Following the masterful 40th anniversary Blu-Ray restoration of his lost classic Sorcerer in 2017, it’s now the turn of director William Friedkin’s even more unjustly forgotten 1980 thriller Cruising to get the Blu-Ray treatment. The film was adapted from Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel of the same name and also drew inspiration from a real-life series of S&M murders within Manhattan’s gay community that were eventually partially attributed to Paul Bateson, a former radiographer who played the radiographer in Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

Cruising stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a wet-behind-the-ears NYPD rookie in his late 20s who is tasked by world-weary veteran Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) with going undercover in the gay leather bars of Manhattan’s West Village to establish the identity of the sexually sadistic murderer of a number of the bars’ patrons. He soon finds himself out of his depth and questioning his own identity. Friedkin succeeds in generating an atmosphere of suspense, lust, confusion, death, and paranoia, and there are bravura performances from Pacino, Sorvino, and Karen Allen as Burns’ long-suffering fiance. He continues the same typage that he employed in The French Connection and The Exorcist by having real-life NYPD cops play NYPD cops and real-life leather bar patrons play leather bar patrons, which gives the film the same authenticity he brought to those earlier works.

Cruising generated controversy during its production and upon its release as many people within New York’s LGBTQ+ community felt it portrayed gay lifestyles negatively and would prove antithetical to the burgeoning gay rights movement. The production was actually picketed by protesters who yelled over the filming of scenes and interfered with their lighting, which is why so much of the dialogue has audibly been dubbed in in post-production. However, the ‘making of’ materials on this Blu-Ray reveal that Friedkin and Pacino were very concerned that the movie would not depict the gay community in a negative light and spoke to gay friends of theirs about aspects of the film’s production.

The film features many sympathetic gay characters, such as Pacino’s neighbour Ted Bailey (Don Scardino), but Cruising’s subject matter makes it difficult to see the movie as a celebration of the pre-AIDS New York gay scene, and the film’s status within the canon of queer cinema has always been problematic. Still, it’s always interesting to see a snapshot of what that city was like when it was still being run by Ed Koch and overrun by crime. The soundtrack is packed full of gems including a song from The Germs personally requested by the director (which made him pogo during its recording) and a main theme from Willy DeVille that Quentin Tarantino later reused in Death Proof.

The 4K restoration makes the movie look more glorious and colourful than ever before, without removing a fraction of its sleaziness. 39 seconds of graphic sex and violence that the BBFC cut from the film for cinema and video release are restored to this version, and a disclaimer at the start from the director claiming the film doesn’t represent his views of the gay community at large has now been removed and replaced with brief black-and-white images of scenes from later in the film. The commentary track by Friedkin and Friedkin mega-fan Mark Kermode is also very informative and entertaining.

Special features:

  • Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by writer-director William Friedkin.
  • High-definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation.
  • Newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD master audio supervised by William Friedkin.
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Brand new audio commentary with William Friedkin and critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode.
  • Archival audio commentary by William Friedkin.
  • The History of Cruising – archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production.
  • Exorcising Cruising – archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy.
  • Original theatrical trailer.
  • First run of copies feature sleeve notes by filmmaker and critic FX Feeney and postcard.

Cruising is available to buy on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video now.