In some respects it is really weird that the rape/revenge subgenre nearly always gets lumped in with horror movies rather than, say, thrillers or even action depending how much revenge is met out. But when you think of these type of films they are indeed on the horror lists: I Spit On Your Grave and its miserable remake and sequels, Last House On The Left and others I try not to think about. You can see why they are here though. From the horrific act of rape itself to the invariably grisly revenge which will at the very least involve castration and might even go so far as chainsaw decapitation or, in the case of the Last House On the Left remake, death-by-microwave. Also a lot of these films don’t feel like they are taking the subject matter as seriously as they could: the act of rape often feel like an excuse to make something exploitative and sleazy rather than trying to make a point.
Ms .45 tries to have it both ways. On the one hand it DOES have a feminist message about not letting men take control of women’s lives through sexual violence, but on the other the main character looks like a fashion model and by the end is dressed up like a nun with stockings and suspenders. Maybe it’s because the film is directed by New York sleaze king and all round madman Abel Ferrara. He is clearly an intelligent man but also, well, a man. And one who engages in his base instincts and wants to show them to us up on the silver screen.
Ms .45 begins with a young, quiet woman called Thana (Zoe Lund) who works as a seamstress for some wildly camp clothes designer. On her way home she is pulled down a back alley and (mercifully brief and hardly seen) raped by a masked mugger. Traumatised, Thana stumbles back to her apartment only to be raped again by a burglar. Throughout all this she doesn’t say a word. This is because she can’t. She is a mute and so no one can hear her cries for help because she has none. So she has to take matters into her own hands. After beating the burglar to death with a clothes iron and chopping him up and storing him in the fridge, Thana takes his weapon, the Colt .45 and sets out for revenge on the streets of New York.
Thana transforming herself from a meek mouse of a girl into a stunning supermodel isn’t just about trying to kill her rapists though. Its about getting revenge on mankind, firstly potential rapists, but by the end any man at all! As she blows them was away her fear of them also disappears. The first man she kills only dies when he has chased her down a dead end and she is cornered in fright. However soon after Dana walks into the middle of Central Park at night (at the time surely one of the most dangerous places in America) in order to bait as many violent men as she can so she can execute them with her pistol. She handles the gun itself like it is her penis, pulling it out on men to destroy them in the same way they used their tool to destroy her innocence.
New York is a big part of Ms .45’s atmosphere and energy, but it is a New York that doesn’t exist any more. In 1981 a woman could not walk outside at night alone and some parts were so rough that even in daylight it was a no go zone. Ferrara captures the time and place perfectly, filming in Central Park at night probably was as dangerous as what they were trying to film. Then there are the back streets that seem like a post apocalyptic wasteland, deserted apart from the garbage, the collapsing houses and characters you wouldn’t dare look in the eye.
The movie is full of slimeball male New Yorkers all trying to take advantage of Thana. Many of them are street hustlers but there are also poor drunks, rich Arabs and even her flamboyant boss who foolishly makes a move on her, all of which meet their end at the wrong end of Thana’s .45. Things reach a head at the climax as Thana, dressed in the nun outfit with sexy underwear and her gun in her garter, murders every man at a Halloween party, all in glorious slow motion. It’s a mixed message certainly as Thana displays innocence and slutiness, drawing foolish men in an all-in-one Madonna/whore package. Its also Ferrara having his cake and eating it: he’s showing off a hot woman in an exciting and tense action scene whilst also making a feminist statement. Ferrara has always been a provocateur and this is a great early example. The symbolism does get fairly crass by the very end with (SPOILER) a female co worker stabbing Thana in the back whilst holding a knife at her groin like a penis. Thana is so shocked by this that she is finally able to break her silence with just a one world whisper of betrayal – “Sister!” And Ferrara hits you over the head with his sledgehammer. Its still a really good ending though. (END OF SPOILERS)
I’m not a fan of rape revenge movies, never have been and never will. If I really feel I have to see one for completions sake, for example Last House on the Left, then I can’t imagine ever watching it again. I’ll probably never see Ms .45 a second time either but at least Ferrara keeps the actual rape scenes down to a minimum and least exploitative. Its still pretty repellant but Ferrara uses this set up more to get what he’s really interested in: having a mute model/nun blow men away in a weirdly stylish fashion whilst making a positive (ish) if simplistic feminist statement. I guess that makes Ms .45 better than most.