Writer/director Michael Crichton’s 1981 sci-fi thriller Looker didn’t make much of a connection with audiences, but has a cult reputation which has gained considerably over the years. Albert Finney plays a LA plastic surgeon whose clients are being murdered, with the evidence making police suspicious of him. But could James Coburn’s mysterious Digital Matrix company hold the key to the killings? Crichton always has a big idea at the centre of his thrillers, and Looker has a fascinating position about how a combination of beautiful women, computer generated simulations and commercial television could be hypnotizing the population into submission. The arc of Looker’s plot doesn’t quite match the ambitious idea, but the hi-tech ideas and steely look of the film lend it an undeniably prescient feel.
An also ran in the early eighties glut of werewolf movies (The Howling, An American Werewolf in London), Michael Wadleigh’s only non-Woodstock film was barely released, with John D Hancock being brought in to complete the film. Miscast as New York cop Dewey Wilson, Albert Finney takes the lead in this adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s 1978 novel, with Edward James Olmos and Gregory Hines supporting. Wolfen is a muted and occasionally bloody affair, featuring one nasty decapitation, but its earnestness belies the silly subject matter, and the subtext about Indian legends makes it very much of its time (The Shining, Altered States, Poltergeist) Featuring a small cameo from Tom Waits.
Ridley Scott’s debut film, a period drama set during the Napoleonic wars, was so out of sync with popular concerns that it never reached the audience it deserved. Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are two unlikely officers, trapped in an internecine series of duels, but the sense of style and detail conjured up by Scott, in service of Joseph Conrad’s novel, pays off, with real locations, swords and pistols creating the same lush world as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Scott’s venture into sci-fi with Alien and Blade Runner made his name, but The Duellists showed his talent and the seriousness of his cinematic intention.