The Mrs. and I just watched this film, both of us remembering how reviled it was when it was filmed here in NYC back in 1979. We were expecting to be howling, laughing at how bad it was. Pacino memorably tried to get out of filming this picture, and many of our friends were protesting the film's supposed take on gay life: that every gay man in NY was either a practicing leather queen, or a potential serial killer.
But - surprise, surprise - this is not only not a bad movie, it's actually just on the verge of being a good movie. We both thought it unexpectedly and sympathetically humanizes the gay characters it portrays, even the characters that might have otherwise come off as cliches, and that William Friedkin (of Exorcist fame) actually paces the film fairly well up until the main suspect is identified. Then, the tension goes slack...
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the picture are these: it depicts a scene long gone from NYC - the West Village's leather bars - in a way that brings back memories of the way my neighborhood used to look - fat cops in blue short sleeved shirts patrol the streets, full of brutality and tainted by corruption - leading us to reconsider what is manliness, and how macho attitudes infect everyone's dealings with each other. It also delves into a surprisingly ambiguous denouement, in which we are not sure exactly who the killer(s) actually are.
Overall, this legendarily bad picture is neither as bad, nor as offensive as the protests made out. But, one aspect of it is still very offensive: the poorly thought out, highly questionable, idea that somehow, a leather lifestyle leads to violent behavior, and this leads to killing. The movie is based on a book that explored real-life killings in the West Village leather community, and why Friedkin decided to try to work within the author's pseudo-scientific explanation of progressive violence is anyone's guess. This is where the picture really goes off the rails.
See it once, just for the artifact value, decent direction, and for a good, underplayed performance from Al Pacino, pre-HooHaa!, eye-tuck wackiness.