Sunday, February 4, 2018

Women in Horror: Ms. 45 (1981)

* spoilers *

Thana is a mute woman who lives in a small. modest apartment with a nosy, loud landlady nearby at all times. She works as a seamstress in the Garment District in New York with a condescending, too friendly boss and supportive coworkers. The city as a whole is hostile to women shown in a variety of ways. Street harrassment is commonplace, shown as Thana and her coworkers walk to lunch with men lining the streets yelling lewd comments and then equally lewd insults when ignored or rebuffed. The situation is only slightly more over the top than realistic with the amount men and the frequency of their come ons and insults. This is still many women's experience even today. No one ever knows when one of those shouting men will attack the women they harrass, which is exactly what happens to Thana.

On the way home one day, a masked man accosts her in an alley and rapes her at gunpoint. It takes place in the first 10 minutes of the film. The scene is shocking and brief. Thana lays among the garbage, reeling from pain and shock, until she can gather herself and her belongings to walk the rest of the way home. Thana, relieved to be in the safety of her home, doesn't realize that a burglar has entered her house through the bathroom window. He also rapes her in a much more extended, graphic scene that ends with her smashing his head in with an iron. Thana cleans up her apartment, impassively cuts up her rapist into pieces, and puts his parts in garbage bags. The horror of the day hits her when she takes a shower and flashes back to the attacks as his viscera and blood clog the drain. This small moment encompasses Thana's trauma that she later tamps down underneath her anger.

Thana keeps the rapist's .45 gun and carries it with her as she goes to work. Bit by bit, she disposes of the corpse parts around the city in trash cans or on the sidewalk. One day, a man who harrassed her follows her with one of the bags she dropped and she tries to run. He corners her in an alleyway and she shoots him out of fear of yet another sexual assault, killing him. At first, she's sickened by the kill and runs home. Afterwards, her attitude changes when she realizes that she can get revenge by killing as many rapists and sexual assailants as possible. Her demeanor and dress change entirely. Confidence and sensuality replace her usual timidity. Bold combinations of red and black replace her usual wardrobe of drab colors. Her usually bare face is now colored with bold black eyeshadow and red lipstick. Thana invites attention now that she fights back when she tried to blend in to stay safe before.

Thana's reign of terror targets exclusively men. She starts by killing men who approach her, first letting them think she's an easy, oblivious mark. The men murdered include a predatory fashion photographer, a pimp beating a prostitute, a slew of gang members, a Saudi businessman and his driver, and a fired salesman. Some mistakes are made along the way, but she keeps up her crusade. These scenes are a reversal of what usually happens as Thana has the power over these men trying to victimize her and most likely getting away with it. It's honestly gratifying and cathartic to watch. The men of the city are now scared to be in public, an experience typically felt by women. Reality rears its ugly head when the men murdered are seen as innocent victims instead of the predators and criminals they really are.

From the beginning of the film, two people regularly condescend and infantalize Thana: her landlady Mrs. Nasone and her boss Albert. Mrs. Nasone is incredibly nosy and never passes up an opportunity to violate Thana's privacy. At the beginning of the film, Mrs. Nasone treats her like a child due to her disability, refusing to listen to her. Once Thana dresses and acts differently, Mrs. Nasone completely rejects her and deems her a bad influence. She practically has a heart attack when Thana says she's not going to be home one night. Apparently having a romantic relationship (which she falsely assumes) is completely beyond the pale for a disabled person. Thana's boss Albert treats all of the women poorly, tearing their clothes apart and screaming at them in front of everyone. He treats Thana as if he's doing her a huge favor to even employ her and doesn't hesitate to disparage her disability as abnormal. He also touches her inappropriately as if he is entitled to her body and basically threatens to fire her unless she goes to a Halloween party with him. Both people are infuriating in the way they interact with her.

Thana's crusade against men culminates at the office Halloween party. She dresses as a sexy nun and brings along her trusty .45. Her boss shows her off to everyone as if she's a prize he won and of course leads her to a room to be alone. Once there, she murders him and then turns her gun on every man in the party. Once she kills indiscriminately (and beforehand when it's implied she kills Mrs. Nasone's dog), it's much harder to sympathize with her. Her misanthropic feelings encompass more and more people until it's simply hard to justify. One of her fellow seamstresses stabs her in the back, ending her crusade and her life. Thana feels completely betrayed and shocked by the attack. She had always felt safe with other women and lost sight of how her actions would look to others. The ending is still tragic in that Thana only wanted to live her life in peace. 

Ms. 45 is a suprisingly good film for an exploitation movie. It does a wonderful job at showing how dangerous it feels at times to be a woman and exposing a real part of our society. Zoe Tamerlis Lund portrays Thana amazingly well without every uttering a word. Her facial expressions and body language say everything. The only part I didn't enjoy was Thana supposedly killing Mrs. Nasone's dog and then having the dog come back at the end. It seemed a cheap way to get the audience to pull away from Thana and seems to absolve Mrs. Nasone of her horrible behavior. Other than that, this film is surprisingly relevant and well done.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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