One of his best, Friedkin's BUG is an exploration of the toxicity in co-dependency, that darker side of romance.
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.
★★★1/2 (DVD release)
Cruising 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.
Some 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.
There 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.
Al 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.
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.
The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The Exorcist, Sorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook… it will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.
Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.
The plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.
I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
Or maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be. Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.
Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:
– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for Snowtown, Dead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
Overall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.
The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.
The Exorcist. 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Rated 18A. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it. Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realises what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism. This is the plot of the film. From there, the wild bits begin.What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features. The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist.” This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound – explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed – and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew. It’s amazing.
One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things. First, is a moment where Reagan (Blair) attacks a man. Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s POV. This is brilliance right here. Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit. We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot— it’s the best thing ever. Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film. I should’ve known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways. Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting. At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom— for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots. It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman (D.P.) talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it’s an absolute treat! These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.
Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes. Wild. I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, to actually see it and watch the process is something special. Roizman has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set, which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time, are great to hear. These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it. Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies. William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative. Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film. He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it, I understood anyways, though it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason,” and having it match up with what you thought. Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of the U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality. Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home. The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point. Burstyn’s one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests. Not many could pull of such a horror role. Burstyn’s so wonderfully natural here.
Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl. Incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did. On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her. Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing. You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role. Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect. So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that. You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist. I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 (the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!). It is really worth it if you enjoy the film. You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade. Those alone are worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.
Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now. If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this. When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old. It didn’t really affect me at the time. However, I still enjoyed it a lot. Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it. For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke. I couldn’t shake it. Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world. The performances and the effects, it all got to me. It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.
And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?” then you know what? Check your pulse. Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.
A look back at an underrated William Friedkin film.