I love CRUISING. I think it’s an incredible film. Directed by one of my favourite auteurs Mr. William Friedkin who delivered one of my long term love affairs THE EXORCIST, among many other great pictures including another gay themed controversial film THE BOYS IN THE BAND which also sparked a lot of outrage from certain components of the gay community.
An interesting note: When William Friedkin directed THE EXORCIST, there’s a scene in which Linda Blair is having her brain scanned for an EEG and Friedkin, wanting a real sense of authenticity got a real radiologist and his assistant to do the scene. The assistant’s name was Paul Bateson who was heavily involved in the leather scene, and when you rewatch THE EXORCIST and see him in there it looks as if he’s still actually wearing a leather wrist band. After THE EXORCIST wrapped and some years later, Friedkin read an article that said that Bateson had killed a critic from Variety, he had bludgeoned him to death, and this slaying may have been linked to a string of more murders that happened in the leather bar scene during the 70s which became the basis of CRUISING. Friedkin visited Bateson in prison and that inspired him to take on the film as its director. Other people before this were attached to the product including Brian De Palma.
The movie suffered from a lot of absolute anger and outrage from gay lobbyists and we will go into that after the film. But I love this movie, it’s a brutal movie, it’s a wonderfully creepy film with a great soundtrack to boot.
Jim Hubbard, one of the founding members of the gay rights group Act-Up shot short silent documentary called STOP THE MOVIE CRUISING and documented these protests and rallies against the film. They also picketed the film while it was being shot, so if you noticed while you watched CRUISING a lot of the outdoor scenes featured very noticeable looping, because Act-Up were making lots of noise and messing with the sound recording of the film.
Now, the main reason these protests occurred is because at the time, which was just on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic and about twelve years after the gay liberation movement, gay activists were angry about the portrayal of queer characters in film, literature and theatre. They were fed up with negative images of homosexuality and these protests came as a result of that.
Now I’m not going to go into an exhaustive insight into the portrayal of queer characters throughout cinematic history, but I am going to briefly mention some movies from the 70s and 80s that featured queer killers. And hopefully it inspires you to go out and hunt these movies down and give them a watch, because I can tell you, I love them all.
After films like THE DETECTIVE from 1968 starring Frank Sinatra who plays a liberal cop investigating murders in the gay scene, queer killers became a go-to stock character in many movies of all genres.
In 1981’s THE FAN, Michael Beihn plays a closeted movie and theatre buff who’s obsession with Lauren Bacall drives him to kill a gay pick up and a gay dancer.
In LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR from 1977, Diane Keaton plays a school teacher who is bored with her life. So she starts cruising bars and picking up men for meaningless sex. By the end of the film she meets Tom Berenger who we have just seen in a violent fight with his male lover. Berenger is so disgusted with his own homosexuality that he tries to deny it by going go to bed with Keaton. But it’s a disaster: he can’t get it up, she laughs and then he brutally kills her in one of the most horrific climaxes of any movie. He beats her to death to defend his masculinity.
In THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Charlie Sheen and Maxwell Caulfield play social outsiders who decide to go on a killing spree. Caulfield’s homosexuality manifests into violence in what truly is a gay version of BADLANDS. When the boys hit a gay bar, pick up a man and slaughter him, they are acting out their own sexual urges through brutal violence. Caulfield, the quote unquote real homosexual and the one that is instrumental in their sadistic activities, is outraged when Sheen begins to make love to a woman he meets and in a jealous rage kills her. Caulfield, completely in love with Sheen, is consumed by his own self-loathing and only copes with his sexuality through acts of violence.
1973’s THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES, a German film, tells the story of a gay killer who lures young boys into his house where he has sex with them and then drains them of their blood, chops them up and then sells their flesh to local butchers.
In the James Bond film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, Bruce Glover and Putter Smith play queer lovers who gleefully kill and blow up helicopters, in FREEBIE AND THE BEAN a murderous transvestite killer pops up doing a violent ballet but is gunned down by our hero James Caan, Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve play murderous lovers in DEATHTRAP, in Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL which we are screening this year that you all must come to, Caine pops up again as a killer cross dresser, Albert Paulson plays a closeted killer queer in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN and so forth.
In WINDOWS, released the same year as CRUISING, Elizabeth Ashley plays a psychotic lesbian who is infatuated with the shy and introverted and also terminally heterosexual Talia Shire so she gets her friend to rape Shire hoping that she’d “turn off” men. She has the rape recorded and listens to it over and over again and finally holds Shire at knife point, molesting her and forcing her to strip.
Former musicals star June Allyson plays a butch lesbian killer in THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS, Shelley Winters plays Momma a big butch sadist in CLEOPATRA JONES and many violent lesbians populate the world of women in prison movies such as CAGED HEAT, CHAINED HEAT, REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, BORN INNOCENT, TEN VIOLENT WOMEN, SCRUBBERS and many more. The psychotic lesbian and pseudo-lesbian films continued to flourish and made a huge comeback in the 90s with such movies as SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, POISON IVY, FUN and HEAVENLY CREATURES which all owe a lot to the beautiful French 70s horror film DON’T DELIVER US FROM EVIL which I urge you all to see.
Gay characters also turn up as nuisances and as emotionally and mentally unstable leeches such as the lesbian who is in love with Bette Midler in THE ROSE, the cartoon faggot that is karate chopped by Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON, the pathetic loser-queers that populate MIDNIGHT COWBOY, the lisping limp wristed hitchhikers in VANISHING POINT and so forth as well as the endless fag jokes seen in movies like every single one of the POLICE ACADEMY films. Possibly the most homophobic gay movie ever made is a film I actually really like called A DIFFERENT STORY with Perry King as a gay man and Meg Foster as a lesbian who quite honestly and naturally fall in love. This movie also had a huge amount of protest in that gay lobbyists complained that it suggested that gay people can be fixed or cured which is a narrative device that many movies from years before actually employ such as MASH, THE FOX, CABARET, TEA AND SYMPATHY, TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME JUNIE MOON and so forth.
So you can kind of understand where a political group like Act-Up were coming from, they were pissed off that gay characters were either something to laugh at or pity or fear. Personally, all these movies I have just mentioned are very, very close to my heart and I love them all, but yes I understand its ok to be angry at them as well.
But on the flipside, during the 70s and 80s there were a lot of movies trying to represent “normal” gay life but ultimately failed and I find them remarkably boring – MAKING LOVE with Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin is thoroughly dull, DESERT HEARTS is a yawn inducing lesbian melodrama etc, I prefer the stunning homo horror movies that came out in the eighties such as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, FRIGHT NIGHT, THE HITCHER, THE LOST BOYS and THE HUNGER which pays tribute to the fabulous lesbian vampire movies that came from the Hammer studios and Amicus studios. Stunning films.