Directed by Abel Ferrara
Exploitation films are an odd beast, so it’s really no surprise that Drafthouse Films, known for digging through history and finding the best and weirdest films of the past and giving them their due, picked up Abel Ferrara’s rape-and-revenge flick Ms. 45 for an uncut theatrical run and DVD release. But does it still have the same impact it did over thirty years ago?
The film follows Thana, a mute seamstress who works in New York’s bustling garment district. One night after work, she’s pulled into an alley and violently raped by a guy wearing a mask. Frightened and violated, she returns home, only to find a burglar in her house who attempts to rape her. Grabbing an iron, she kills him with a quick blow to the head, chops up his body, and leaves the parts around town. Overcome with fear and anxiety, she quickly transforms into a serial killer, using her newfound sexuality and wielding a .45 to kill any man she deems worthy of death.
The film’s take on the violence isn’t anything out of the ordinary, at least by today’s standards, but there are moments where it strays from simple gunshots to the head to attempts at cutting off body parts with a kitchen knife. The blood sprays a bright red, lending a more comedic value to the film, though it’s likely this is due to the film’s incredibly low budget. Once Thana transforms into her new role as a spree killer, it settles firmly on the tracks toward a straight-forward revenge film.
That said, Thana is still a very interesting character. Rendered unable to speak up against the males who assail her verbally and physically, she finds her voice in a gun she takes from the second rapist. Thana wields her gun with a misandry-fueled fury, not hesitating to shoot any guy she deems worthy of a bullet to the head. She dresses up like a streetwalker, going from unintended murder for the sake of safety to luring men to their demise. And that’s the problem. Her transformation is given little credence behind an implied “lust for revenge” brought to the forefront by a series of hallucinations; but as time passes, there’s no rhyme or reason to those she deems worthy of her .45. By the end she’s killing men wantonly, rather than for a perceived slight against her or anyone else. She underwent a horrific trauma, but her transition from timid mute to sexual murderess just felt too abrupt to be believable.
The one saving grace is her co-worker, a loud and brash woman not afraid to speak her mind. Unlike Thana, who keeps her anger bottled up before it snaps, she will gladly call out a guy for leering at them at a diner. Thana will simply shoot him several times in the chest. But by the end of the film, her role becomes justified, injecting into the film a modicum of subtext that’s slightly laughable, yet important enough to keep the film from being just an exploitation film.
I’m not a huge fan of exploitation films, so it’s entirely possible I missed the entire point of Thana’s rote killing spree. Many aspects of it, such as the presence of bleating horns during almost every kill scene, gave me a hearty laugh. I can, however, understand why people are drawn to these types of films. They’re uncompromising in their brutality, oozing with sexuality, and at times just downright ridiculous fun. That said, Ms. 45 is fairly generic stuff with a hint of subtext, and while it manages to entertain, it never really goes beyond mere indulgence.
3 out of 5