In 1986, I was obsessed with having a rattail (my mom wouldn’t let me), with learning all the words to Skid Row’s “18 and a Life,” with getting Mitzi Albritton to “like, like” me, and with a movie called “Terror in the Aisles.”
It wasn’t a movie in the narrative sense, but rather a montage of scenes from the greatest horror movies of all time plus some thrillers that were not necessarily scary but were nonetheless cool to my 14-year-old self. Given that I was a novice to the genre at the time, “Terror in the Aisles” was like the Sears toy catalog.
From that single movie – heightened by the narration of Nancy Allen, my first crush – my wish list of terror and gore was formed. Over the years, I’ve seen ’em all, from “The Thing” to “The Birds,”“When a Stranger Calls” to “Klute.” I even watched the more obscure ones – “Nighthawks” and “Videodrome.”
But one movie eluded me. I didn’t know the title, just knew the scene with a woman in a nun’s habit wearing thick red lipstick while seductively kissing bullets before loading them into a gun. There’s a cut-away to a different scene in which the same woman is standing in a park surrounded by a gang, and she starts shooting each gang member, one at a time, with no emotion whatsoever. One guy survives. He’s lying on the floor, cussing at her, and she quietly and coolly stands over him and shoots him in the head.
I never learned the name of the movie. Honestly, I forgot about it until roaming through Amazon Prime looking at options for this year’s Horrorfest. And there it was … “Ms. 45” … as if the horror gods were smiling (snarling?) down on me.
Without question, this was the movie I was most looking forward to watching this year, and it didn’t disappoint.
Set in New York City in the early ’80s, before NYC was more seedy than family-friendly vacation destination, “Ms. 45” is a classic revenge story of the era. It was basically “Death Wish” with a mousy mute in the role of Charles Bronson, and with more heart and emotion than bravado.
Thana, played by Zoë Tamerlis Lund, is raped twice – once in an alley and once in her apartment – and is understandably traumatized. From that moment on, Thana becomes a vigilante, waging war against the male scumbags attacking, molesting and cat-calling women in the alleys of NYC. She mows down a gang of youths, a creepy Arabian prince – and his limo driver.
But what begins as street justice quickly devolves into Thana shooting everyone with a Y chromosome who crosses her path, including a mass shooting at a company Halloween party (which explains the nun’s habit).
With this kind of premise, it’s not a spoiler to say that things don’t end well.
“Ms. 45,” like some of the more brutal rape-vengeance movies of the era (“I Spit on Your Grave” and “Last House on the Left”), has a sense of justice, but also like those films, it goes off the rails pretty quickly.
On the surface, “Ms. 45” could seem empowering – to the extreme – but really it’s a narrow-minded view of women as being unable to cope with real-life horrors and instead turning into mindless killing machines.
But after nearly 30 years of waiting, I still think “Ms. 45” hit the mark.