Day 05: Revenge!
Ms. 45 (1981)
‘Revenge’ is the theme for Day 5, and it is a theme that has been in cinema since the beginning, there are many films to consider watching that have some sort of revenge plot within. Exploitation films have always had the films with a revenge narrative, some of the more well known revenge exploitation films are what are known as ‘rape revenge’ films with the likes of I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and The Last House On The Left (1972), focusing on the rape of a female or female characters and the perpetrator’s finding their punishment as brutal as the acts they have done. Which brings us to Abel Ferrara’s film Ms. 45 (1981) or also known as Angel Of Vengeance, a film that looks at ‘rape revenge’ in a far different light and doesn’t exploit the rape scenes or contain nudity, but does exploit the violence and with purpose.
Thana (Zoë Lund) is non verbal young woman who works as a seamstress for a fashion house, one evening after work a masked man targets her in the street and sexually assaults her, but the horror isn’t over for Thana. When she makes it home, a burglar has broken into her apartment and attacks her, she is raped once again but this time fights off her attacker and kills him in self defense. Whether it is because she is unable to speak or the fear of perhaps being charged for murder, she doesn’t report any of this and hides the dead body, slowly disposing of it piece by piece. In her own trauma, her work starts to suffer and in an effort to regain her own sense of power she begins killing random men with a 45 pistol. She begins to unleash her anger upon men she sees as predator’s, has she become worse than those who attacked her?
Ms. 45 is a powerful film, Abel Ferrara has always been such a thought provoking filmmaker, tackling all sorts of themes in his films and making his audience ponder these themes in different ways. This film makes for an interesting companion piece with the already mentioned I Spit On Your Grave but also with something like I Saw The Devil (2010), which do have similar themes. Thana is a complex character, a woman who has been stripped of her power by two men, strangers to her and she attempts to regain her power in a way that isn’t exactly justified even if those she kills are horrible men. She is very obviously suffering severe PTSD, something that she never seeks helps for and instead chooses her own path to heal. Do the ends justify the means? At the same time, with a main character who has a disability, she is seen by others differently and treated differently and there is absolutely something to be said about how society sees the disabled, a simple conversation with her sleazy boss (Albert Sinkys) makes it quite clear he sees her as less than a person and expects more from her solely because she has a disability. There is a lot of intriguing social commentary within this film, tackling so much within the run time and able to do it without the film ever over staying its welcome.
Zoë Lund was 17 when she made this film, her youth and innocence plays such a big part of Thana, that by the end she isn’t an innocent young woman but a woman scorned so harshly that her scars present themself within her. The performance is masterful and she is the film, able to produce such powerful without ever speaking a word, the audience feels what she feels through every moment. She out shines everyone in the film and rightfully so, it is her film. Some other performances don’t exactly work and feel out of place, which unfortunately can take the viewer out of the moment, specially Editta Sherman as Mrs. Nasone whose performance feels like it was out of another film. Abel Ferrara does exceptional work here, he elevates the material and gives a memorable and powerful film in Ms. 45 that shouldn’t be over looked.
Day 06: Free Space!
Unholy Rollers (1972)
Day 6 for Junesploitation is a ‘free space’ day, meaning anything goes, pick a random film and go for it. The random film chosen is Unholy Rollers (1972), a behind the curtain look at roller derby through the lenses of the main character Karen Walker played by Claudia Jennings. This film was produced by Roger Corman and Martin Scorsese actually served as assistant editor, the film perhaps works as the lower budget companion to Kansas City Bomber (1972), which had a similar plot in regards to a behind the scenes look at roller derby. The plot follows Karen as she quits her job and winds up auditioning for ‘Avengers’ a roller derby team in an attempt to find new work and purpose. Karen rises through the ranks on the team despite her team members jealousy and sabotage, she begins living the life she wants for herself but how far will she go to keep her riches and fame?
The film belongs to its wonderful star Claudia Jennings who shines so brightly as Karen, the overly feisty and takes no sh*t from anybody attitude. Her performance is part of the reason the film is a wild and fun ride, she brought everything in with Karen and there is no looking away when she is on screen. Jay Varela as Nick her team mate and love interest of sorts is quite good here, even some what scary when his character gets physical towards Karen. The pair had the right chemistry to make the crazy pairing work, Nick is perhaps the only one on the team who shows Karen any sort of support. Maxine Gates is very memorable as Angie, a slightly over the top character who serves the team and is a bit of a mentor towards the ladies. The rest of the cast do okay, some performances are more over the top than others but some how they kind of work.
Whether intentional or not Unholy Rollers really shows just how toxic some environments can be, and how toxic femininity can manifest within deep seeded jealousy. Karen is a target for the team, she is new and a bit different, perhaps misunderstood by them, she has her guard up and in turn they don’t respond well to her. There is sadly a lot of truth in the way Karen is treated, experiencing this sort of bullying first hand it is quite confronting to see it play out on screen but at the same time it is a reminder that this does happen and isn’t isolated. Karen does fight back against this in every which way, no matter what it costs her both physically and mentally, she keeps herself strong because she feels she has to show no weakness.
While the film does have some serious themes going on, it is a fun film and actually has quite a lot in common with Showgirls (1994), in fact Karen could be seen as the precursor to Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi Malone. There are some great moments of humor mixed with some intense scenes of roller derby that really bring the audience into the action, which is a lot of fun to enjoy. Unholy Rollers does have some dated language and is very much symbolic of the early 70s, it holds up very well when looking at it through modern eyes, the themes still ring quite true and there are characters that are relatable in different ways. The fabulous performance of Claudia Jennings is a real highlight, this is a film very much worth seeking out. There is a lot to get out of this film, and its great to see a strong female led cast in a hard hitting and fun film.
Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea
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