William Friedkin was inspired to direct Cruising after finding out someone he worked with on The Exorcist was a serial killer
While looking for a project to follow the success of his films The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin came across a book he found to be fascinating: Cruising by Gerald Walker, about “a series of murders in the gay bars of New York, and a detective assigned to go undercover to find the killer”. But Friedkin had already made a movie that centered on gay characters, The Boys in the Band, so he let the Cruising adaptation go by. For a while, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct the film, but wasn’t able to get it into production. In his memoir The Friedkin Connection, Friedkin revealed that it wasn’t until someone he worked with on The Exorcist turned out to be a real-life serial killer that he thought of the way to approach Cruising.
Friedkin wrote in The Friedkin Connection that in 1979 he started seeing articles written by Arthur Bell in the Village Voice about gay men being murdered after going to S&M clubs in New York. He knew about these clubs because he had worked with a detective named Randy Jurgensen on The French Connection and Jurgensen had gone undercover in those clubs to entrap a killer. Then, “One morning in the New York Daily News, I read about the arrest of Paul Bateson, who was charged with several killings of gay men, including the brutal murder of Addison Verrill, the theater critic for Variety. I was stunned to recognize Bateson’s picture. He was the radiology nurse at the NYU Medical Center who prepared Linda Blair for the arteriogram in The Exorcist. The paper referred to him as ‘the trash bag killer.’ I remembered that he wore earrings and a leather-studded bracelet in the medical center, a rarity in the workplace in 1972. His lawyer’s name was in the article, so I called and asked him if Paul would see me.“
Friedkin went on to visit Bateson in jail – and wasn’t able to get much out of him, because he said he didn’t remember much about killing and dismembering his victims. But the filmmaker left that meeting with new inspiration to take the helm of Cruising and get it into production. “I wrote the script in four weeks. I used the title and premise of Gerald Walker’s book, which pre-dated the trash bag murders, and was set in the genteel gay bars of the Upper East Side, not the S&M clubs. I used elements of Randy’s story, Bateson’s case, and Arthur Bell’s accounts.“
Released in 1980, Cruising had the following synopsis: A psychopath is scouring New York City gay clubs and viciously slaying homosexuals. Detective Steve Burns is ordered to don leather attire, hang at the city’s S&M joints and keep an eye out for the killer. But as Steve becomes immersed in club hopping, he begins to identify with the subculture more than he expected. Meanwhile, Steve behaves distantly around his girlfriend, Nancy, the police force’s homophobia becomes apparent and the killer remains at large.
The film stars Al Pacino, Karen Allen, and Paul Sorvino. Retired detective Randy Jurgensen makes an appearance.
Bateson was convicted of Addison Verrill’s murder and served 24 years in prison, followed by 5 years on parole.
Are you a fan of Cruising, and did you know a real-life serial killer appeared in The Exorcist? Let us know by leaving a comment below… and if you want to read more of Friedkin’s memoir, pick up a copy of The Friedkin Connection at THIS LINK. Friedkin passed away in August at the age of 87.