Ms. 45 (1980). Directed by Abel Ferrara. Starring Zoe Lund. This sexplotation revenge porn flick is about a mute seamstress that is raped twice in one day, has a psychotic break, and then goes on a killing spree.
The Revenge Film.
The formula is simple. Something happens to a person or a loved one and said person or family of the loved one kill the offending party in a gruesome but deserved manner. In 1972, Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left” set the wheels in motion. In 1978, “I Spit on Your Grave” revamped the genre.
The Slasher films of the late 1970’s and most of the 1980’s were a variation on this theme. Soon, the theaters were flooded with them. Very few stood out. Many have been completely forgotten. Truly, does anyone remember films like “Silent Scream” or “Visiting Hours”? How about “Mother’s Day”?
In 1980, a little revenge film was released. “Ms. 45”
To make a long story short, the film is about meat.
Thana, a mute seamstress in the Garment District of Manhattan is the main character. In the beginning, models parade before a buyer, showing off the bosses designs (meat). Afterwards, he goes back to his employees and lets them know how much harder they will have to work, but no overtime (meat). The staff leaves for the night. On the way home, every male along the way makes catcalls and suggestive comments to the women (meat). Thana makes a stop at the grocery store and looks through the freezers at the various cuts of meat (meat).
In the meantime, someone is breaking into Thana’s apartment.
On the way home, a man in a mask grabs Thana and rapes her. After that, she walks into her apartment and the burglar rapes her at gunpoint.
Here we see the first of several scenes that can be tied to Alfred Hitchcock.
Thana’s entrance into the apartment is a variation on a theme he used in “Frenzy” (1972). The killer goes into a vacant building with a real estate agent. Before he enters, he says the phrase he always says before he kills a woman, telling her “You’re just my type.” Hitchcock pulls the camera away, taking the viewer further from the murder. You cannot warn the victim. You cannot warn Thana. The difference is that, here, you see the crime.
Both rapists tell Thana that if she screams, she will die. Thana, being mute, cannot scream; something both rapists realize and use to their advantage. It reminds us of the title of a Harlan Ellison short story from 1967, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” It doesn’t follow the plot of the story, but speaks to the mind of Thana.
Symbolically, Thana injures the rapist with an apple-shaped paperweight. Living in New York City, what would be better than to hit someone in the side of the head with the whole town? He is knocked to the ground. Thana finishes him off with another symbol of her own torture; an iron.
Thana cleans herself up as best as possible and heads to work in the morning as if nothing has happened. At the end of the day, she returns home to the body. She drags the body to the bathtub. The camera focuses on the drain then to Thana’s eye.
In Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, the camera focuses from the drain to the dead eye of Marion Crane.
Thana begins to dismember the rapist, wrapping up each cut, and hiding it in a closet (meat). She disposes of these bags throughout the city.
One of the bags is picked up by a man who tries to put the make on anyone in a skirt (meat). He chases after Thana, trying to return the bag she left. With the image of the masked first rapist in her head, she is cornered in a dead-end. Instead of cowering, she pulls out the gun used in the second rape and kills her pursuer.
In the next series of sequences, Thana has become an avenger for women. She kills a lecherous photographer (meat), a pimp beating one of his stable (meat), four gang members that surround her in the park (meat) and a stereotypical Sheik, who thinks that she is a prostitute (meat). She also kills his driver (collateral damage).
Her landlady is a nosy old lady with a barky pug that seems to be on the edge of discovering Thana’s secret. The pug spends its time barking at the closet which contains the dismembered rapist. At one point, hoping to quiet the dog, Thana grinds some of the leftover rapist and feeds it to him (meat).
Her bags have taken on a life of their own. One is discovered by a wino. One is left in the trunk of an Impala owned by a businessman that is going out-of-town. One can be seen in the shopping cart of a bag lady.
Two other potential victims get in Thana’s sights. One is a young man who kisses his girlfriend goodbye. There is no evidence that he is abusive. He just goes home. Thana cannot get the apartment house door to open, allowing her to kill him.
The other is a man who picks her up in a bar and wants to go out with her just to talk. They end up on a park bench, where the man bares his soul. He found out that his wife is a lesbian. Thana points the gun at him, but it jams. The man takes the gun from her. Looking at Thana, he puts it against his own temple and shoots himself.
The change in Thana continues. Initially, she saw the masked rapist everywhere she looked. As she started killing, these visions disappeared. Killing became more natural to her. The landlady’s dog was starting to get on Thana’s nerves. She offers to take him for a walk. Thana takes the dog down to the river, ties him to a pole. Before the scene cuts away, we see her point the gun at the dog. She returns alone and tells the landlady the dog has run off.
The final killings take place at a Halloween party.
Thana has dressed herself as a nun. Before the party, she seems to fantasize about shooting everyone. She is the date of her boss, who is looking for sex from her. At the party, we are shown more examples of bad male behavior. One boyfriend is arguing with his girlfriend. He went back on his word and did not get the vasectomy that he promised he’d get. Another man is discussing getting a hooker and notes that for $300 he can get a virgin.
Meantime, Thana and the boss head up stairs for a rendezvous. (In Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, Kim Novak is scared and falls to her death by a nun.) The party carries on until a gunshot is heard from upstairs. Thana comes down the spiral staircase and begins to shoot every man in the party (meat).
While this is going on, the landlady has entered Thana’s apartment, opened a locked closet and found the last part of the rapist, namely his head. She calls the police, realizing that Thana not only murdered this man, but also her dog.
Thana continues to shoot. There will be no need for a vasectomy or for an additional $300. Even the man dressed as a bride is shot. The madness ends when one of her co-workers stabs her in the back with a knife used to cut the cake.
Thana finally finds her scream and turns with a dismayed look.
“Sister?” she whispers.
At that moment, Thana feels betrayed by the very people she was trying to protect.
In the last moment, we are outside the landlady’s apartment as she is talking to the police. She is crying because of the loss of her dog. Suddenly, we see the pug come up the stairs and head to the lady’s door.
During the film, we see Thana descend into madness.
Initially, she manages to hold herself together. But she is tormented by visions of the first rapist. When she kills the man chasing her, she begins to realize how easy it is to take a life. The roles gets reversed. The men become the meat and the woman becomes the aggressor. Even the sad story of the man whose wife is a lesbian does not turn her back to a better path. Her fantasizing about killing people before the party is the indication that she has reached a point of no return. What had started as “justice” in her eyes had become merely bloodlust.
The performance by Zoe Lund as Thana is remarkable. With no dialog, she is able to range from frightened victim to cold-blooded avenger and carry them off believably.
According to IMDb, Lund was a writer as well as an actress, and also an advocate for heroin use. She died at the age of 37 of a drug-related heart attack.