35 Years Ago: How Motley Crue’s ‘Looks That Kill’ Video Changed Everything
The big-budget video for Motley Crue's 1984 single "Looks That Kill" didn't just bring their Los Angeles gutter-punk vibe to the masses. It redefined MTV forever.
That extra cash afforded Motley Crue the opportunity to work with pyrotechnics, a suitably provocative script and absurdly detailed costumes on a soundstage owned by A&M Records. Still, as with so many broadcast productions, there was plenty of time to cool their heels while filming continued on what became a grueling 18-hour shoot.
They started to perhaps inevitably drink. (Guitarist Mick Mars reportedly gulped straight vodka out of a Coke can the whole time.) Then they began to get into bigger trouble.
"I mean, we were standing around for like five hours holding burning torches until four in the morning," frontman Vince Neil said in the 1986 documentary Motley Crüe Uncensored. "We got into a fight with some old guy that was harassing us. I mean, we had been standing up there for like five hours with these torches, drunk, all dressed up with lipstick on, feeling like assholes. So [bassist] Nikki [Sixx] said, 'Just because we wear lipstick doesn't mean we can't kick your ass!'"
What exactly these torches were for was reportedly a little unclear. "To be honest, I can't remember the concept for 'Looks That Kill,'" Sixx said the 2012 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. "If you strip it down, it's only about being over the top."
To be fair, there was a little more to it than that. LA actress Wendy Barry played a "a Xena-esque female character who emancipates a corral of strippers, much to the chagrin of the Crue – who were thereby forced to call on the power of Satan by joining fists and creating a fiery pentagram," Chuck Klosterman said in his 2001 book Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta.
The setting "could be a city of the past or a city of the future. What it is, is that we are the like the survivors of maybe a holocaust or nuclear war or whatever, and there are these women who are running wild, and we are like the warriors here," Sixx said during an MTV interview in 1983. "And what happens is that there is one woman who is like the goddess, the equivalent of us, and together we all have the 'looks that kill.'"
Watch Motley Crue's Video for 'Looks That Kill'
Label boss Bob Krasnow sent Robin Sloane to oversee a video with a total budget of $75,000. It was her first time on a shoot. "I walked onto the set, went up to Motley's guitarist Mick Mars and said, 'Hello, I'm Robin Sloane from Elektra,'" she says in I Want My MTV. "And he goes, 'Fuck you, who cares?' Okay, then."
Barry scored the leading female role after being the last to audition. Also a video newcomer, she says she had to deal with her own uncertainty. "When we were shooting the part where I hold up the shield, we had to shoot a number of times because of the fire special effects," she told Marc Tyler Nobleman in 2014. "I was a little scared."
Still, the results speak for themselves: The clip for "Looks That Kill" didn't just introduce Motley Crue as perhaps the era's most raucous, raunchy rockers. It redefined a network that had previously focused more on new wave and synth-pop bands. "I kept telling [MTV co-founder] Les Garland that MTV should be playing Motley Crue's 'Looks That Kill,'" Steve Schnur, a member of the network's programming department, said in I Want My MTV. "This is where we should be, Les. It's got to be about rock n' roll."
Motley Crue had made promo clips for songs from their debut album, 1981's Too Fast for Love, but nothing on this scale. Their career trajectory was set.
"As I recall, the look of the video generated a stir," Barry told Nobleman. "The women encaged, the spikes, a kind of S&M look. I personally thought it was just a well-executed video as far as production, and the song was killer."
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