“Everyone and no one wanted to live in New York in the 1980s,” begins Stephanie Zacharek. “Crime had gone through the roof—but the clubs were awesome. As a kid with no money, you might have to crash in a squalid SRO, the kind of place the elderly and impoverished go to die—but if you got on the right lists, you could drink for free every night of the week. Abel Ferrara‘s weirdly elegant exploitation film Ms. 45, made in 1981 and now being released, uncut and remastered, by Drafthouse Films, takes place in that New York, even though the picture refuses to fall in love with it. Instead, Ms. 45 is in love with its lead actress, a woman named Zoë Lund—it only has eyes for her, and you can see why. She’s a beauty beamed from another planet—Venus, maybe—with pillowy lips and the wide-awake, receptive eyes of a silent film star. And, by the end of the movie, the character she plays, a mute seamstress named Thana, will show up in a skimpy nun’s habit, toting a gun.”
Also in the Voice, Simon Abrams talks with Ferrara “about his memories of Fun City-era New York, his never-realized Yojimbo remake, and his psychedelic, long-abandoned ’70s porn, Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy.”
Ferrara’s currently in Rome, working on a project in which Willem Dafoe stars as Pasolini, and Steve Dollar‘s called him up for the Wall Street Journal. Among the topics discussed is the influence of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: “The 1974 Tobe Hooper cannibal shocker was made for less than $300,000 and returned $3 million, appealing numbers for investors. ‘I could take that to everybody I knew and say, “Hey, man, if we can’t make a film as good as Texas Chain Saw, we better hand our diplomas back,” whether we even had them or not,’ Mr. Ferrara said.”
Scott Tobias at the Dissolve: “The artistry of Abel Ferrara emerged from the primordial ooze of Times Square grindhouses, first with 1979’s The Driller Killer—hailed by Variety as ‘hastily shot and technically inept in every department’—and then with 1981’s Ms. 45, both nasty little exploitation pictures that didn’t quite play by the rules. Ferrara supplied the requisite sex and violence, but the authentic grime and punk sensibility of The Driller Killer emerged through the slaughter, and by the time he made his cult classic Ms. 45, he was in complete control of his effects. The genius of Ms. 45 is how cleverly Ferrara and his then-regular screenwriter, Nicholas St. John, thread a thin needle: The film could be called a feminist exploitation movie—a contradiction in terms if there ever was one—and it systematically defies the rape-revenge thriller by fulfilling all of its requirements while holding them up for examination.”
At the L, Dan Sullivan sketches the plot outline: “A mute dressmaker (Zoë Lund, later the screenwriter of Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant) is raped twice in a single 1980s NYC day, setting into motion a misandristic killing spree that ultimately turns theological (and not just because our heroine goes as a nun to her office’s Halloween soirée), unsubtly but fascinatingly mixing the sacred with the profane.”
“Can a modern audience survive Thana’s rape scene(s) (or all the wailing saxophone music)?” wonders Kelly O in the Stranger. “Will they try to believe she’s such a killer shot with a .45 caliber handgun? Or will they simply be satiated with her much-deserved vengeance (and/or how sexy she looks in a nun’s habit)?”
“In other rape-revenge movies, like 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave, it’s the bad guys getting their comeuppance,” notes Richard Whittaker, who’s also spoken with Ferrara—for the Austin Chronicle. “Thana is less discerning, and for every act of vengeance, there’s a death that leaves the audience wondering about their damaged heroine. ‘At what point does revenge stop?’ Ferrara asked.” Whittaker also talks with Drafthouse Films Creative Director Evan Husney, who says of Ms. 45: “It’s been marketed as this sleazy, Eighties, 42nd Street-type movie, and that’s partially what it is…. But there are flourishes in this film of Repulsion and Polanski and the anxieties of European psychological thrillers.”
“This isn’t I Spit on Your Grave,” adds Sean Axmaker at Cinephiled. Ferrara “brings the camera close in on her face during the two rape scenes, forcing the audience to identify with the pain and violation of the victim rather than the power of the victimizer (played by Ferrara himself in the first assault)…. Ms. 45 is not a feminist revenge film. It is, however, an intelligent and confident piece of exploitation filmmaking marinated in helplessness and anger and heated up to furious vengeance turned psychotic retribution, and one that resists exploiting the woman at the center of it.”
For the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth—who also interviews Ferrara—”while the approach of the low budget movie mostly embraces a leaning toward realism, the unapologetically fake looking blood and fairy tale visuals—a glass apple; Thana’s cape she wears later in the picture—suggests something that’s happening in a heightened space.”
“I interviewed Zoë Lund for the second issue of Filmmaker, back when we put Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant on the cover,” writes editor Scott Macaulay. “She died in Paris in 1999. Recently I ran into filmmaker and Slamdance co-founder Paul Rachman, and he told me about the series of short documentary films he’s making about Lund. He agreed to answer a few questions about Lund, the project and himself for Filmmaker and to give our readers a sneak peek at the latest in the series.”
At Film.com, Brandon Schaefer recalls designing the re-release one-sheet poster for Drafthouse and then talks with Shawn Knight about his design for Mondo.
Ms. 45 opens in 14 cities today before rolling out throughout January. Drafthouse has the cities, dates, and links.
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