Halloween is a night when teen TV embraces spooky themes, whether an encounter with a ghost of a long-dead student or wearing a costume that nods to the scarier side of life from the relative comfort of a high school kegger. “It’s “come as you aren’t” night,” as Buffy Summers tells best friend Willow when trying to convince her to wear something more risque than her quintessential ghost option. This annual event is also a time for a costume designer to flex their skills, interrupting significant pop culture moments through the lens of a homemade costume for the character in question.
Euphoria’s Heidi Bivens took on this mandate in the first season’s installment, “The Next Episode,” delivering looks ranging from Bob Ross to True Romance‘s Alabama. These high schoolers aren’t picking the most popular memes or characters from 2019; rather, the references go back to before they were born.
One of the most striking looks from the Emmy-nominated episode is Kat Hernandez’s (Barbie Ferreira) interpretation of the 1981 revenge thriller Ms .45. It isn’t a case of simply picking a controversial image to emulate, instead, this choice reflects Kat’s experiences regarding consent, sexuality, and empowerment in the proceeding episodes. Nominated in the “Outstanding Contemporary Costumes” category, Bivens infuses Kat’s recent dramatic makeover into her Thana from Ms .45 likeness.
“It’s a movie about this mute seamstress who gets brutally raped at gunpoint, and at the end, she puts on a nun costume, goes to a Halloween party and shoots everybody,” Kat tells Ethan when he asks if she is a slutty nun. The latex habit coupled with the bold red lipstick, rosary, and a glimpse of her bra beneath the cape and slip no doubt led to this assumption. Ethan likely thinks Kat is fulfilling a philosophy laid out in Mean Girls: “In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” Instead, she is leaning into the horror aspect of this holiday, even if she has to explain who she is portraying.
Euphoria is stacked with pop culture references that probably reflect creator Sam Levinson’s tastes more than the Gen-Z characters. However, considering the amount of older movies I watched as a teen — particularly ones that fell into horror or cult categorization — Kat’s Ms .45 niche selection is entirely plausible. Her love of genre is established in an earlier episode when she fantasizes about a Khal Drogo type leading a Dothraki army to save her from high school misery. The previously bookish looking Kat is extremely online, having amassed a significant following on Tumblr as a result of some pretty explicit fanfic, but this social media popularity does not translate into real-life likes.
After her first sexual experience was filmed without her knowledge and then uploaded to a porn site, she takes this moment of humiliation and degradation and decides to monetize her sexuality. In becoming a camgirl, she takes back control by wearing a mask and deciding the level of interaction she wants to engage in. These encounters do incorporate surface-level empowerment; however, she is still only 17, and there are myriad issues to consider including the age of the men she interacts with.
At school, she swings between seeming invisibility and fat-shaming ridicule. In sixth grade, she dated Daniel but when she returned from holiday 20 pounds heavier, he dumped her — this led to the ingrained belief that she is unattractive. “Bullying because of weight happens in such small ways, in big ways as well, but Kat really does feel isolated, and she resorts to being an online erotic fiction writer,” actress Ferreira explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. Fanfic makes her feel desired, and becoming a camgirl and random hookups with guys is an extension of this.
This transformation doesn’t negate her insecurities, but she does take this bold new dominatrix approach to her clothing both in and outside the bedroom. Mixing corsets and chokers with a punk plaid aesthetic, Kat struts down the hallway making sure everyone is paying attention. The latex approach continues with the Thana from Ms .45 depiction for Halloween.
She turns up to ex-boyfriend Daniel’s house party in a costume that is provocative alongside her friends who have come as Bob Ross (Lexi), True Romance‘s Alabama (Cassie), Marlene Dietrich’s iconic tux from Morroco (Rue), and the winged Juliet look from Baz Luhrmann’s take on the Shakespearean tragedy (Jules).
At the party, Daniel is dressed in an orange jumpsuit claiming he is serial killer Ted Bundy (because of course, he is) and Maddy’s film reference is far more provocative than Kat’s, choosing to come as Jodie Foster from Taxi Driver — in which she played a 12-year-old sex worker. A time of fashion experimentation and figuring out who you are, Halloween is an occasion to lean into (or out of) preconceptions while pushing the limits of what is considered acceptable.
Kat gives Ethan a pretty succinct description of the Ms .45 plot, but she misses out on a few important details from Abel Ferrara’s exploitation thriller — her synopsis is perfect for a party explainer. Thana is raped by a masked assailant in an alleyway at gunpoint on her way home from her seamstress job. When Thana does make it home, she finds a burglar in her apartment who also sexually assaults her. When her attacker drops his gun, she takes this moment to hit him with a sculpture, followed by the sturdier iron.
Killing him in self-defense, Thana doesn’t call the authorities but keeps his gun (a .45 caliber) and dismembers his body. What follows are different incidents, in which Thana kills when she feels threatened. At first, this is accidental, but her actions become less reactionary throughout the film. By the time she gets invited to the Halloween party, her body count is stacking up. She puts on the nun costume and her now-signature red lipstick that Kat mimics in Euphoria. When her boss (who has already been inappropriate) tries to seduce her, she kills him and then proceeds to shoot other men. What began as self-defense has evolved into a spree.
“The two rapes that open Ms .45 state the basic proposition: men use their superior strength to victimize women, and women for that reason live in constant threat,” writes Carol J. Clover in Men, Women and Chain Saws. Power dynamics in Euphoria are impacted by sexual encounters involve the sharing of images without consent, the threat of statuary rape charges, and blackmail. Reputations are threatened and while Clover is discussing the 1981 rape-revenge thriller, this sentiment could be leveled at the characters in Euphoria, “Men plunder women not only sexually, but economically, and socially as well. Thana kills not only for her own literal rape, but for the figurative rape of all women. Ms .45 is a virtual checklist of masculine privilege.” This is also a virtual checklist of masculine privilege on display nearly 40 years later.
Dressing as a nun after the attacks Thana endured and the vigilante path she has since taken is ironic symbolism that creates an unforgettable image. And while this movie isn’t necessarily one that most Euphoria audience members will be aware of, no doubt there was a Ms .45 search engine spike after this episode aired bringing grind house horror to a new generation.
No blood is spilled at this Halloween shindig, but there is plenty of other turmoil. After she has schooled him in cult movies from the ’80s, Ethan makes his move on Kat. The pair have been enjoying a sweet flirtation that soured after Kat thought he was hitting on someone else. Using this party as a way to find out why she has turned sour on him, he uses his “street vampire” look to break the ice. Opting for the bare minimum (aka the Oz from Buffy approach) he has fake fangs and a smidge of blood on his mouth. Thankfully, his romance game is a lot more thoughtful. She rebuffs his advances after finding out he is a virgin, but he more than makes up with his lack of experience by dropping to his knees and taking advantage of her nun’s robes — with her consent. For once, Kat is experiencing unbridled pleasure. Unfortunately, Ethan gets a little too excited and Kat takes his embarrassed quick exit as a sign of her worth.
In the following episode, we find out that Kat later hooks up with the boy who broke her heart in sixth grade. The flashback reveals she kept her latex habit on throughout, which only emphasizes this costume’s power further. Her perfect inverted crucifix eye makeup and red lipstick are still in place — by the Emmy-nominated Doniella Davy — but Daniel stomps all over her feelings once again. He nonchalantly comments that he has zero recollection of their five-month-long relationship when they were tweens. The only thing that died at this party is Kat’s entire romantic foundation.
Halloween on Euphoria doesn’t feature any literal monsters, but everyone has demons to contend with. For someone like Rue it is sobriety in an environment full of temptation, whereas Kat is still trying to figure out how to feel worthy. The costumes they wear are a protective barrier and a way to inhabit another character for the evening. How we dress is an extension of the way we want the world to see us, which is why costume design is so important to storytelling, and this one special night provides an opportunity to dial-up our persona.
Emmy nominated costume designer Bivens has infused aspects of Kat’s personality into her nun attire rather than attempting a direct copy from the movie. By dressing as Thana, Kat is flexing her niche film knowledge while wearing a provocative version of a chaste uniform. She is also making a statement about taking control even if the events at this party don’t go as expected. On a night that is full of tricks, the Ms .45 interpretation is an unforgettable treat.