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08.19.2017
Cruising (1980)
Movie Review by The Mortician
10.06.13

Cruising (1980) Largely misunderstood and underrated William Friedkin movie that's a great slow burn watch today with that classic '80's vibe and ambience. There's murders happening in New York City's gay S&M scene (which was just emerging back then with bars catering to this admittedly rough and controversial group). The maniac is slicing, dicing, and chopping up his victims, throwing body parts in the Hudson Bay. This is the director of THE EXORCIST, folks, and he certainly doesn't shy away from the slashings. They are fast, brutal, and uncompromising. Al Pacino plays cop Steve Burns, who's sent undercover to infiltrate the gay leather scene and draw out the killer, since Burns has the look of most of the killer's victims. We get to watch Burns as he gets drawn into the lifestyle in pretty graphic detail---as Friedkin and crew filmed in real gay clubs with real patrons back in the day. [The movie had legendary problems with the MPAA, as Friedkin allegedly had to cut out 40 minutes of very graphic sadomasochistic footage that was shot in these clubs and highlighted in the film! Would be interesting to see that footage someday restored for a Blu release, if it still exists.] As Burns' identity as a gay man in this new culture is cemented, we see the lines of what he thought he wanted in real life with his girlfriend blurred. Karen Allen, from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, is excellent in her part as Pacino's gal pal. The story gets into a few standard clichés as the "wrong killer" is apprehended at first and Pacino nearly quits due to the psychological effects the undercover work is causing in his mind. It's implied the Pacino's character gets a boyfriend and actually starts to understand the lifestyle he's immersed himself in, and there's a nice subplot with homophobic cops shaking down those they hate---interestingly, one of the "bad cops" is played by Joe Spinell, Mr. Maniac himself, in a wild small part! Also of interest to genre fans is Gene Davis in an early role as a gay man in drag---Gene would go on to play the nude killer in the Charles Bronson masterpiece TEN TO MIDNIGHT. The ending of CRUISING is awesome and ambiguous, with Pacino capturing the alleged bad guy but the murders continue---it's implied that Pacino may be continuing the murders himself or even Karen Allen, his girlfriend, who could easily dress up and look like the stalker baddie in the clubs. Released amidst huge controversy in 1980 by gay right's groups, CRUISING is still an awesome watch today, and the parallels it seems to have to its 1990's cousin BASIC INSTINCT are impossible to ignore, really. You can easily see the inspiration that Joe Eszterhas got from CRUISING. Highly recommended if you're looking for a retro slow burn slasher movie with major stars...and admittedly, it was very creepy watching Pacino strut around those clubs and getting down with men! For a major movie star, this was definitely a bold role to take back in the day, even if he and Friedkin had a falling out during the shoot and Pacino has never talked about the movie since he made it, over three decades ago...

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