Ms. 45 (1981)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/22/19
Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast: Zoë Lund (Zoë Tamerlis)

Thana (Zoë Lund) is a shy and attractive young woman who works as a seamstress in Manhattan. She also happens to be mute, which puts her at a bit of a social disadvantage. One afternoon, she gets raped at gunpoint in an alley on her way home, and then raped again by a burglar who just happened to be ransacking her apartment at the same time. She manages to fight back against her second attacker and brutally kills him with a clothes iron. Then, like any sane person would do, she hacks him into pieces and stuffs him in her refrigerator. The burglar left behind a handgun, which Thana carries in her purse and is forced to use when yet another overly amorous guy tries to have his way with her. At this point, her mind totally snaps and she starts taking pleasure in killing men. It becomes an obsession, which leads to her taking greater risks and dressing more provocatively in order to lure unsuspecting men to their doom. Her escalating reign of murder comes to a head at a Halloween party, where she dresses as a nun and proceeds to gun down everyone there.

While it's definitely a grim and gritty exploitation film, it doesn't really push the exploitation angle, which admittedly makes it easier to watch. It has more of a low budget independent art film vibe to it, which is paired with some poignant social commentary. I'm guessing the mute aspect is a metaphor for women not speaking out against sexual assault (or not being heard), and how society expects them to just quietly bear their trauma and suffering. The gun gives Thana a voice as a not-so-subtle metaphor for male aggression, and she ultimately starts deriving sexual satisfaction from her killings. Zoë Lund gives a superb performance as a woman who has been pushed past her limits, and it's both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch her spiral into madness and self-destruction. She's also extremely attractive, and her gunplay has a wonderfully fetishistic appeal to it. The bloodbath at the Halloween party is an iconic moment in the "rape and revenge" genre, and I'm surprised it's taken me this long to finally see it.

Unfortunately, the production suffers from a low budget, weak acting, and deplorable dialog. However, it also does an extremely effective job of depicting horror without gratuitous nudity and excessive gore. The rape scenes are nasty, but brief and not explicit, which sets them up as a framing device rather than a focal point. It feels like the film is struggling to be something more important than it really is, but the threadbare plot betrays its exploitation roots. It also has a surprisingly sweet and happy ending, which feels tacked on in an attempt to downplay Thana's downfall and redeem her character in some small way.