. You can find the release schedule here.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars