Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Coming out this weekend in select theaters is the cult revenge classic MS. 45. This was filmmaker Abel Ferrara’s second feature film after THE DRILLER KILLER (reviewed here) and is one of those movies that sits with you long after it plays. I had a chance to talk on the phone with Ferrara about the film recently and had a blast hearing him talk about the film. I’ve tried to transcribe it word for word because Ferrara’s one of the few old school renegade directors and with his New York accent and no shits given attitude, it makes him all the more tougher and admirable as a filmmaker. Here’s how the interview went down…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Is this Mr. Ferrara?
ABEL FERRARA (AF): Yeah, yes, I’m here.
BUG: Great, it’s really an honor to talk with you. I’m a huge fan of all of your films.
AF: Oh, thanks, man.
BUG: I actually just rewatched DRILLER KILLER a little while ago, so I’m really excited to talk about both MS. 45 and that film as well.
AF: Cool. So where are you at? Where are you calling from?
BUG: Chicago. I live in Chicago.
AF: Is it cold there in Chicago now?
BUG: I wanted to start out by asking you about New York seems to play such an important role in so many of your films. What is it about that city that makes you keep revisiting it in your movies?
AF: Well, I grew up there and, you know, so I kind of had to make my films here. You’re working there, you know and you get connections on the East Coast and there are people there you know, so that’s where you made it. The work and the initial ideas come from the environment, you know? But it’s not just New York. I did the pilot of CRIME STORY in Chicago, you know? And I love Chicago. But you film in the environment you’re comfortable in and in New York, that environment is always changing. I mean it changes so much between DRILLER KILLER and MS. 45. It’s just one of those places that is constantly reinventing and reimagining itself.
BUG: It felt like DRILLER KILLER was one of those films that was filmed on the low without permits and things like that. But you can really see a jump in the quality between that film and MS. 45. Was this a more…”official”, for lack of a better word, for you?
AF: It was kind of the same kind of low budget thing, but now we’ve gotta make believe we’re Woody Allen. Do you know what I mean? There’s even that kind of Woody Allen shot in there with that bridge in the background. That was the style of filmmaking that said “New York” and the guys working with us were working on Woody Allen films, so there’s a specific look to it. I think when we made DRILLER KILLER, we were like “Hey man, who knows if anybody’s going to see this thing?” We were still student filmmakers, you dig?
After that we realized these poor people are actually going to pay money to see this, so maybe we should make sure they can see it and hear it.
BUG: (Laughs) That’s great! Back then there was DEATH WISH and some of the other films like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, which all were part of what is now referred to as the revenge genre. Going into MS. 45, what kind of film were you trying to make?
AF: You know, Nicky [Nicholas St. John] is the one who put a lot into the story of MS. 45. I would say MS. 45 is to DEATH WISH as DRILLER KILLER was to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Would the film have existed anyway? Probably. But were we very aware of what those films were and how they made money? Sure. We were genre filmmakers and this was a genre film. We made this one before GLORIA, but you know, Cassavetes was a big time role model for us. But they’re kind of the same movie, know what I mean?
BUG: How early on did Zoe Lund come into the picture?
AF: We were casting it and we were casting for a big Hollywood movie and she was in the running for that. She was a seventeen year old kid, going to Colombia on a scholarship. She’s a left-wing radical, super intelligent, talented, gorgeous kid, you know? We met her and were like “WOW! You can’t turn down that face!” And she ended up being a friend of mine off and on right up there to the end, do you know what I mean? She wrote BAD LIEUTENANT, you dig?
BUG: Yeah. As far as going into this film, which involves rape and some pretty grueling scenes. How did you prepare Zoe for these scenes she was going to have to do?
AF: She was a sophisticated woman. She was always prepared. This chick didn’t worry about it all. She got it. She got what we were going for, you know? There were some scenes where we were doing some kind of horrible thing and she’s eating graham crackers while guys were running her hands all over her. This was just a movie to her. And she knew what it was about and what we needed of her. You’re dealing with a real special kid here. She was a genius. So we knew the film was about rape, we all did, but you just do it. We were all there to make a movie and that’s what we did.
BUG: When the film was finished and released, what was it like when MS. 45 was in theaters? What was the reaction?
AF: Nah, we couldn’t give this movie away. We couldn’t give it away, man. It was a disaster and it sat around for a year. Then Billy Friedkin, you I didn’t even know, he saw it and made Warner Brothers buy it and they paired it with I think ROAD WARRIOR on the foreign market. I think they called it ANGEL OF VENGEANCE then. Warner Brothers got it seen around the world. Then a year later, they got it here in a lot of theaters because, you know, there was that Friday night slot for non-rated/X Rated film, you dig? That’s where they put films with horror, with guys abusing women, women abusing men, whatever the fuck it is, pushing the envelope of what a Hollywood film would be. And it opened in 97 theaters in New York. It opened in LA and we didn’t know anything about film distribution. The film had been sitting on the shelf. And we opened in LA and who the fuck knew, you know, we got these really rave reviews from really big time critics. So that kind of changed the whole game for us and opened us up for other things.
BUG: Looking back on it now, what’s it like all of these years later seeing this film become the cult classic that it is today?
AF: You know, I haven’t seen the film in a very long time. It would be very hard for me to see it what with me being such good friends with Zoe and what happened with her. But you know, I don’t have to see it. I remember it. You dig? I mean, I close my eyes and I see that movie a million times. When you make these movies, man, you’re making them forever. It’s like drawings on a cave wall. It’s art. If you call it art. Whatever it is. It’s timeless. You know, it’s timeless. Who knows, there could be a bunch of Martians watching MS. 45 a million years from now, you dig?
BUG: (Laughs) I was wondering there’s a lot written about a few different edits of the film out there now. Which do you prefer?
AF: There’s really only one. I think the only difference between the R Rated and the X Rated versions are a couple of bloody crotch shots. I mean, we fought with these censors over eight frames, twelve frames. And this was a time nobody gave a shit what we put out. Now, I’m making films and I’m working with all kinds of people telling me that the films too long and you know, you’re talking about major fucking edits. But for me, it’s not the big deal between the eight to twelve frames. But once someone talks to you about censorship, man, the fucking guns come out. All of a sudden they start slamming you, they start putting up these walls with the movies you make, talking about the advertisers and the newspapers and TV’s, which is still the thing now. They’re talking about my new film and now I gotta worry about iTunes. And I tell them to go fuck themselves, know what I mean? You know, I got a bond between the people watching my movies and me and that can’t be censored. And if it does get censored, then that bond don’t exist.
BUG: Do you miss that type of renegade filmmaking you did back in those days with no permits and things like that?
AF: We’re doing it now with the film I just made, WELCOME TO NEW YORK. There’s people talking about this and that and it’s too long or it’s too short. It doesn’t change, you know. There’s pressure no matter what kind of movie you try to make.
BUG: I did want to ask you about your music. I loved the music from DRILLER KILLER, all of the underground punk music that you played in the film.
AF: Thank you. Well, it’s the guy who played in that band, Tony Coca-Cola [D.A. Metrov], he was the artist. He was the guy I was modeling myself off of. I mean, I don’t think he was killing people. I hope he wasn’t. He wasn’t that far from it.
The rock and roll we always played, I mean Nicky, myself, the guys, we always played. But we play for therapy. Just in the house for fun. We don’t want to be forcing it on people in the movies. In DRILLER KILLER, that was part of the movie itself so it made sense to put it in.
BUG: So it looks like we are running out of time. What do you have coming up next?
AF: Well, there’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK with Gérard Depardieu about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case and then I’m filming back to back right now, I’m going to be filming a biography about the last day in the life of Pasolini, you know, the Italian film director. And Willem Dafoe will be playing Pasolini.
BUG: Awesome. Well, Mr. Ferrara, thank you so much for talking with me today. It’s always a pleasure to see one of your films.
AF: Yeah, thank you, man. Thank you. Good luck with the article.
BUG: MS. 45 can be seen back in select theaters and on Video On Demand March 25, 2014. Find out where and when you can see the film here! Below the trailer is my review of MS. 45!
Opening in select theaters on 12/13 from Drafthouse Films and on Video on Demand March 25, 2014!
MS. 45 (1981)aka ANGEL OF VENGEANCE
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Written by Nicholas St. John
Starring Zoë Lund, Albert Sinkys, Darlene Stuto, Helen McGara, Nike Zachmanoglou, Abel Ferrara, Peter Yellen, Editta Sherman
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I never understood the mentality of men who hoot and holler at women walking by them on the street. Has that ever worked ever in picking up a woman? Well, the opening scenes of MS. 45 highlight how terrifying this can be for a woman walking the streets of New York. For a film that is often panned for its violence and especially graphic rape scene, those criticisms most likely come from those who have never seen it. In many extremely effective ways, Abel Ferrara shows how horrifying the experience can be for a woman and then gives her all the power to enact that horror upon others.
The story follows a mute seamstress named Thana (played by the stunning Zoe Lund) as she pretty much has the worst day in her (and anyone’s) life as she is raped on the way home from work, and then comes home to her house being robbed and raped again by the robber. Thana is able to hit the second rapist in the head with a paperweight and then finishes the job with an iron, but the introverted girl becomes unhinged and instead of calling the police, she cuts the body up in her tub and disposes of the parts throughout the city patiently through the span of the rest of the movie. The robber also left his gun, which Thana carries with her protection at first and as a tool for vengeance as her hatred towards all men continues to grow.
A while back I reviewed HIDDEN IN THE WOODS and criticized it for making every man in the film a sweating and monstrous penis whose sole purpose was to lust and attempt to have sex with the two teenage girls in the film. I have to give this film the same criticism, but while Patricio Valladares film didn’t offer much as far as redemption for the girls or even a commentary that those feelings the men were having and the things they were doing were wrong, Abel Ferrara definitely has a statement to make here. Unfortunately, there aren’t any likable males in this film at all, but the things they do are obviously wrong and therefore I didn’t have the bad taste in my mouth that I had with HIDDEN IN THE WOODS.
The late Zoe Lund is mesmerizing here, not just for her beauty, but for the rage and confusion she exudes simply from her eyes. While I don’t want to ruin the final scenes of the film, the simple fury Lund is able to convey through those gorgeous big brown eyes of hers in those last moments is astonishing. Lund is this movie and while the acting from the rest of the cast is passable, it’s her presence that makes it feel like a legit film rather than a low budgeter.
There are some scenes of laughable hokeyness. Thena is encircled by your typical Hollywood gang of interracial members (one of them twirling nunchuks), but just when you start to giggle at stuff like that, Thena does something so badass that you’d think she’s a trained veteran with that gun that never seems to run out of bullets. The disturbing and creative way Thena disposes of the body in her apartment is another aspect that raises the hokey-ness to a level of cool.
I have to mention the astounding soundtrack with a screeching saxophone throughout the film which serves as a siren call warning us when Thena is about to go bullet-crazy. Even though the band in the last scene oddly seems to have a trumpet player playing the sounds of a saxophone (the result of some lazy dubbing), it is a distinct sound that seems as akin with this movie as the “dun-nuh” cellos in JAWS. Filled with the sights, sounds, and grime of 1980’s New York, MS. 45 is the perfect revenge film which makes you root for the killer despite how bent Thena becomes due to the grueling set up and continuous assault of everything with a penis that happens for the rest of the film. If you get a chance, get out to a midnight showing of the film this week. It’s definitely an oldie worth revisiting.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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