Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (Angel of Vengeance) (1981)

It’s sad and just a bit bewildering to think that Abel Ferrara’s little gem Ms. 45 (aka Angel of Vengeance ) received mostly negative reviews from critics upon its limited theatrical release in 1981, but there were a few who realized the film’s merit and championed it, such as Mick Martin and Marsha Porter . The low-budget sleeper was generally ignored and left theatres as quickly as it came, but slowly built up a cult following after its 1983 VHS release by USA Video. Several memorable scenes from Ms. 45 were also featured in the popular 1984 horror compilation film Terror in the Aisles , including the second of the film’s opening rape scenes. Financed by Ferrara with the proceeds his 1979 sleaze epic The Driller Killer brought in, it’s amazing to see how artistic and tightly crafted a film can be on a $62,000 budget.

Ms. 45 is actually the alter ego of the film’s lead character Thana (Zoe Tamerlis Lund), a mute seamstress living in New York City who is dragged into an alley one day on her way home from work by a masked pervert (played by the director himself) who bends her over some trash cans and pounds it to the poor girl. If that isn’t enough to put our heroine in a sour mood, she’s raped again at gunpoint by a totally different scumbag (Peter Yellen) who happens to have broken into her apartment just before she wearily enters. This time, however, she manages to overpower her attacker and bashes the horny bastard in the head with a glass ornament and an iron, killing him instantly — and leaving poor violated Thana with a corpse on her hands. Her mind now completely shattered, she begins hallucinating and retreating even further into her own mind, eventually dismembering the corpse of the rapist and storing the pieces in black garbage bags in the refrigerator.

Soon she’s prowling the dark streets and alleys of the Big Apple, shooting to death every man she can get away with killing with the gun of the dead rapist. In between shooting sprees and sewing work at the dress factory, she empties the fridge of her rapist’s rotting corpse piece by piece, leaving wrapped pieces of the cadaver all over the city in trash bins and whipping the police into a panic. The film’s climax has Thana, decked out as a nun with habit and all, turning her gun on the male attendees at a Halloween costume party thrown by her boss Albert (Albert Sinkys) and shooting to her vengeful, paranoid heart’s content in an eerie, dreamlike sequence that is quite breathtaking and poetically demented.

Ms. 45 was nominated for Best Low-Budget Film by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1982, but it lost (hilariously) to William Malone’s Scared to Death . Now that’s a mistake there. Ms. 45 is stylish, nerve-jangling, eerily poetic, and extremely unsettling, not to mention ahead of its time. The film has aged incredibly well and still packs the same wallop it did 30 years ago, which is a real testament to the talent of Ferrara. Zoe Tamerlis Lund, who would later appear in a dual role in Larry Cohen’s Special Effects and in a small cameo in Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (which she also co-wrote), is entrancing as Thana. She whispers only word throughout the entire film — “Sister” at the very end — but her performance is just as rich and jarring without dialogue. She died tragically in 1999 at the age of 37 from heart/lung complications related to heroin and cocaine use, but at least her stunning work in Ms. 45 is permanently preserved on film and can be admired by future generations. Her transformation from a withdrawn mute seamstress to a gun-toting vigilante thirsty for revenge is startlingly believable and one of Ms. 45 ‘s best assets. Opinion seems to be divided among fans over the score by piano/saxophone score by Joe Delia , but I find it fascinating. The haunting, slow-keyed piano theme alternates with jarring saxophone tunes that startle the viewer during the movie’s tense moments.

Ms. 45 has been described as a female Death Wish , but I actually find it slightly more disturbing than and just as entertaining as the Charles Bronson suspenser. It put talented New York filmmaker Ferrara (perhaps best known for his incredible King of New York ) on the map and helped to finance his 1984 crime film Fear City starring Tom Berenger. I consider Ms. 45 required viewing for all aspiring filmmakers and movie buffs and rate it a well-earned 9.5 of 10.