Cruising. It’s the infamous movie that infuriated gays in 1980. I was just eleven, not a sign of gayness in my life as I danced around my room, singing the Xanadu soundtrack….
Even when I finally saw Cruising years later as an adult, it just seemed like a suspense/horror hybrid with gays at leather bars as the victims of the killer. So I’ve checked it out again, and still found it to be pretty homo and horror-licious.
Let’s start this spoiler-riddled blog with the horror. While this isn’t totally a “horror” movie because it focuses heavily on Al Pacino’s detective character, there are some notable horror elements to the film. Hell, it’s directed by William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame, so the kill sequences alone are given a chilling treatment!
– The intro scene has a Euro horror vibe, with a couple of men on a boat spotting a bloody arm floating in the water.
– The coroner actually says that cops are just into “body counts.” So are horror fans, Mr. Coroner.
– Joe Spinell of Maniac and The Last Horror Film plays a dirty cop.
– When the killer goes home with his first victim, his voice as he talks (we don’t see his face) sounds suspiciously like that of Regan when she first chats with Karras in The Exorcist.
– The killer ties the first victim up and jabs the knife into his back from close range numerous times. This is a gruesome scene, and it’s uber creepy when the killer whispers, “You made me do this.”
– The killer leads his second victim into the woods at the park at night. Suddenly, the killer disappears and the victim calls for him. Out of the darkness comes the a whispering voice before the knife strikes. EEK!
– The third kill is very reminiscent of a scene from The Howling, which came out a year later. The victim is in a private film booth. A porn is playing on screen, affording the only (flickering) light in the space. The killer strikes and blood splatters across the movie screen.
It’s at this point that Cruising becomes most focused on what Al Pacino is going through as he fully immerses himself in the underground gay sex scene. But he does get his big “scream queen” scene with the killer when they finally come face to face at the end. Not to mention…the killer essentially passes his killing ways off to Pacino, who becomes the new face of gay terror!
A few more atmospheric kill scenes, and Cruising would have essentially been a slasher. And damn. If the movie studio had seen the potential, this could have turned into a gay slasher franchise, with part 2 (starring a bad Pacino knock-off actor) releasing in 1981, where it would have joined the ranks of Halloween II and Friday the 13th Part 2.
As is usually the case with the overly-sensitive fringe of fringe groups—who might fear their big dirty secrets are out?—some gays seem to have missed crucial moments in Cruising back in 1980 that made it clear that what Pacino was facing wasn’t your average, boring gay community (it was the fun one)…or that law enforcement was being painted as a bunch of homophobic assholes. Let’s take a look at every delicious gay moment of the film.
– Joe Spinell and his cop partner harass two leather drag queens (okay, that’s a pretty bad mashup of two stereotypes), and the partner forces one to give him a blowjob. This leather drag dude was just walking to a club minding his own business! Asshole hypocrite cop probably went home to his wife that night.
– The first scene at a sex club is loaded with men in leather and jockstraps, and there are hairy asses fully on display. Nice to see Friedkin didn’t insist the men shave their butts smooth, which would have been exploiting a(n accurate) stereotype.
– The killer’s first victim is a muscle stud who looks fantastic in a jockstrap…yet he couldn’t overtake the puny-assed killer? Fricking pansy.
– The coroner discovers the first victim’s anus was dilated, meaning he’d been ass banged. There’s semen all up in there, but no sperm in the semen. Killer is shooting blanks. Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. He’s insecure in his masculinity. It’s also established later that he has daddy issues.
– When the leather drag queen is questioned by authorities, he tells Paul Sorvino, who plays the head detective, about his BJ run-in with the cop. Paul immediately calls him a liar and defends his officer. Since the audience knows what happened, clearly the negativity is being aimed at the cops.
– When Sorvino briefs Pacino on what he’ll be facing when he goes undercover as a gay man, he specifically says the victims were not mainstream gays, they were into S&M and leather and that’s a totally different scene.
– Moving into a new apartment to hide his identity, Pacino meets his gay next door neighbor, who is a sweet, down to earth playwright and shows the contrast in gay types by pointing out that he’s not into all that underground sex stuff that the previous tenant was.
– As more and more men are killed, it’s mentioned that gay groups are coming down on the cops to do something about it. The message even way back then—gay groups have the power to mobilize and influence the law when it’s not doing right by them.
– When Pacino scores his first hookup, the cops bust in and drag the guy down to the police station. This is one of the most bizarre scenes in the film that not only demonstrates cops’ anti-gay practices and power trips, but also plays up to stereotypes in the realm of black panic. They intimidate the gay suspect, force him to drop his pants to humiliate him, and have a huge black cowboy in nothing but a jockstrap come in to dominate and slap the shit out of the pretty white boy suspect. Wait…what? What the fuck does any of this mean? It’s like the cops were getting their rocks off on some sort of suppressed interracial gay fantasies. I’ll honestly never understand this scene.
– The treatment of the gay suspect really puts the exclamation point on the general message of Cruising. Pacino argues with his superior about the way they are treating men just because they’re gay, and takes a stand, saying he won’t do it himself or be witness to it. The whole point is, Pacino has spent time with these gay men, gotten to know them, to see them as human. Wow.
Of course, there’s another, bigger angle to this whole gay thing….
PACINO “TURNS” GAY
Here’s the real “controversial” aspect of the film to me. How it’s interpreted depends on where you’re coming from. The way I see it, Pacino was a suppressed homosexual, and once he finally realized his orientation, he couldn’t handle it. Therefore, in the end, he becomes the self-loathing gay who lashes out at other gay men by taking over as the gay killer.
The other way to interpret the film is that gay is a choice, and because Pacino exposed himself to it, it started to convert him. In the end, he goes back to his girlfriend to set things…um…straight…and does the right thing, turning against the nasty gays who almost brainwashed him.
Just to lay it out, here are the details of what transpires.
– When he finds out he’s going to pretend to be gay, Pacino tells his girlfriend, played by Karen Allen, that he needs to cut off communication with her. He finishes with, “There’s a lot about me you don’t know. Such as…” He never finishes that sentence. Was he going to admit that he’s gay? Or just that he was going to go undercover as a gay man?
– When he moves into his new apartment, previously owned by a gay man, Pacino immediately throws out the guy’s nasty gay porno magazines. As he’s doing this, the sweet gay boy next door shows up, and Pacino goes for coffee with him.
– Pacino begins to explore the gay sex scene. He goes to a sex store and learns all about hanky code. He pumps iron aggressively to make himself look hotter and more appealing to gay men.
– Running temporarily back into the arms of his girlfriend, Pacino hugs Karen and says, “Don’t let me lose you.” Is he just afraid she’s going to leave him because he’s not around, or is he worried that he’s losing his attraction to her because she’s a woman?
– When a guy in a club comes on to Pacino, he says, “I’m with someone,” to which the guy replies, “Aren’t we all?” Is the message that all gay men aren’t faithful, or is it just that gay men who lurk around the hardcore gay sex scene forfeit the right to use a “mainstream” gay excuse of monogamy? Meanwhile, up to this point, all the clubs were dark and sleazy. As soon as Pacino gets onto the dance floor with a man for the first time and they start touching each other, the club is suddenly filled with bright light (he’ has finally seen the light) and a huge American flag lights up! Imagine, only 35 years later, the U.S. would actually throw us a bone of its freedom, giving us the right to marry.
– When the cops raid Pacino’s sex hookup, he is already completely tied down in a vulnerable position for the killer. He tells the cops they invaded too early. How did Pacino expect to get out of that predicament? Maybe he was hoping the guy would fuck him up the ass and he could just say that he was defenseless. Or maybe his self-loathing saw this as an opportunity to leave his gay existence for good.
– He once again returns to Karen, and she asks if he’s turned off by her, because he’s pulling away (he’s gay, you blind bitch!) They agree to split for a while.
– Pacino comes down on Sorvino for brutalizing the innocent gay man they arrest. Insisting he can’t be a part of the bias, Pacino says things are going down (yes they are), BUT, he’s “not scared or nothing.” Hm. Is he beginning to embrace that he’s not like other boys?
– When Pacino finally cruises the killer in the park, they both drop their pants. Faced with homosexual desire, both men whip out their knives and stab the objects of their desire!
– With the killer stopped, it initially comes as a shock to Sorvino when a sweet gay playwright is found brutally murdered in an apartment building. Then he finds out who was living next door to the victim, and he becomes visibly troubled. He knows Pacino did it.
– Pacino has returned to Karen. She innocently finds his leather jacket and hat and begins trying them on (now she can be the man he always wanted her to be). At the same time, he’s in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror. What’s he thinking? Is he trying to reconnect with his straight façade? Or maybe he’s thinking, “I’m going to kill that skank for getting woman smell on my leather.”
Meanwhile, for all the controversy, gay magazine Mandate featured “The men of Cruising” on their cover the month the film was released….