From Joe Spinell

William Friedkin’s Cruising: Serial Murder on the Margins

Cruising. 1980. Directed & Written by William Friedkin; adapted from the novel by Gerald Walker.
Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, and Joe Spinell. Warner Brothers.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★1/2 (DVD release)
bg65bhnsgOK0thCxspXXbOkUqXgCruising came about for William Friedkin in a number of ways: through his own observations about the gay bar scene, Gerald Walker’s novel, and his own link to a man convicted of murder (an extra from The Exorcist during the medical scenes). Listening to him talk during one of the featurettes on the making of Cruising, Friedkin really found something to connect with in the story. There is a sense he had a real interest in the whole social scene of the gay bars, as well as a grasp on the danger a lot of these men were in during those times being susceptible to abuse from all sides – not to mention the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

Cruising is about a young police detective, Steve Burns (Pacino), who is recruited by a police captain (Sorvino) to go undercover into the gay clubs of New York City, specifically the underground S&M clubs where some wild stuff goes down. There is a serial killer out cutting up young gay men and dumping their body parts into the river. Fairly on his own both as a cop and mentally, unable to tell his own significant other exactly what he’s doing undercover, Burns starts to find the assignment wearing and tearing down his psyche; he starts to change.
We watch as Burns goes into the underground of gay New York, the hardcore clubs, and we watch as the work starts to infringe on his personal life. It’s a great character study wrapped up in a murder mystery, and with slightly subdued horror undertones. For instance, in one of the first scenes we actually see a really vicious knifing; it plays out tense and mysterious, and then quickly becomes brutal with some brief shots of blood spilling all over the place. I love how Friedkin sort of weaves between genres, mixing them up together into a single, great pot.
cruising4Some of the moments we see here with the killer are really the stuff of amazing psychological horror. Yet there’s something very real about it all, too. Friedkin has a great sense for things which horrify us, and yet even though he has made one of the greatest horrors of all time I still wouldn’t classify him whatsoever as a horror filmmaker. He is most of all great with personal drama; the study of characters. Even in The Exorcist, one of the best things about that story is Ellen Burstyn’s character and her own personal journey amongst all the terror she and her daughter experience. Here in Cruising, for all the interesting bits in the creepy parts of this story, the main meat of what’s here is the character study of police officer Steve Burns, and what the work he’s participating in is doing to him. The murder mystery elements are simply a great backdrop for all of this character work to take place.
Cruising 1980 Al Pacino pic 3There is a lot to enjoy visually in this movie. Friedkin used a lot of dull tones, in the sense there isn’t much colour in the film. I like that because it makes things sort of blend together. This works together with one of the themes being transformation; from one place to the next, all the locations almost feel as if they bleed into the next. Just as we start to wonder who the killer really is, over and over at times (another trick Friedkin used was multiple actors playing the actual killer – the DVD lays it out very well which points out how much work went into the red herring effect they achieved here), and certain characters feel as if they bleed into one another, so does the look and the colour of the film. It’s really excellent. Also works to make things feel more grim and gritty.

The soundtrack of Cruising is spectacular. Pairs nicely with the look and feel of the film. Especially the stuff in the gay bars – really rocking soundtrack. Then there’s the score behind a lot of the scenes, which helps to set the mood along with all the colour palette choices. Very good instance of a lot of different aspects working together to create a fuller portrait of a film.
CRU5Al Pacino, as he is in many films, is really great here. He does a lot of interesting and subtle work here. Many people seem to often play into the idea that Pacino only does the loud and brash dialogue, or over-the-top type characters. I couldn’t disagree more on the whole, but in Cruising he absolutely shows his chops. Yes, there are times here when he does go into a rage; one moment in particular is a real outburst. Though, it works. The disintegration of this character’s psyche really starts to show in the way Pacino looks, as well as how he starts to treat those around him. He did an amazing job, and his performance is one of those in his filmography people really overlook time and time again. That may have more to do with the controversial nature of the entire film more than with his acting on this occasion, but regardless people shouldn’t skip this over so much. Awesome performance by one of the best actors in film.
Cruising 1980 Al Pacino pic 4
Many people probably see too much controversy in this movie to enjoy it. Or at least I can see how some people, specifically in the gay community, might misunderstand William Friedkin’s intentions here – it could be seen as making the gay community, certainly the earlier communities in the late 70s & 80s, look bad. But that is certainly not what he means to do. This is an exploration of a murder mystery, as well as a character study. Friedkin himself says, in the audio commentary & the special features, the gay scene (et cetera) is all about backdrop; he says it was “an interesting background” in which to set this specific story. Add in the novel, as well as Friedkin’s own visit to meet the extra from The Exorcist who bludgeoned a man to death, and you can see why he just found all of this interesting. I absolutely understand how certain people might take this film the wrong way, however, if you really give it a chance, and look at what it’s all about underneath, Cruising is an amazing thriller with horror and mystery elements thrown in for good measure. This is one of Friedkin’s most underrated movies, in my mind. It’s my favourite of his films.|
Both the DVD and film are great. Though, I wish the DVD had more features, it’s still a great release. Certainly for a film that had so much trouble getting released, and after its release. I would love to see this on Blu ray, packed with as many extras and additional cut footage Friedkin could drum up. For now, this DVD will do.
Incredible film. See it when you can, and check out this DVD if you find yourself becoming a fan of this lesser known, amazingly executed film.

Advertisements

Maniac is an Innovative & Horrific Remake

Maniac. 2012. Dir. Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the original screenplay for the 1980 film by Joe Spinell.
Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, and America Olivo. Canal+.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

First off, I really enjoyed the William Lustig directed original Maniac with Joe Spinell from 1980 (click for a review of that one from Rare Horror). There is a certain gritty, low-class charm to that movie which just really works. Spinell, of course, really terrified me, and most everyone who watched him become that insane killer onscreen.
But along comes Alexandre Aja, producing as well as doing some writing with Gregory Levasseur, and recreates Maniac, with help from director Franck Khalfoun. This vision of the film is even more crazy, more intense than the original, in my opinion. They took an idea, fleshed it out, changed it up a little, and came out the other side with something even more bizarre and frightening.

maniac_2012-en-1-750x1116_big-previewNot only do I find it more disturbing and more frightening than the original, it also uses unique techniques to really get the audience inside the killer’s head. The entire film, save for a rare few shots here or there at opportune and specific points (each with their own reason), is shot from the perspective of the killer, Frank (Wood). This means we see his whole life right from the windows of his soul. It is creepy. Also highly engaging: everything Frank sees, we see. We experience his experiences. The blood gets on his hands, and it feels like we’re there. Great way to immerse people in a character. Not forgetting how difficult it can be at times, depending on the story and situation, to film a movie as if right in the killer’s direct point-of-view.

The whole plot of Maniac revolves around Frank and his delusions. He restores mannequins in a shop his mother used to own. It becomes more clear as time goes by, the influence of his mother looms larger over his life, and has obviously damaged Frank in some way; it’s clear to us which way, very clear, immediately. Frank later meets Anna, and this shows some promise of maybe taking Frank out of his delusions. Although soon enough we see this will not be the case, whatsoever. Frank likes to scalp women. He likes to take the scalps home and staple them to his mannequins. He wants to build a life; one full of lifeless, obedient, perfect mannequins of his choosing. Frank is certainly a maniac.

Aja, whether he is directing or producing, always manages to dowse his films with incredible effects. Maniac, beyond its fresh use of point-of-view filmmaking, is ripe with blood and guts and disgusting things. Not only the blood, but there are some other images, horrifying sexual ones at times, that really stick with you long after the credits roll. A lot of the effects in Maniac are beyond visceral.
photo-Maniac-2012-17In fact, one of the best effects happens nearly right off the bat. The first scene depicts Frank stalking his newly discovered prey. He follows a young woman from a bar, all the way right up to her apartment door. Frank then ambushes her viciously, and takes his prize: a fresh and sloppy scalp. As he holds the girl by the back of her head, gripping her hair and slicing away, the scalp slips off, as its poor owner falls in a pile of dead weight on the floor. Sets the tone for Maniac and lets you know it will not be skimping on any of the horror, any of the gore for this remake. This kick starts the film’s pistons, which never stop pumping.

Another noteworthy mention about Maniac is the score. This film’s music blows me away. I can listen to it on its own, which I don’t often do with a film score or soundtrack either way. But the music is haunting. It’s a mix of piano and electronic music. The sounds get under your skin. There’s something about them that draws you in, taking you to Frank’s world. The score is beautiful and creepy, all at once. There’s something elegant and terrifying in the main theme especially. Sets the overall mood and jives well with Khalfoun’s atmosphere.

On top of the effects present, the film is really carried by Eljah Wood and his eerie performance as Frank. Khalfoun mentions in the Blu ray’s Making Of featurette how there is something more disturbing about a killer who does not look the part; for instance, comparing Spinell’s brutish character to Wood’s more slim look. One of the things which really works for Wood is the fact he doesn’t particularly appear imposing. You take one look at Wood and you don’t really feel the same fear as you might when meeting Joe Spinell in a dark alley, whether in a film or not.
Wood draws out Frank’s character with a lot of subtle acting. There are times when he goes wild, of course, however, it’s mostly the small, quiet moments where Wood really gets into things, and the character goes to fascinatingly creepy places. Without a really strong central performance a lot of horror films fall flat on their faces. With Wood and what I believe are his wonderful talents, Maniac really soars above most modern horrors where filmmakers often go for effects, whether CGI or practical, over character and plot.
Maniac2012_3As a horror film, Maniac is a 5 star experience. A lot of people expect a remake to expand on the original concept, as well as maybe step it up a little – if you feel that way and don’t believe Maniac delivers, then I have no idea what you’re really looking for in a remake. On its own this stands as a great modern horror, which to me will be a classic one day down the road. Even as a remake, this still holds its weight. The 1980 Maniac is loved dearly by a lot of hardcore slasher and horror fans. But I don’t see why people can’t get with this one. It is a fresh update; creepy, frightening, and gory at times. With, as I said, a spectacular lead performance in Elijah Wood. 5 out of 5 all the way.

Concerning the Blu ray release, it’s a 4 out of 5 stars. There is a great Making Of featurette, as well as a poster gallery, and some good commentary with Khalfoun and Wood. But there isn’t anything that really bumps this Blu ray above anything else in terms of being packed with extras. The quality is phenomenal. There’s nothing like watching a horror with style on a good screen in real high definition. You get to really dig into the effects. Not to mention the sound is quality – top notch.
Check this out. The Blu ray is beyond worth it, but don’t really expect there to be anything too amazing. The one featurette included is an hour long, so that’s not disappointing. You’ll get your money’s worth that’s for sure. Just not particularly my favourite release in terms of extra features that I have on my shelf, personally. As a movie, you can’t go wrong. This is a solid horror with many creepy, creepy scenes. This still lingers with me, even when I haven’t watched it in months.

Another Rare Horror review can be found here – this time for the remake.