Looker (1981)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #492


Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 30, 1981
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $3,281,232
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Michael Crichton
Producer: Howard Jeffrey
Screenplay: Michael Crichton
Special Effects: Joe Day
Cinematography: Paul Lohmann
Score: Barry De Vorzon
Editing: Carl Kress
Studios: Ladd Company, The, Warner Bros.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey, Leigh Taylor-Young, Terri Welles, Kelby Anno, Dorian Harewood, Tim Rossovich, Darryl Hickman, Kathryn Witt, Michael Hawkins, Ashley Cox, Donna Kei Benz, Catherine Parks


Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Sue Saad “Looker”

[2] Barry De Vorzon “If Looks Could Kill”


How far would you go to achieve perfection? Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that your nose is .2 millimetres too narrow, your cheekbones .4 millimetres too high, and your areola distance is 5 millimetres. Perhaps you have an unsightly mole on your ribs. What do you do? Do you accept your imperfections and view them as beautiful or is it time to go under the knife? Judging by the fact that last year, in America alone, over twelve billion dollars was spent on cosmetic procedures, I’m guessing many would stump for the latter, cash flow depending. That’s a fairly depressing statistic but clearly Michael Crichton was onto something when he dreamed up the concept for Looker.

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Crichton was perhaps better known as a writer than as a director. His writing credits included Westworld, Coma, Runaway and most famously Jurassic Park and, while he directed the first three, he rarely ventured behind the camera. Looker arrived in 1981 and touched on a topic that Crichton was fascinated with throughout his life. Future technology. He was always highly skeptical of this and, interestingly, this little-known movie managed to predict CGI long before it was put into practice. It was also the first ever film to use 3D shading, a full year before Tron hit the screens. Despite this, it struggled to make an impact theatrically and has been best remembered for its late-night cable showings which have amassed it a small cult following.


Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses. Basically this boils down to a particularly attractive person. That is what Digital Matrix are peddling. Their philosophy is that nobody wants to watch some washed-up hag selling cosmetic products and their theoretical research reveals that is what’s wrong with the industry. Too much imperfection distracting the viewer from being seduced into purchasing a product. A little nip and a tuck and they will be more than willing to map your body and recreate your image for more cost-effective marketing purposes. Should you read the small print on their contract then you may find something along the lines of “Digital Matrix are fully authorized to have you killed and make it look like an accident” but they’re operating under the assumption that most dumb models can’t read.


This is terrible news to celebrated plastic surgeon for the rich and famous of Beverly Hills, Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) whose successful procedures have earned him a fast-growing patient list. Among these is up-and-coming model Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey), and she is more than happy with the results. So to are her three friends, who all went under Larry’s scalpel for similar work as a result of their involvement with none other than Digital Matrix. The problem is that they are turning up dead and this leaves Cindy looking rather nervously over her shoulder. Meanwhile, Larry has a sweat on too, as Lieutenant Masters (Dorian Harewood) is now sniffing around his office and all clues lead back to our good doctor.


Larry thinks fast and I guess that’s what makes him such an excellent surgeon. Realizing that the still mostly oblivious Cindy’s life is in danger and, feeling the net closing in around him, he decides to take drastic action and get to the bottom of things before they get decidedly ugly. A quick visit to Digital Matrix is in order and, despite being offered reassurance from company director John Reston (James Coburn) and his cohort in crime Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young), he can smell a rat goddammit. Coburn always did play the smiling assassin role beautifully and Finney was fresh back on-set after solving the Wolfen crimes so Crichton decides not to hang it out any longer than necessary. We know our villains, we have our beleaguered hero, one hot piece of eye candy, and perhaps the coolest firearm in existence.


The L.O.O.K.E.R. gun is a delightful piece of equipment which has the power to make time stand still for a few protracted moments, making you easier to push off a balcony or perform a swift toe punt to the nether regions. Larry can’t get enough of his L.O.O.K.E.R. gun and is desperate to get his hands on it, presumably so he can have his way with Cindy without her knowing that the patient-doctor relationship mandate hasn’t been breached. Actually, he’s kind of sweet with her, and leaves it until the end credits are booting to inform her of what he’s going to do to her when they get home. He just wants her safe (and admittedly wants to play with the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun some more while he’s solving the crime).


The final act is utterly ludicrous but in the very best eighties kind of way. High-flying corporation Digital Matrix have incredibly lousy security measures you see. They can’t afford such luxuries after paying out once already this month for Tom Selleck’s body double as their lone hired gun simply known as Moustache Man (Tim Rossovich). There’s not enough left in the budget for security. However they do have a simply adorable clean bot which ironically proves to be their undoing. Never trust technology. Instead of laying on swanky dinner parties, perhaps they should have invested in two more men with mustaches. There’s no point crying like bitches now as Larry is about to bust this whole thing wide open.


Looker is a perfectly fun piece of disposable sci-fi entertainment, with a couple of far less disposable ideas which it pitches rather playfully. Everyone is clearly having a hoot filming it, we’re having a hoot watching it, and we won’t give a hoot ten minutes after the end credits have rolled. I happen to be rather partial to that particular brand of cotton candy. Finney is great as he invariably always is and Dey is far more than simple bubblehead and the perfect foil for his hard-to-get doctor routine. Special credit also to Barry De Vorzon whose entrancing synthesized score is wonderfully Carpenter-esque and positively fucks our frontal lobes with its pulsating waves. Meanwhile, Sue Saad’s hella catchy theme song provides the perfect glazed cherry for Crichton’s cake.


As always, his fascination for science is ours too and the glorious scene where Cindy is digitized provides my mental screen saver even now. Most critically though, it just reeks of its era. I love Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape and simply adore Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch so it’s only right that I’m going to love this tuneful techno nugget a little too. So should you but remember this Grueheads: beauty is only skin deep.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Read Halloween III: Season of The Witch Appraisal

Read Dreamscape Appraisal

Read The Matrix Appraisal

Read The Terminator Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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