Abel Ferrara's 1981 rape/revenge film Ms .45 (also known as Angel Of Vengeance) follows the story of a young woman named Thana (played by Zoe Lund credited here as Zoe Tamerlis, who was obviously quite young when the picture was made), a pretty young woman who works in the fashion district of Manhattan. Thana is incredibly shy and doesn't talk, she communicates only through her body language or by writing notes. One night after work, she stops at the grocery store and then heads back to her small apartment. On the way home, she's raped by a gun toting masked assailant (played by director Abel Ferrara credited here as Jimmy Laine) in an alleyway. Once the deed is done, she makes her way to her apartment where a second armed assailant rapes her at gun point. While he's on top of her she manages to hit him in the head and knock him down, and then she grabs an iron and kills him with it. She steals his gun, puts him in the bathtub, and cuts him up. Thana has snapped.
She continues to go to work but it's obvious to her co-workers and her middle aged lecherous boss, Albert (Albert Sinkys), who has obviously got a thing for young Thana, that something is different about her. Thana begins dressing more provocatively in order to make herself more appealing to men but she's now carrying the .45 she stole from her assailant and shooting anyone who makes advances towards her. It starts when Thana gets spooked by a local tough who tries to return a bag she leaves on the street (containing part of the man she hacked up in the tub) but soon progresses to deliberate attacks. She lets a horny photographer (S. Edward Singer) pick her up and take her to his studio but shoots him as soon as they arrive. She sees a pimp slap around one of his prostitutes and kills him on the spot. A wealthy Saudi Arabian man (Lawrence Zavaglia) calls her into the back seat of his limousine and propositions her, Thana responds by shooting him and his driver. She picks up a man at a bar (Jack Thibeau) and pulls her gun on him while they sit on a bench near the Brooklyn Bridge and he tells her his eerie sob story.
As Thana's killing spree becomes bolder and more maniacal, Albert is pressuring her to attend the Halloween party that the company is hosting. Thana agrees to accompany him, while her nosy neighbor, Mrs. Nasone (Editta Sherman), and her yappy little dog begin to snoop around Thana's apartment and grow increasingly suspicious of her unusual behavior.
When compared to Ferrara's mainstream feature debut, Driller Killer, (he'd made a few shorts and the XXX Nine Lives Of A Wet Pussy previously), Ms .45 is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of gloss and technique. While this is still a rather unpolished film by big studio standards, it's a considerably better picture in pretty much every way. Whereas Driller Killer comes across as the product of an angry young man who is unsure of what he wants to say with his film, Ms .45 is pretty professional in its camerawork, performances, editing and score.
Ms .45 is an interesting but somewhat contradictory film. While it obviously condemns rape by showing us how it almost instantly causes Thana to snap, it then goes on to completely sexualize the victim. Granted, in the context of the story Thana is dressing provocatively in order to attract more male targets but the camera work and the wardrobe completely play this up as we're given several lingering shots of Thana in her stockings and habit posing provocatively with her pistol in front of the mirror and a few shots of her getting dolled up prior. Because of this and because of the fairly slim characterizations, there are times where Ms .45 heads straight on into exploitation movie territory. That said, as an exploitation movie first and foremost, rather than a serious study on the effects of rape (it's unlikely that Ferrara was going in this direction with the film anyway), it's a pretty bad ass picture. While the film definitely borrows from movies that came before it (They Call Her One Eye, Taxi Driver and Death Wish all come to mind), Ferrara puts enough of his own mark on Ms .45 that it never feels like a copy, even if the influence of Bo Arne Vibenius' picture is pretty hard to deny.
With Driller Killer Ferrara showed a real knack for capturing gritty New York City locations and really bringing the viewer into the environment in which his film took place. While Ms .45 isn't quite as seedy or location driven as that earlier film, his tendency to place his characters in the New York underbelly is evident throughout the movie. Ferrara's New York is a crime ridden place, a dirty and filthy city full of perverts and unsympathetic people. With the primary location that the story plays out in established in such a way, it does help to solidify to the audience that Thana is more or less surrounded by negativity, and because of this, you really feel for her. Throughout the entire duration of the film, Thana encounters only nosy people who won't leave her alone, interested not in her well being but in gossip, or male predators who want nothing other than to have sex with her (or at least that's how she sees everyone). Her co-workers do express some concern for her when they notice her odd behavior but it overwhelms the shy girl who just wants to be left alone. This concern is fleeting, however, as we see them only too happy to gossip about her during the film's finale at the Halloween party, that iconic scene where Thana shows up dressed as a fully sexualized nun complete with bright red lipstick and black stockings.
Much of the picture's success hangs on its central lead and thankfully the late Zoe Lund is fantastic in the picture. In an almost entirely silent part she's able to express some very believable sadness and during the two rape scenes and the fleeting aftermath she looks absolutely terrified. Her expressive dark eyes and girlish features give her a sense of innocence that really works for the character, but at the same time she's definitely got some serious sex appeal that she uses when the script calls for it. It's interesting then that she didn't go on to bigger films. While she would star in Larry Cohen's Special Effects a few years later in 1984, much of her career would be spent playing bit parts or working on artsy independent projects. While she certainly had the looks and the talent to have a more successful career than she did, you have to wonder if she kept a low profile on purpose. It's possible this was the result of her reported love for heroin, which would eventually cause the lung and heart failure that would take her life in 1999 at the age of 37. Interestingly enough, Ferrara would use her again in The Bad Lieutenant (which she co-wrote and which features a nun who is raped by two different men!) in 1992 where she has a bit-part as a junkie.
The previous DVD release from Image Entertainment which was released in 2000 was slightly trimmed. The two rape scenes were missing some quick shots and the murder of the man in the yellow shirt during the finale takes place off screen. That was resolved a few years later when a French DVD was released that presented the film completely uncut with those missing bits of footage entirely intact. This Blu-ray debut from Drafthouse Films also presents the uncut version of the film.The Blu-ray
Ms. 45 debuts on Blu-ray for the first time from Drafthouse Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen on a 25GB. Compared to a more modern, big budget blockbuster this can't really compete in terms of detail and ‘pop' but a quick even a quick glance at the disc shows some pretty nice improvements over the past DVD releases of the movie. Ms. 45 has a bit of softness to it that looks to be inherent in the original photography but close up shows show pretty solid detail even if sometimes the backgrounds aren't as revelatory as you might want. Skin tones look pretty lifelike and realistic and black levels are solid. Colors are much stronger and more impressive here than they have been in the past without looking like they've been artificially boosted in anyway. There are a couple of scratches here and there but overall the image is clean and free of any major damage. Some minor crush appears in some of the darker scenes but shadow detail is generally okay. This seems like a pretty accurate representation of the source material, fans of the film should be pleased.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 option with removable subtitles provided in English as well. Audio levels are pretty well balanced here and dialogue stays clean and audible throughout the movie. The gun shots don't pack as much of a punch as you might hope for, they're a little weak, but again, this would seem to stem back to the original elements so it's unfair to fault the disc for that. The score sounds quite good, there's a bit of depth to it, and there aren't any problems with any hiss or distortion to note.Extras:
The bulk of the extras are made up of three separate interviews, the first of which is with an eight minutes piece with director Abel Ferrara. He talks about where the idea for the script came from, his working relationship with Nicholas St. John, how St. John brought him the script completely finished and the importance of casting Lund in the lead and the quality of her work in the picture. He also talks about the tragedy of how Lund's life turned out, noting that she was completely clean when they made Ms. 45, and why they didn't work together again until Bad Lieutenant. Abel's a character, he doesn't mix words here, but his insight into this picture is important and while he could have elaborated on more than he does here and a commentary would have been appreciated, this is a good interview, quite blunt and at times even genuinely emotional.
We also get a ten minute interview with the film's composer Joe Delia. He talks about how he connected with Abel Ferrara and wound up, through a connection with his brother, working with him in the first place starting with Driller Killer. He then goes on to talk about working with Abel and his ‘renegade crew of filmmakers' and how it was a bit a culture shock for him. He then goes on to share some thoughts on his work with Ferrara, the director's maturation as a filmmaker, his initial apprehension towards working on Ms. 45, and then how he set out to accomplish what he accomplished with this particular film's unique score. Again, this is a solid interview. Composers don't seem to get interviewed in extra features as often as maybe they should given how important a good score is to a film's success, so Delia's input here is a welcome addition to the disc, particularly when he opens up about why certain pieces were scored the way they were for certain scenes.
The third and final interview is with creative consultant Jack MacIntyre and it runs ten and a half minutes. MacIntyre also talks about how he first met Ferrara, St. John as well, and how they all got into filmmaking together in their younger days and ‘took it to the next level' as they grew into adults. He notes that Ms. 45 was a changing point in their collective careers as it was more marketable than what they'd made in the past but how they had to do as much as they could on their own because even if this was a bigger budgeted picture than their earlier efforts funds were still pretty tight. He then goes on to talk about how some of the more memorable scenes in the movie were crafted, what it was like working with a lot of amateur actors being rigged up with squibs for the first time, some of the locations that were used for the film and what it was like working with Lund. MacIntyre does a good job of covering some of the ground that the first two interviewees, it's a bit more of a behind the scenes look into the making of the picture and he's got a sharp memory and tells some great stories here.
American Hardcore director Paul Rachman made two short films about Ms. 45's enigmatic lead that are included here. The first is the fix and a half minute Zoe XO, which is an interview with Bob Lund. It's basically a look back at one man's first encounter with the actress, how they wound up cohabitating, got married on Halloween and how it ended without divorce followed by some insight into her personality and some thoughts on what made her the way she was. It's a sad piece, a very introspective piece, one that covers everything from the rats that were in their apartment to her knack for storytelling to her flair for the dramatic. He also talks about her penchant for writing and how her heroin use was almost done ‘religiously.' The second short is the six minute Zoe Rising. This is a look back at Zoe's life by way of some thoughts from her mother who speaks about her being an only child, her unhappiness and how it was hard to do right by her. There are a lot of personal, archival photos and documents used here. She talks about how Zoe was not popular as a kid, while archival interview clips from Zoe herself elaborate on this. This, along with the piece with Bob Lund, really paints a portrait of a complex and fairly tormented individual and together they do an interesting job of giving us some welcome insight Lund's personality and way of life. Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Drafthouse Films releases, animated menus and chapter selection.
Outside of that, inside the clear Blu-ray case there's a full color insert booklet containing an essay on the rape-revenge aspect of the movie by House Of Psychotic Women author Kier-La Janisse, an essay on the film from Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision author Brad Stevens, an essay entitled The Ship With Eight Sails And Fifty Black Cannons by the late Ms. Lund written in 1993 and a piece by Paul Rachman on the Zoe Lund Project. A few stills, a reproduction of an ad mat and disc credits are also included in the booklet. There's a second insert inside the case that contains a download code for a digital copy of the movie and the cover art for this release is reversible with the newly created artwork on the front side and the original ‘It Will Never Happen Again!' theatrical one-sheet on the reverse side.Final Thoughts:
Ms. 45 is a gripping, entertaining mix of exploitation, art film aesthetics and tragic drama featuring an amazing performance from its female lead. It's really well shot, benefits from an interesting and eclectic score and it still packs a pretty serious punch. The right mix of style and substance, the picture debuts on Blu-ray from Drafthouse Films in grand style featuring solid audio and video and a nice selection of extras. Highly recommended.