Ms .45 (1981)
By: Stuart Giesel on June 12, 2014 | Comments
Drafthouse Films | Region A | 1.85:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 1.0 | 80 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Ms .45 (1981) Cover Art
Credits
Director: Abel Ferrara
Starring: ZoŰ Lund, Albert Sinkys, Darlene Stuto, Helen McGara, Nike Zachmanoglou
Screenplay: Nicholas St. John
Country: USA
In director Abel Ferrara's rape-revenge classic, a mute seamstress named Thana (Zoë Lund) is raped not once, but twice, causing her to snap and kill her (second) rapist. The man had been brandishing a .45 calibre pistol, so Thana hits the streets, luring out the rapists, muggers and scumbags Death Wish-style, in order to take them out with her newly-acquired firearm. However, as her vigilante antics make the paper and she starts to enjoy this new, liberating side of her personality, she starts also knocking off people for less reprehensible crimes.

Ms. 45 is an unapologetically trashy exploitation film. It starts off with two rape scenes (the first rapist being played, somewhat perversely, by Ferrara himself) and then dives into a series of execution-style scenarios brought about by Thana's antics - initially she does nothing to invite this level of violence into her life, but as the film progresses Thana starts dressing more provocatively and venturing into seedier parts of New York City in a bid to lure out the criminals. She becomes a fishing lure for scumbags.

It's fair to say that lead actress Zoë Lund absolutely makes the film. Without her, there would probably have not been a Ms. 45, or at least the Ms. 45 that we know and love. Spending the entire movie mute, Lund has to rely on her actions and her expressions to sell the character to us, and fortunately she's absolutely perfect as the initially repressed, eventually liberated (and completely fucked-up) vigilante executioner. Gorgeous and waif-like, Lund's amazing, expressive eyes tell us more than a whole ream of dialogue ever could have. Circling around her are a procession of shitheels, fuckwits, crooks, sociopaths and losers - essentially the film hops from one freak to the next, each one meeting a bloody, satisfying end. There's the nosy, freakishly annoying landlady with her yapping dog, a sleazy pick-up guy, an even sleazier sheik, a really sleazy fashion photographer, a scummy ho-beating pimp, a bunch of night-time muggers, and more! Thankfully, Lund is more than capable of taking on these criminal elements, and looks equally at ease whether she's ironing a dress at her workplace or taking down a bunch of muggers with her trusty .45.

The other star of the film is New York City itself. Shot at the turn of the decade, this is probably the ultimate representation of cinematic New York squalor other than Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (inviting even more comparisons, Lund gets her own mute "you talkin' to me?" mirror scene later in the film). Shot "guerilla-style" by Ferrara and his small crew on a tiny budget in real locations lends Ms. 45 with an authenticity you couldn't get from a sound stage, so for no other reason Ms .45 stands as an important film because it is essentially a time capsule of New York before it had been cleaned up.

Given this is an exploitation film, it's a suitably nasty affair, although those hoping for extreme scenes of violence may be disappointed. True, Thana does carve up her rapist/attacker with a bread knife and has to dispose of the pieces in garbage bags around various spots in New York, but there's nothing especially graphic about Ms .45, especially by today's standards. What it does have is a thick layer of ick, given this is a sordid little rape-revenge film. An extremely successful decision was to make Thana's character a mute - not only is she able to be easily physically dominated by the male dickwads that seem to infest the New York streets, but she doesn't even have a voice until her .45 gives her one. This of course means that everyone's talking at Thana, not to her, not that half the men in the movie notice she was mute to begin with, given that they are all so self-absorbed.

For those who claim that the film is really about women's liberation sounds to me as more of a reaction against, or even apologetic of, Ms .45's exploitative content. Sure, you can read into Thana's journey from set-upon doorstep to combatative superwoman as some sort of feminist empowerment tale, but that doesn't really seem appropriate when the story takes it one step further, making Thana out into someone who is just as bad, or even worse, than the shitbags she goes after. Maybe that was the point that director Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John had intended - the intoxicating lure of vigilantism gives power to the once-powerless, but like most power can also corrupt if you give it a chance. Or maybe they just wanted to make a down n' dirty vigilante exploitation film, the female version of Death Wish. Luckily, they had found a true star in Zoë Lund, who tragically died far too young.

Ultimately there's nothing remarkable about Ms. 45 from a storytelling standpoint. Fortunately the grimy, authentic New York locations and Zoë Lund's natural charisma, along with a sleazy factor - make Ms. 45 a highly watchable vigilante/revenge film on a shoestring budget.
The Disc
Drafthouse Films present the uncut version of Ms. 45 on Blu-Ray in a presentable if unspectacular transfer. The picture is satisfactory but quite soft, especially during some interior scenes. There are plenty of artefacts throughout, and a strong level of grain which will annoy some viewers but lends to the film's gritty urban tone quite well. Overall, the picture is decent if a little flat and colourless. A word of warning to epileptics: there are some pretty strong strobing effects during the slow-motion scene at the end of the film!

Given the film's low budget origins, the sound is pretty hit and miss. There's a good, jazzy soundtrack, but some of the dialogue sounds tinny. The mono mix, of course, provides all sounds from the front speakers, but it's a more immersive experience than you might expect.

The disc has a handful of features. There are three interviews, each running around 8-10 minutes each. Director Abel Ferrara talks about casting the main role and about Zoë's tragic life after the filming of Ms .45, touching on his collaboration with her on 1992's Bad Lieutenant (she co-wrote the script). He has a fascinating anecdote about how Lund and her then-boyfriend drove around the country showing altered prints of Ms. 45. Composer Joe Delia talks about how he got involved with the film, the budget and the evolution of the score ("modern and atonal" was the intent, and he delivered). Creative consultant Jack McIntyre talks about his relationship with Ferrara and his involvement in Ms .45 which ranged from helping get the right shots to training the dog to his scene as a homeless bum to playing the sax in the final song.

There are two featurettes on Zoë Lund: Zoë XOXO sees husband Bob Lund reflect on his relationship with the troubled Zoë, and is mostly fascinating, marred only by an annoying and choppy stylised video effect. Zoë Rising has Zoë's mother talk about her childhood.

The disc has trailers for Ms. 45 and other Drafthouse releases, including Miami Connection and the brilliant Wake in Fright. The Blu-Ray also comes with a booklet containing some essays and promotional material.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Ms. 45 is unapologetic exploitation trash, and it doesn't give a shit what you think about it. It's genuinely sleazy and authentic, with subtext if you want to look deep enough, yet as entertaining and cathartic an experience for the viewer as any other revenge/vigilante movie out there. It's elevated far above its exploitation origins by a tremendous, charismatic performance from Zoë Lund and its authentic New York shooting locations. A winner.
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