Ms. 45

A crowd-pleasing but complex variation on Death Wish from bad-boy director Abel Ferrara, who gives himself a cameo as a rapist (!). Zoë Tamerlis shot to cult stardom as Thana, a mute seamstress who’s raped twice in one day. She kills the second rapist with an iron, giving her a taste for vengeance. The film becomes an exploitation classic when Thana takes to the streets in form-fitting black leather and heavy make-up and dispatches a quartet of muggers with cool efficiency. (I guarantee Quentin Tarantino watched this a lot while writing Kill Bill.) But then Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John put a twist on the material by having Thana start killing men just because they’re men. As Danny Peary has written, the film undercuts any possible misogynist reaction (the rapes are terrible to watch; a nude scene is interrupted by a seat-jumper). Some weaknesses: the film is consistently underlit to the point where we’re not sure what’s happening; the scenes of Thana back at work after her murder spree are dull. But who cares? This is yet another of Ferrara’s compelling studies in grunge, with a courageous performance by Tamerlis and a particularly disquieting climax at a Halloween party. Disappointingly, the version available on the (now out-of-print) Artisan DVD is significantly cut (and not letterboxed, either). In 2014 the film was re-released in theaters, and reissued on DVD/Blu-ray, by Alamo Drafthouse; that’s the version to get. In 1999, Tamerlis died of drug-related lung and heart failure. She was only 37.

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