William Friedkin clearly set out to make a crushing horror film on the order of The Exorcist, but the people he cast as the demons—New York's gay community—forced him to back down. What's left is the framework for a graphic, brutal, sickening film (1980), without the violent effects that might have made sense (however illegitimate) out of the conception. Like The Exorcist, it alternates five minutes of shock with ten minutes of dull exposition, plenty of time to watch Al Pacino wrestle with his miserably conceived character. Friedkin's technique bears unfortunate parallels to the S and M fantasy—he beats up the audience and some people love him for it. But here the follow-through's pretty weak, trailing off into some artsy ambiguity that damaged the film's commercial chances.
By Dave Kehr