31 Horror Movies in 31 Days- Cruising (1980)

Here is a film that would spark a firestorm in today’s most enlightened, progressive alternate-lifestyle culture. To putrefy the heterosexual audience, William Friedkin will insert subliminal images of men caressing or hardcore anal sex. It’s not that the frames are particularly revolting but Friedkin is obviously flashing them as button-pushers for the more prudish viewers.

This is the seedy 42nd street that featured in most of James Glickenhaus’ guilty pleasure movies (The Exterminator and Shakedown). The NYPD is mostly demonized as exploitative parasites too who coerce leather-bound men into sexual favors. If one is meant to defend Cruising, it’s best to objectively canvass it as a slasher film set in a deviantly fetishized faction that does not represent the homosexual community as a whole. With those safeguards in mind, the movie is quite chilling at times.

It’s a frigidly visceral scene when the serial killer hog-ties a victim before inflicting multiple stab wounds. The captain (Paul Sorvino) is extremely homophobic as he brazenly ignores his informant’s plight about duress because he is a transvestite. He casually asks Steve Burns (a featherweight Al Pacino) if he’s ever engaged in gay activity and he chuckles in derision. To be fair, Sorvino quickly defuses an incendiary bomb when he quotes that the victims weren’t affiliated with the “mainstream” gay lifestyle.

Again the film subverts the criticisms lobbed at it by delineating Burns’ neighbor to be well-adjusted and not predatory. We’ve seen films where the undercover officer begins to unhinge psychologically from their dual lives but Cruising never broaches beyond the superficial level of gay panic. When Burns doesn’t reciprocate a phone call from his father, we’re meant to hypothesize that isn’t proud. But, just like the ambiguous ending, the film is too presumptuous with what the audience will extract from it.

The true letdown of the film isn’t the degrading treatment of gays which is highly exaggerated (ex. It’s an indictment on the media that the newspaper’s headline is “homo killer on the loose”). Instead it’s the tepid, pusillanimous gumshoe aspect which insinuates that the compulsion to slay others is viral and is transferred among the society. To mitigate the appetites of the heterosexual contingent, Friedkin wedges in phosphorescent, token sex scenes between Pacino and Karen Allen. The motives are also muddled. Perhaps, it’s the killer’s brand of punitive retribution for the aberrant behavior but that is a specious and speculative (His catchphrase is “you made me do that.”).

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


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