In the horror genre, there’s always talk of certain movies that are either hard to find or rumored to be heavily edited. Post production or the MPAA are often to blame, but it was always word of mouth back in the day as the internet and conventions weren’t as frequent when I was growing up. Movies like Nightbreed and Cannibal Holocaust have gained reputations due to their behind the scenes drama or graphic content, sometimes causing them to actually be banned in some countries. I wasn’t too familiar with queer cinema growing up and actually didn’t hear of CRUISING until I was an adult, but didn’t get to see it until now with Arrow’s new Blu-Ray release.
I had previously heard about the supposed forty minutes or so that were taken out due to pornographic material. I also watched the odd James Franco project Interior Leather Bar which supposedly presented what was missing, but seems to serve more of a personal porn project without any narrative. All of this should have intrigued me to watch CRUISING years ago, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen.
CRUISING ventures into the then underground leather club scene in the gay community that was viewed as extremely taboo at the time. Al Pacino plays a cop who resembles, physically, the victims of a serial killer who targets a certain type of gay man. Due to this, he is assigned to go undercover at these clubs and use himself as bait to attract the killer. He enters hesitantly, but with a curiosity that embraces a culture alien to what he was used to. He gets himself heavily involved and finds it affecting the life he had before this case.
Pacino is excellent as he carries this innocence that the audience could relate to, a fish out of water scenario. He’s scared, but wants to keep going not just for the sake of his career, but his own dignity. He doesn’t carry the machismo swagger that he is now known for, mainly famously from Scarface. He can be seen as a man’s man, the kind straight men aren’t afraid to admit they admire. In the newly recorded commentary for this release, director William Friedkin recalls that between takes crowds would yell out homophobic slurs at Pacino. This was not the Pacino those people wanted to see participating in what they perceived as a gay dirty movie.
CRUISING has a new release with a 4K scan of the original negative, supervised by Friedkin along with remastered audio. Archival material is ported over, including the excellent featurettes “The History of Cruising” and “Exorcising Cruising.” However, it’s that previously mentioned commentary track that’s a real winner. Friedkin is full of material to share and expresses it with a passion missing by many modern directors. His approach to the material was without regrets, not caring who he might piss off with his film. He delves heavily into comparisons from the original novel and real murders that were occurring in the community.
The mystery and atmosphere of CRUISING makes for a rare mainstream thriller that doesn’t shy away from sexuality, not for the sake of exploitation, but for making us become part of the experience whether we are comfortable or not.
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