The scene is Manhattan, 1980s. 42nd Street is at the height of its infamy. Dangerous, dirty, seedy and crime-ridden.Post-Vietnam horror lingers in the air. Hookers, chain snatchers, pickpockets and sleazy shows line the streets. Paranoia, fear and dread run rampant. And, out of it, a movie genre is born: grindhouse exploitation.
For some, it has been missed.
On March 25, Drafthouse Films will rerelease Bronx-born director Abel Ferrara’s 1981 rape-revenge classic, “Ms. 45,” on DVD following a slew of screenings around the county that started December 13, according to the filmhouse’s Creative Director Evan Husney.
Its reception left him pleasantly surprised.
“Some people are nostalgic for that old New York feeling, for whatever reason,” Mr. Husney said during a telephone interview from his Manhattan office. “They’re like, ‘I remember back then, there was a homeless heroin addict in my hallway.’ It’s bizarre. You run into people who miss that side of New York. But, at the same time, I can understand that. You look at this piece and see what the world was like then.”
The underground classic is rooted heavily in its time—as is its soundtrack, which was scored by Montauk-based musician Joe Delia and released for the first time ever last month. In “Ms. 45,” New York is the grimy sweatshops of the Garment District, where mute seamstress Thana—portrayed by Zoë Lund—lives, works and is raped not once, but twice.
Shattered and unable to communicate her abuse, she picks up a gun and leaves a bloody wake through the would-be rapists and street corner wolf-whistlers waiting for their next victim—all while wearing sexy boots and red lipstick.
This was what audiences wanted to see. They craved the harder edge of New York. And Mr. Ferrara and his film team were right along with them.
“We were part of that. We were into that outrageous shit from the beginning, ya dig?” he laughed during a Skype interview from Rome, where he recently wrapped shooting on his upcoming biopic “Pasolini” starring Willem Dafoe. “It’s cool somebody wanted to put this film back out—in the way that it first came out. Evan is like a pioneer.”
One year ago, “Ms. 45,” almost literally, fell into Mr. Husney’s lap. Thanks to A&E’s reality series “Shipping Wars,” Drafthouse’s American Genre Film Archive project acquired a container full of old movies about a year ago. Among them was a huge number of “Ms. 45” 35mm prints.
And that gave Mr. Husney an idea.
“‘Ms. 45’ is a time capsule, a chronicle of what early ’80s city scum was all about. And Abel Ferrara was ready to break as a very serious director,” he said. “When you have that kind of movie directed by that kind of filmmaker, it’s a fusion between art-house and grindhouse. It defies those barriers.”
He was inspired not just to bring “Ms. 45” back to cinemas, but also to re-market and re-master the film, restoring it to its former glory. In England, Death Waltz Recording Co. founder Spencer Hickman had the same thought—except with the thriller’s soundtrack.
“It adds a super edgy atmosphere,” he said of the score in an email. “It’s discordant and jarring, and totally captures the vibe of music in New York at the time—mixing disco, soundscapes and no wave. It’s always been a favourite of mine. ‘Ms. 45’ dance party is the jam.”
The soundtrack starts off with a 12-tone, melodic piano score, as Thana is introduced, Mr. Delia explained during a telephone interview. When she transforms into “Ms. 45,” a shocking saxophone and rhythm section takes over, carrying through the rest of the film.
“It’s somewhere between a suspenseful yet creepy, horror feel,” he said. “It’s really nice. It’s a lovely bit of music.”
Mr. Delia first met Mr. Ferrara through the composer’s brother in the late 1970s. They became fast friends and longtime collaborators, working on nearly every project together for two decades. They even frequented Montauk, which the director says is “one of my favorite places in the world.”
“Abel and his family had a rental in Hither Hills and invited me out to stay,” Mr. Delia recalled. “I fell in love with Montauk and knew, at that point, I would eventually live there. Later, [I] built a house in the same neighborhood and married a beautiful Montauk girl. By the way, it was priceless to see Abel Ferrara in shorts on the beach, tossing around a Frisbee.”
The duo parted ways almost 15 years ago, though they have remained in touch. “Give Joey my love,” said Mr. Ferrara, who currently lives in Brooklyn. The neighborhood has changed and the streets have gotten cleaner, he said. But if he looks hard enough, he can make out that New York edge he fell for more than 30 years ago.
“People watch a certain kind of television, and it’s a certain kind of make-believe, watered-down look to the world that’s being portrayed as reality,” Mr. Ferrara said. “A dirty, gritty world isn’t hard to find these days. It didn’t go anywhere. Maybe not in Central Park, maybe not in Soho or those streets we shot. But that depravity, that kind of anger toward women, that quick-on-the-trigger attitude, you don’t have to go far to find that.”