Sunday, December 15, 2013

Looker (Michael Crichton, 1981)

As I was busy wracking my brain trying to figure out where Jeana Tomasina (10 to Midnight) and Melissa Prophet (The Van) appear in this movie, I was apparently subjected to an eerily accurate portrait of the future. You could say my obsession with finding two attractive brunettes in a sea of skinny blondes played right into the hands of Digital Matrix Inc. and Reston Inc., the two sinister corporations situated smack-dab in the middle of Looker, Michael Crichton's highly intelligent techno-thriller about a humble plastic surgeon who finds himself embroiled in a vast conspiracy involving fashion models and light guns that freeze time. (How so?) How so what? (How did your obsession with brunettes play into the hands of The Digital Matrix Inc. and Reston Inc.?) Oh, I'm sorry. My explanation regarding the film's plot was so long-winded, that I forgot about the salient point I was in the process of making. Again, forgetting my point is exactly the kind of thing the not-so fine folks at The Digital Matrix Inc. and Reston Inc. would be encouraged to see. That's because they want to control the aim of your focus. In the old days, and by "old days," I mean the late 1970s/early '80s, corporations relied on television to get their message to the masses. And by "television," I'm referring to that glowing box that was usually located in a room called "the living room." Only, there wasn't much living going on in these rooms (unless you count sitting and staring into a flickering void as living).

Hypnotizing the viewer by bombarding their visual cortex with pleasing shapes and vivid colours, the corporations were able to hold the viewer's attention by putting so-called "shows" in-between the commercials for their products. Lulling the viewing into thinking they were using their own freewill by giving them a choice when it came to what shows they watched, the corporations had the powerful tool at their disposal.

(What if you told the corporations there was away to get the viewer to focus on the products they're tying to sell them to an even greater degree, do you think they would jump at the chance?) If it meant making more money, than, yes, they would definitely jump at the chance.

Suffering from a mild form of social anxiety, I used to dread going outside, as it usually meant that I would be subject to the prying eyes of the general public. The feeling that everyone was looking at me used to make me a tad uneasy. (Hey, wait a minute, I can't help but notice that you're using the past tense to describe your disorder. Does that mean you're cured?) Not exactly. But I have noticed that my anxious feelings are not as pronounced as they used to be. Why is that, you ask? Well, I'll you why, everyone is so self-absorbed nowadays, they could careless about those around them.

Remember those glowing boxes I alluded to earlier? Okay, now imagine everyone is carrying one those glowing boxes everywhere they go. In other words, no one is looking at me anymore, as they're way too occupied with their screen to notice me. In a weird twist, now I'm the one who's staring at them.

(What does all this mean?) Well, if the heads The Digital Matrix Inc. and Preston Inc. knew that one day people will be staring at screens all day long, their heads would probably explode. Then again, if they knew that one day people would be able to skip past their precious commercials with the simple push of a button, the part of their head that had already exploded as a result of hearing about humanities obsession with looking at screens would probably explode again.

Wow, judging by some of the words I've written so far, it would appear that I took a lot away from Looker. I don't want to belabour the point, but the way this film predicts the future is downright eerie. The characters, understandably, are shocked and appalled by the things they see transpiring in this movie. However, being a smug prick languishing in the present means that everything the occurs in this film, with a few exceptions here and there, has already come to fruition.

In order to reacquaint myself with my usual perverted self, let's talk about Terri Welles, shall we? Dominating the proceedings in the early going, Terri Welles appears in a commercial for Ravish perfume, exchanges dialogue with Albert Finney, wears a purple over purple leopard print, gets facial reconstruction surgery, puts makeup on to "Looker" by Sue Saad, wanders around her pink apartment in nothing but a black bra and matching panties and carries a small dog.

It's still early on, but I'm declaring Looker to be Terri Welles' movie, as she exudes a...Hold on, someone's at the door. And by "the door," I mean, Lisa Convey's door; which, by the way, is the name of Terri Welles' character. I'll wait to see who it is before I continue singing Terri's praises. Hmm, it would seem that no one was there after all. Did you hear that? It sounded like someone letting the air out of a tire. And what was with that flash of light? Something weird is going on.

When the synths start percolating on the film's synth-tastic soundtrack, which is composed by Barry De Vorzan, you know something awful is about to happen. However, her killer isn't wielding a drill or carrying a hatchet. No, he's employing a light-based weapon of some kind. We'll learn more about the light gun as the film progresses. In the meantime, what we just witnessed was one of the more unusual murder sequences in film history.

The killer, played by ex-football player Tim Rossovich, who is credited as "Mustache Man," may be only a henchman, but I thought he had a real presence about him. Oh, and the decision to give him no lines was the correct one. Of course, I'm not saying this because I don't think Tim Rossovich can handle scripted dialogue. On the contrary, I'm saying this because it gave his character an added air of mystery.

The following morning we meet plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) as he enters his practice in a chipper mood. And why wouldn't he be? Women are paying him ridiculous amounts of money to cut up their faces. Sure, he removes the occasional sebaceous cyst and seems genuinely interested in opening a pediatric burn unit, but the majority of his surgery is purely cosmetic; in other words, completely unnecessary.

After flirting with a patient named Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey), he was just checking out her face (she had some work done recently), Dr. Roberts is visited by Lt. Masters (Dorian Harewood), who informs him that two of his patients, both actresses who have appeared in commercials, have recently died under suspicious circumstances. If you listen carefully, the name of one of the dead actresses is Susan, and since Jeana Tomasina is listed as "Suzy" in the credits, I can only assume that Jeana's scenes were cut. Boo!

Naturally, Dr. Roberts thinks this is nothing but a tragic coincidence. His attitude changes almost immediately when another actress, a patient named Tina Cassidy (Kathryn Witt), drops by the office demanding that Dr. Roberts change her back. The frazzled woman tells Dr. Roberts that a man with a mustache is killing women who are perfect. Now, you might think someone's a little full of themselves. I mean, perfect? Get real, lady. However, as we'll soon find out, they are perfect, and they have the scientific data to back up their boastful claims.

Instead of showing Tina's inevitable confrontation with the Mustache Man the same way they did with his confrontation with Terri Welles, we see things from outside her apartment building. And so does Dr. Roberts, who rushed after Tina after she left his office in a paranoid haze (plus, she forgot her purse). Falling, like Terri Welles, from the balcony of her apartment, Tina's body crashes violently onto the roof of a parked car like a lifeless rag doll. Only, this was no dummy, the woman hitting the roof was clearly real. It's an amazing stunt.

Inside Tina's purse is a list of women, and three of them are dead. Noticing that Cindy's name is on that list, Dr. Roberts makes it his mission to make sure no harm comes to her.

Tracking her down at a photo shoot for Starting Line Lingerie, Dr. Roberts asks Cindy to accompany him to a fundraiser.

Who is responsible for the deaths of these models/actresses? And more importantly, why are they being killed? I have a sneaking suspicion that John Reston (James Coburn), president of Reston Inc., and the alluring Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young), president of Digital Matrix Inc., know who's behind these bizarre murders.

Maybe my senses have become dull over the years, but I thought Cindy's falling technique was excellent. Well, the people who run Digital Matrix Inc. don't seem to think so, and make her fall over and over until she's gets right. But then again, who decides what is right? In the world depicted in Looker, every minute detail is important. Hence, the frightfully specific measurements the models/actresses bring to Dr. Roberts for their plastic surgery (right down to the very last millimetre).

When so-called perfection is finally attained, the models/actresses are scanned by a computer. Once her data has been recorded, there's no need for the model/actress. (I don't want to alarm you, but Cindy is being scanned as we speak.) But I thought Dr. Roberts was protecting her? (He is, but he doesn't know what Reston Inc. and Digital Matrix Inc. are up to yet. Besides, he's being given a guided tour of the DMI's headquarters by none other than Jennifer Long, who is my new milf-spiration.)

You're what? (My milf-spiration. Doesn't everyone have one? Anyway, if I was a stylish woman in her late 30s who ran an evil corporation, I would dress and act exactly like Leigh Taylor-Young does in this movie.)

The film's final third is filled with shoot outs, fist fights and car chases. Yet, none are executed in a conventional manner. And how could they be when the aforementioned light gun is the principal tool used in all three?

Even though their only connection is the fashion industry and dead models, I wouldn't hesitate putting Looker on a double-bill with Eyes of Laura Mars, as both ooze style and sophistication. The former, however, has a scathing satirical edge the latter lacks. And it's this edge that makes this film the superior picture. Everything from advertisement and to our perception of beauty is skewered. Open up any fashion magazine or watch any television commercial, and you'll see a series of images that have been so digitally altered, that the people in them don't even look human anymore. They might as well appear as what they really are, a bunch of ones and zeros mindlessly cavorting about in a synthetic environment. And Looker is dead on when it comes to predicting the western world's misguided obsession with perfection.


  1. Hello Yum-Yum and Happy 2015 to you. Anyway I have the DVD for "Looker" and it is every bit the thriller. Oh and it gives us a big eyeful of my pre-teen days crush Susan Dey (oh if I had seen her in something like this back then). Over on Home Theater Forum, we've been jonesing for a well-done Blu-ray release (to include a 4K scan/transfer). And you know, I'd still do it with Susan Dey today if I wasn't happily married. Again, Happy 2015.

    1. Happy 2015!

      I have a review of Runaway in the works. Sure, it doesn't star Susan Dey, but it's Critchton-y.