REV Releasing,

John Huckert

Screenplay: John Huckert, John Matkowsky

Starring: Noel Palomaria, Malcom Moorman, Charles Lanyer, Michael Waite

Unrated, 100 minutes

Queer and Loathing
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, January 2006


GLBT audiences often have issues with films about gay serial killers. My generation remembers all too well the furor over William Friedkin's Cruising, but I think that some of us are too obsessed with having only positive gay images in the media. I don't want to see a return of the 70s psycho queer either, but let's not allow political correctness to cloud our judgments when viewing a controversial film like Hard. Yes, it's about a gay sociopath. But it's also a psychological mindfuck that deserves to be seen.

Though first released in 1999, this gritty independent is the perfect queer film for the Bush era. Why? Because its real theme is homophobia. Hard tells two equally compelling stories. First, the audience meets Jack, a charismatic drifter behind the wheel of a stolen Bronco, with a bent towards torturing and killing street hustlers. Ramon, a closeted cop who has just been promoted to detective, is assigned to the case.

During the investigation, Ramon meets Jack in a gay bar. Jack intuits that Ramon is secretly gay. Like two dogs trying to establish who is the alpha male, the two men enact an elaborate mating dance with Jack calling Ramon a "homophobic gay cop" and Ramon trying, quite violently, to deny the mutual attraction. Inevitably, he takes Jack home. Their intense sex resembles a wrestling match as both demonstrate dominance. Then, to his horror, Ramon wakes to find himself handcuffed and tied to his bed.

Jack admits that he is the killer, steals Ramon's badge and challenges the captive cop to find him. Another body is soon found, with the badge stuffed into its mouth. Ramon, who works with the biggest fag-hating cops to ever appear on film, is forced to come out in order to avoid being arrested for murder. And then his troubles really begin. While Ramon's hard-nosed partner unexpectedly sticks by his side, the other cops aren't quite so magnanimous. The abuse he receives at the hands of his fellow detectives is a horror story in itself.

To paraphrase Edgar Allan Poe: homophobia holds sway over all. Ramon is obviously uncomfortable with his sexuality, one only has to look at his failed hetero marriage. His fellow cops are irrational zealots, yet obsessed with homos. In one of the script's many subtle touches, the biggest bigot is seen checking out another cop's ass in the shower before assaulting Ramon. There is also no sympathy for Jack's victims; an obnoxious morgue technician refers to one as a "condition corrected," while the cops think the killer is doing them a favor by cleaning up the streets for them. And then there is Jack, who claims that none of his victims will be missed. Look also at how each gay man in the film feels about kissing.

Jack is one of the most believable predators to ever appear on screen. He is certainly one of the scariest. What really creeped me out was that Jack looks like a guy who you would enjoy having a few beers with on Bear Night at Buddies. He is ruggedly handsome in a truck driver mold; blonde with a flattering beard, and very friendly. As Hitchcock once said, if the killer looks like Peter Lorre he would never be able to charm his victims. If I wasn't in a longterm relationship, he is exactly the type of man who could charm me. I'm usually able to watch films like The Silence of the Lambs with an air of detachment but, perhaps because this film hit a little closer to home, Hard is one of the most unsettling films this reviewer has ever seen.

Hard is a gruesome film but, considering its subject matter, it's quite restrained. The murders occur off-camera, (we do see the bodies), but the glimpses of Jack tormenting his captives are the stuff of nightmares. Unlike that 1980 freak show, Cruising, this one is not exploitative. Police advisers on the set kept the film from falling into hokey Dragnet territory. The fact that the film has so much to say, under the guise of being a thriller, is admirable. Award another gold star for casting Mitchell Grobson as a cop who Ramon beds early in the film (see picture below). Grobson was, himself, a harassed gay cop who successfully sued the LAPD and founded a support group for GLBT police and rescue professionals. (His website is

Despite its low budget, Hard is filled with atmospheric photography that is the equal of films like Seven, and the use of sound is effective too. Though the acting is mixed, all of the leads deliver the goods. Malcom Moorman is especially good as the killer, delivering a nuanced, and terrifyingly real, 3-dimensional portrait of a sadist. Noel Palomaria also shines as Ramon; ditto for Charles Lanyer as his partner, and Michael Waite as a family man who lets Jack crash at his home (with dire consequences) in exchange for sex. The script is light years ahead of the usual Hollywood tripe. Watch this film instead of the latest splatter flick if you really want to get scared.
Lastly, I want to warn my readers - who have read my rants against the film ratings board before - that there are two versions in circulation. The R rated video is a good five minutes shorter than the unrated theatrical cut. Some of the more graphic violence is gone, as is, predictably, most of Jack and Ramon's very steamy sexual romp. Yet the genitalia of bound captives are still visible while a brief shot of Ramon removing a condom from his penis was exised. So... full frontal male nudity during torture is okay, but not during a scene that promotes safe sex? Tell me what's wrong with this picture.