I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Oh, how glorious it is to watch scenes in movies where informants do what they do best: infiltrate. There’s nothing quite like watching a good action star slink unnoticed by some thugs and trick them into thinking they’re supposed to be there.
However, the movies coming out on disc this week that feature plots with that characteristic aren’t exactly fun. Instead, they are gritty, dirty and real. So much so that you can almost feel all the grime collecting on your television screen.
Rated R, 102 minutes.
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, Jay Acovone, Randy Jurgensen, and
Available today on Blu-ray through Arrow Video.
In 1980, William Friedkin, the Academy Award-winning director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, took to the seedy underbelly of New York to fashion a film that shook up cinema. It’s not a fun and entertaining undercover cop story like Beverly Hills Cop or Kindergarten Cop. This is Friedkin we’re talking about. He’s a director who thrives in getting his hands dirty. Friedkin actually has something to say. And how deep he goes is what keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
Arrow Video is releasing a restored version of Friedkin’s phenomenal 1980 thriller Cruising for the first time on Blu-ray. The film stars Al Pacino as undercover rookie cop Steve Burns, who’s assigned to uncover a sadistic serial killer who is preying on underground bar patrons in the Big Apple. By infiltrating the S&M subculture, maybe Burns can save the lives of more men and lure the murderer out of the shadows — or will he get in too deep and lose himself in the process?
Cruising is a fascinating piece of filmmaking. I had never seen it, but I am a fan of undercover cop stories, especially when they’re well made, like the work of Martin Scorsese. Friedkin captures the reality of this terrifying situation while also squeezing in more messages to discuss. We see the risks police officers face when trying to save lives. In this film, Pacino’s character is risking his identity. After diving into the mind of a serial killer and conducting investigating at gay clubs, he goes home to make love to his girlfriend (Karen Allen) aggressively. This is Friedkin exploring the police force’s homophobia.
There are many more details for you to uncover if you should choose to take the plunge. While you may need to shower off the experience afterward, the intensity of the film will stay present in your mind and will have you admiring Friedkin’s daring.
Extras: The Arrow Video collector’s edition includes a cardboard slipcover with reversible cover art and an informational booklet (featuring an article about the film by F.X. Feeney). The film is a brand-new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative and a newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It was supervised and approved by Friedkin.
The only new feature that was produced for Arrow’s release is an audio commentary with Friedkin and critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode. The rest of the extras have been pulled from previous versions. That said, the archival featurettes are spectacular if you’ve never seen them.
The best inclusion is a 2007 making-of featurette that details the history of the film. The stories Friedkin shares about how he formed the story and worked to improve its authenticity are exceptional. When he discusses how he spoke to one of the extras from The Exorcist who later murdered someone, I was shocked. It was for Friedkin to better understand the motivation behind a kill. Super fascinating.
Rounding out the archival featurettes is a look at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy, and a theatrical trailer.
VICE SQUAD (1982)
Not tonally far off from Cruising is the sleazy 1982 crime drama Vice Squad. It’s not the most comfortable watch, either. One scene involves the brutal beating of a woman, which thankfully cuts out before a coat hanger does its worst. The savagery on display will have you grinding your teeth, but the force of the scenes will make an impression and contribute to the story’s effect.
Vice Squad is about a mutilator pimp, unsubtly named Ramrod (a menacing Wings Hauser). He’s a cowboy with no conscience and no remorse who preys on the ladies walking the neon streets of Hollywood. One evening, Ramrod murders a young woman, which puts Detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) and his vice squad on the case. With the help of a prostitute known only by her street name, Princess (a very good Season Hubley), maybe the titular team will capture Ramrod.
Everything about this has the DNA of a B-action movie. It has a lot in common with RoboCop, in that it appears to be a mindless movie, but slowly reveals it has brains. Hubley’s casting makes it worthwhile. She’s so fearless in the part that she should have played Wonder Woman. She does most of the heavy lifting. The police in this movie are nowhere near being the iron-pumped cops Hollywood often produces, like in Cobra or Kindergarten Cop. The police officers in Vice Squad operate realistically and look like real cops, which gives Hubley the space to kick up the dust. And that she does.
What elevates this film further is that it doesn’t have the freeze-frame feeling of the good guys saving the day. Like No Country for Old Men, its characters wake up to a dehumanized world. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of the best scenes feature prostitutes talking about encounters they’ve had. One involving an older man pretending to be at his wake will leave your jaw on the floor. So, prepare to be disturbed, entertained and shocked by this film.
Also check out out my deeper thoughts on my horror podcast My Bloody Podcast below:
Extras: The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition includes a cardboard slipcover and reversible cover art (the new design is a significant improvement) and hours of extras. You might have to really love this movie to have the patience to sit through as many talking head interviews as this release supplies.
The information included in these interviews (with director Gary A. Sherman, producer Brian Frankish and actors Gary Swanson, Beverly Todd and Michael Ensign) are insightful and occasionally fascinating. Stories about Hauser’s intensity on set take the cake. However, the interviews become monotonous after a while. If there were more variety to these extras, this would be a home run. But I imagine assembling behind-the-scenes footage from 1982 movie isn’t easy, or doesn’t exist at all. Good on the talent behind and in front to be happy to talk about it, though.
Other special features contain a new featurette on locations (showing where they shot in the film, and what each place looks like now. It plays like a last-minute addition, but it’s neat to see change), an audio commentary with Sherman, a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and a still gallery.
THE NEW KIDS (1985)
Rated R, 90 minutes.
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, Vince Grant, Eric Stoltz and Tom Atkins
Available today on Blu-ray through Mill Creek Entertainment.
Imagine an ’80s classic like The Breakfast Club but with a little Marky Mark terror from Fear thrown in for good measure. That’s close to what the 1985 film The New Kids is like. From director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th, A Stranger Is Watching), here’s a gutsy vigilante thriller. It involves a brother and sister (Shannon Presby and Lori Loughlin) who lose their parents in a tragic accident and are sent to live with their relatives in Florida, where they’re harassed and traumatized by a group of feuding teens (led by a wicked James Spader).
In this unsavory game of cat and mouse, Cunningham pulls off a tonal balancing act that pulls between being a humid drama and an impulsive action film. The encounters between the teens are gripping and horrifying. This involves a bucket of blood and a pit bull, sneaking into bedrooms with a knife in hand, shower visits of Psycho degree, and hallway stalking that might as well have Michael Myers present.
Anchored by a strong cast, The New Kids is slimy but unforgettable. Its jolts of violence and emotional weight make it worth picking up.
Extras: Unfortunately, there are no special features on the Mill Creek Entertainment disc. However, it’s the uniquely designed cardboard slipcover and cheap price that give this Blu-ray its worth. Mill Creek Entertainment’s release celebrates the look of a worn VHS tape. On the cover is the film’s poster with an image of an aged VHS peeking out the right side. There’s also a video store sticker slapped on it that lets browsers know it’s rated R. The spine text continues this aesthetic feature.