Cue Yello's "Oh Yeah"
As I've said in other reviews, I'm not one for conspiracy theories. I don't believe that the Freemasons or The Bildeburgs or the Girl Scouts Of America are planning a takeover of the world. If people can barely get your order right at the drive-thru, how can there be a global conspiracy to control money or power or whatever you want. That's not to say the average person isn't kept down through various means, I just don't think there's a few guys in an underground liar scheming to make me buy blue jeans or listen to that Gangnam-style song. But things are not always what they seem. What if there was some one, or some thing, suppressing the human race? Would you stop it? Could you stop it?
They Live is a 1988 science fiction/horror movie directed and written (under a pseudonym) by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing). The movie stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper ( WWF/WWE Superstar, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia) as unemployed drifter John Nada. Nada finds work doing construction in Los Angeles and befriends Frank Armitage (Keith David, Barbershop, The Thing). While at a shantytown, Nada notices strange activity at a nearby church, and when he investigates, he discovers the church is actually a front, as the only thing in the church are boxes. That night, the police raid the town, beating on the homeless and knocking over their dwellings. When Nada returns the next morning, he finds one of the boxes from the church. Inside the box are sunglasses and Nada takes a pair. When he puts them on, the world suddenly becomes black and white. He can now view messages that are unseen to the naked eye all over the city. Messages like “Sleep” “Consume” and “Buy”. These messages of conformity and consumerism are controlling the population. Even more disturbing, Nada is now able to see that certain people, mostly those in positions of wealth and power, are in fact humanoid aliens. When he confronts an alien woman she speaks into her watch, notifying others that he can see her true form. Two policemen try to stop Nada, but he kills them, taking their guns and going on a killing spree at a nearby bank. He escapes the police and takes Holly Thompson (Meg Foster, The Lords Of Salem, Leviathan), an assistant director at television station Channel 54, hostage. While suffering from headaches due to wearing the sunglasses for too long, he tries to convince Holly about what is truly going on. During an intense headache, Holly kicks Nada out of a window, sending him down a hill. He stumbles back to the alley where he found the glasses and meets with Fred. He tries to convince Fred about the aliens and when Fred refuses to put on the glasses, they get into a fight. After the long fist fight, Fred finally wears the glasses and understands what is really happening. They join members from the “church” who are really an underground resistance planning to take down the aliens. The aliens use a signal from Channel 65 to camouflage themselves and it's up to Nada and Fred to destroy it. How will they be able to get in and destroy the signal, freeing the world from the alien's grasp?
Where's your Hulkamania now?
They Live is a really fun science fiction movie with just enough horror to keep things scary. While most alien invasion movies take place during (or slightly before) the invasion, it's already happened in this movie. There is no warning that they are coming, no giant space ship to announce their arrival, and no explosions to show their dominance. They are already in charge when the story begins. Reflecting the political and social climate of the times, Carpenter manages to capture the hopelessness of the average man who has no work or self-worth, hence the name “Nada”. The alien villains are the rich and powerful, using their wealth and status to keep the poor humans down. The secret messages to consume and stay complacent are chilling to see, opening the audience's eyes to real world advertising. I can see where certain types (*cough*Conservatives*cough*) may take issue with such commentary, but it's just subtle enough where the theme doesn't dominate the movie. There is a good amount of action throughout, which helps break up the overall message as well.
Roddy Piper may seem like an odd choice for a protagonist in a movie like They Live, but he is spot-on perfect in his role. He's a great mixture of brash attitude, charisma, and broken-down everyman that just fits so well for the character of John Nada. The famous line “I'm here to chew bubble gum and kick as...and I'm all out of bubble gum,” was a Piper original, not something from the script. Keith David is very good in his role as well. No amount of description can do justice to the incredibly long fight scene between both men. Rather than a quick scuffle or a cutaway, we see every punch, every tackle, and every crotch kick. South Park lovingly recreated this scene a few years ago, down to every punch thrown. This is also where Piper fits in well as his wrestling experience makes his physicality believable. John Carpenter is in his element as writer and director, crafting a fun movie with lots of action and just enough creepiness to make the audience uneasy.
I knew the Golden Girls were skull-faced alien fascists!
They Live is a politically subversive movie with a good mixture of science fiction, horror, and action. While not a financial success, the movie's message and impact is still felt today. While the message is heavy, it's broken up nicely between the action and suspense. Roddy Piper is great and highly entertaining to watch. The movie has it's funny moments along with it's thrilling ones. The skull-like makeup for the aliens looks very good and certainly increases the horror aspect. John Carpenter manages to create a fun movie with plenty of social commentary. I'm surprised They Live has not been remade, but I'm glad it hasn't yet. No need to mess with something so fun.