MS.45 / ANGEL OF VENGEANCE (67) (second viewing: 73)

Directed by: Abel Ferrara (1981)

Starring: Zoe Tamerlis, Albert Sinkys, Darlene Stuto, Abel Ferrara (as "Jimmy Laine")

The Pitch: After being raped twice in succession, a timid, mute young woman turns avenging angel, going out on the streets nightly to kill men who abuse women.

Theo Sez: "Beautiful name," says someone when our heroine - Thana - is introduced ; "It's all Greek to you," teases her escort. It is indeed - from Thanatos, meaning Death, making her an Angel of Death, preying without reason or compunction on the male sex. Set-ups are brutally brief, tension never really an issue - Death is Death, and of course invulnerable, impossible to kill, at least for those (i.e. men) on whom it battens ; Jesus-like, only those she serves can destroy her ("Sister!" she gasps with her last breath, breaking her silence in what might equally be shock - "Sister, how could you?" - or pure Christian love). The straight feminist reading makes sense, of course - she starts as a seamstress, the ultimate oppressed-woman job, becomes empowered through the killings, becomes more of a woman (even becomes more 'feminine', wearing lipstick and makeup for the first time) - but what's most interesting is perhaps how it co-exists with a more subversive take, pointing out how easily feminism can degenerate into man-hating and sexual panic : the film begins in perfect moral sync with its heroine then gradually moves away, observing more than empathising, frustrating her for the first time when she tries to kill without moral justification, based only on gender (the Oriental boy, who does nothing more than kiss his girlfriend goodnight), adding complexity to her victims - a complexity she herself can't see - with, e.g., the guy who kills himself. Some cite REPULSION but this is slightly different, not so much inviting us to identify with a disturbed person as testing the limits of identification - though mention of Polanski also illustrates how crude the film-making here is by comparison, nothing like the slow accumulation of tension. Fair amount of flash, though, plus that irresistible low-budget gritty feel from before indies became indies ; why does tinny 80s synth music always sound so creepy, anyway?... [Second viewing, April 2018: Much the same experience, but (a) I appreciated the slow-motion carnival climax more this time (the angel now a nun, to confirm what a sex-hating scold - or paragon of purity - she's become), (b) I appreciated the music more, playing like a Greatest Hits of genre conventions (it even does Dario Argento and Goblin, though only for a couple of minutes), and (c) I appreciated how newly topical it is, with the sexual uprising of MeToo also threatening to topple over into sexual panic. Not really very feminist at all, by current standards, though the complexity is to Ferrara's credit; also, 19-year-old Zoe Tamerlis is a thrilling presence, the ending is perfect, and that whole bit with the Arab sheikh is hilariously cheesy.]