Sat down and watched Drafthouse Films’ recent Blu-ray release of Abel Ferrara’s Ms.45 (aka Angel of Vengeance, 1981) last night. Haven’t watched this film since the mid-90's so it was great going in reasonably fresh as I had forgotten just how effective and shocking a couple of the scenes were (the killing of the sleazy photographer came as particularly jarring, even though I knew what was going to happen, I had forgotten how sudden and stunning it was).
I’ve never read as much into this film as a lot of other people have over the years since its original limited release (where it was given a mostly negative reception). To me, Ms.45 is a pure exploitation film in the best, violent 42nd St grindhouse tradition, which is why I immediately turned over the reversible cover in the Blu-ray so that it reflects the movie’s original lurid poster art. But it’s one exploitation film which also harbours some genuine arthouse sensibilities, and ideas and themes which, if not explored deeply in the actual film, at least give cause for viewers to think and debate. Of course, much of its arthouse veneer comes purely from the presence of the stunning (and tragic) Zoë Tamerlis in the lead role as Thana, a mute and shy young New York garment district seamstress who undergoes a stunning physical, psychological and behavioural transformation after being raped twice in one day. Tamerlis' exotic, European looks and sense of chic style which she adapts as the film progresses, really bring a level of class to the film - she clashes boldly with the drab griminess of the rest of the film, and James Lemmo’s camera lens loves her. Tamerlis is much more than just visually arresting, though. The range of emotions and inner turmoil which she is able to convey without uttering a sound is impressive. It simply wouldn’t be the film it is without her, as much as it wouldn’t be the same film without Ferrara in the director’s chair.
As close as Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978) come, Ms.45 remains the most important and well-constructed of the rape and revenge films of the 1970's and 80's, and Drafthouse have done a great job with this BR release. There is a softness to much of the 1080p hi-def image, probably a result of the original film stock, and in this case it actually helps preserve the seediness of the movie (an element which is so important to its effectiveness). The sound is great as well - the gunshots are loud and Joe Delia’s soundtrack alternately wails terror and pulsates with sleazy New York dance. Special features include the original trailer, a couple of short docos on star Tamerlis (who would die in Paris of drug-related heart failure at the age of only 37),interviews with composer Joe Delia, production designer Jack McIntyre and director Ferrara (charismatic with his thick Bronx accent and use of phrases like "Dig It!"). The 30 page booklet contains some of Tamerlis’ writing and essays on the film by Kier-La Janisse and Brad Stevens.
Definitely one of the Blu-rays of the year so far...