Friday, October 5, 2012

Blown Away: "Ms. 45" (1981)

Ferrara's huge breakout film has been the subject of everything from cult status to film thesis papers.

Zoe Tamerlis is Thana, a mute and mousy woman who works in New York's garment district. On her way home one afternoon, she is grabbed off the street and raped by a masked man, played by Ferrara himself. She stumbles home, shell shocked, and finds a burglar in her apartment. He also begins raping her, holding a .45 on her. He drops the gun and she kills him, putting his body in the bathtub. She confiscates the gun as her own, and normally reliable Thana begins to change.

Thana's nosy landlady, a candidate for a .45 slug if there ever was one, and the landlady's dog, Phil, notice Thana leaving the apartment glammed to the nines and carrying plastic garbage bags full of the burglar's body parts. Thana kills one man who chases her with the burglar's body parts (he thinks she dropped the bag), and soon Thana is dispatching everyone from pimps to gangs to Arab sheiks with her trusty gun. In the meantime, she offers to take Phil for a walk, tying him to a stake so she can shoot him without him running off. Thana is finally invited to a Halloween party by her lecherous boss. This provides the film's final horrifying setpiece. Thana is dressed like a nun, with her trusty gun tucked into her garter belt. She opens fire on the men at the party, all shot in slow motion by Ferrara. This scene is terrifying on a horror film scale, as people run for their lives as very effective special effects illustrate the carnage. The final shot involving the Phil the dog is classic. It is dismissive to say Thana decides to kill every man she sees.

You can see a pattern in her killing, as she graduates from basic street scum, to an almost killing of an Oriental man who is doing nothing but kissing his girlfriend. The divorced man's suicide stretches credibility a bit, as Thana's gun jams when she pulls the trigger, but he puts it to his head and it goes off. Thana is also a pretty good shot, yet we are never given any evidence why.

Zoe Tamerlis died almost a few years ago of heart failure. She was only 35. She did other films, but this was probably her best known work. Because she is plays a mute, she must express all of her emotions with her face, which she does very well. She looks a lot like Jeanne Tripplehorn, and does a great job here.

The New York City setting is perfect and unfiltered. This is the NYC we heard of back in the 1970's, complete with muggings and graffiti. There is wonderful background noise, not affected by some Hollywood sound engineer's filter. Dialog is kept to a minimum because of Thana's condition, but Ferrara keeps the violence and blood flowing freely. Surprisingly, despite the presence of two rape sequences, there is no nudity, as if Ferrara wanted to show these crimes as crimes of violence, and not arousing rough sex.

"Ms. 45" is not perfect, but it is infinitely fascinating. It is also incredibly brutal, and not for the squeamish. I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.