Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques
Release Year – 1988
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Before I knew of They Live, I knew of its infamous movie quote, “I am here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum”. The quote resonated around me for years, as I heard it in numerous metal songs, and saw it mentioned on social networking sights galore. Well, when it came to me that it belonged to none other than John Carpenter’s They Live, which I knew stared wrestler Roddy Piper, I expected to enjoy this piece to my heart’s extent…and I did. Carpenter goes Romero on us and gives us a horror effort with lots of supreme social commentary that I found fun and engaging, and his ever-awesome direction made for one of the coolest sci-fi/horror efforts I have ever seen.
Roddy Piper stars as George Nada, a down-on-his-luck drifter who makes his way from Denver to New York City in hopes of a better tomorrow. While visiting a homeless shelter after a long day at his under-the-table construction job, George comes across a pair of sunglasses specifically made to expose the alien conspiracy going on around him. Signs and advertisements are deciphered to show their true meaning, to keep the human populous at bay and “asleep”, and the massive alien population is exposed to show their influence in nearly all matters. Faced with the truth that our world is much more screwed up than it seems, and that tomorrow will only be worse than today, George initiates a war on the “system” to expose the truth to the public, and because he is “all out of bubble gum”…kick lots of alien ass.
Boy did I love this film experience. I will always appreciate a horror effort that gives me something new, and when the execution makes it fun and engaging my enjoyment is increased to high levels, which was the case with They Live. Carpenter’s adaptation based on Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” gives us a fantastic 93 minute experience that excels on all levels. George Nada(“Nada” symbolic of having “nothing”?) was used to full potential as the most unlikely of heroes given his lack of resources as a poor, homeless drifter with nothing to his name, but he contained the necessary qualities: honor, respect, fairness, to save the world from the alien presence. We get several other characters that play well into the film, namely his only friend Frank(Keith David_, who eventually joins forces with him when forcefully shown what the special sunglasses unveil. If you pay any attention to conspiracy theorists and those who believe in One World or New World Order, then the subject matter in the film will not be new to you, but the alien element makes things great and the fact that I have yet to see this exact subject matter regarding exposure of “the system” in another horror film made this a unique and enjoyable story for me. We eventually find out that there is an underground network distributing the sunglasses in an attempt to expose the human population to what is going on around them, and they face heavy retaliation from the aliens who have seemingly taken complete control over the police force and any other authoritative entity there is. This makes for lots of great battle scenes between the two warring forces, and George leads the way in the destruction of the alien empire on Earth, with or without anyone’s help. There is much more social commentary written into the film that may be subliminal to some, such as the very long fight scene between George and Frank, and while the film comes off a simple effort it really carries much more meaning to it than what meets the eye, which makes for engaging discussion and enjoyment for those who don’t mind a smart “cheezy” horror effort.
Carpenter(Halloween, The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness)’s direction is as awesome as it usually was during the first three decades of his career, and he sells every element to us to near-perfection. His usage of Roddy Piper as George was great, and Roddy had me surprised at how believable he was during the more emotional scenes, even the simple ones of him just searching for work and finding disappointment in every corner. The rest of the actors involve do their jobs well, but Roddy Piper steals the show thanks to a great effort complimented by a story and dialogue that allows him to literally kick ass on all levels. The execution of the horror involved was great as well, as I loved the POV view of the world behind the special sunglasses showing the true meanings behind advertisements and the freakishly ugly look of the aliens blending in with the human race. Carpenter’s execution is silly at times, and it was a purposeful silly that added an element of fun to the film without ruining the message it aims to send. The action sequences are great, and while this was by no means a gory effort we do get some sweet kills sequences that gave as much bloody goodness as the scene and content allowed for. Pacing-wise the film is a winner, and while it comes in at a normal 93 minutes I regardless found myself highly engaged throughout the piece to the point that I was honestly wishing the film would not end because the story, Roddy Piper, and John Carpenter left me wanting more, and in a good way.
Overall, They Live is an awesome horror experience from John Carpenter that gives us an awesome story unique to the genre, who’s subject matter should be highly engaging to those who enjoy a story that makes you think and comes with plenty of enjoyable cheeze. The action sequences are great, and the horror involved is expertly executed by Carpenter to make for a truly fun experience that you will never forget.