Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Frank Armitage
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, Jason Robards III, John Lawrence, Susan Barnes, Sy Richardson, Wendy Brainard, Lucille Meredith, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden, Dana Bratton, John F. Goff, Norm Wilson, Thelma Lee, Stratton Leopold, Rezza Shan, Norman Howell, Larry Franco, Tom Searle, Robert Grasmere, Vince Inneo, Bob Hudson, Jon Paul Jones, Dennis Michael, Nancy Gee, Claudia Stanlee, Christine Baur, Eileen Wesson, Gregory Barnett, Jim Nickerson, Kerry Rossall, Cibby Danyla, Jeff Imada, and Michelle Costello
Composers: John Carpenter and Alan Horwath
Release Date: 11/4/1988
MPAA Rating: R
While hunting for a job, drifter John Nada (Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Now able to identify the subliminal messages that pervade society (secretly controlled by a parasitic alien race), Nada forms an alliance with construction worker Frank (Keith David), a cable station director named Holly (Meg Foster), and the surviving members of an anti-alien resistance group.
Combining alien invasion tropes with penetrating satire on consumer culture, They Live earns its status as a cult classic. Worth praising in particular is the performance of Roddy Piper, whose talent for adlibbing dialogue (e.g. “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…”) strengthens the ironic tone of this film.
Despite lacking both common sense and the ability to strategize, Nada comes across as a humble, sympathetic figure. Specifically well-written is the development of Nada’s character, whose initial belief in the American Dream, subsequent disillusionment with a society built on false premises, and eventual passion for saving the human race make him a complex and relatable protagonist.
Though condemned for its excessive length, the alleyway brawl scene deserves praise for two reasons. First, a mixture of cheesy banter, vicious blows, and choreographed action will remind the audience of a professional wrestling match—an opportunity for Piper, one of the most iconic “villains” in WWE history, to showcase his fighting abilities in a big-budget film. Second, Nada’s grapple with Frank—in spite of its drawn-out and absurd execution—represents the struggle that many face when awakening friends, acquaintances, and family members to a corrupt and unjust system.
Blending horror, comedy, and science fiction to explore the flawed nature of civilization, They Live exposes the main agenda of many world elites: to deceive, exploit, and manipulate the working class members of society, who, based on lies and propaganda, expect progress and prosperity in exchange for copious labor.
They Live is an insightful, humorous effort by John Carpenter—director of Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York. Notably, this offering should be commended for its likable characters, hilarious one-liners, and riveting action sequences.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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