In this interesting and original take on horror by the classic John Carpenter, They Live chronicles drifter Nada as he suddenly is able to see the truth of his own reality after finding special sunglasses. Discovering aliens have brainwashed us all to be obedient pawns to the ruling class, he joins the resistance. However in this reimagining, the rich and ruling class just happens to be undercover aliens.
Radiating the political sentiment of Orwell’s 1984, Carpenter’s film seeks to make a political stance on the nature of money, advertising, power, and greed. Of course in true Carpenter fashion, he envisions Big Brother not as fascist people but as “formaldehyde-faced” aliens bent on controlling society.
This movie is wacky, but at its core it’s quite smart. As Nada looks through his shades he sees paper that says “This is your God” instead of money and the words “Obey” and “No Imagination” on Magazine ads. Sure Roddy Piper as Nada is a pretty campy acting experience and some of his lines are pretty random and his delivery is sometimes pretty weird, but still he manages to deliver one of the most iconic lines in cult classic history. As he steps into a bank wielding a shotgun and a pistol he casually drawls:
“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum”
Do grown men say these things? No. But god did I get a kick out of it. This movie has silly moments that make it feel like a camp hit.For example, this film contains the longest fistfight in cinema history over whether or not to wear the sunglasses. Just put the glasses on Frank. Seriously this fight is incredibly long and ends with him saying lines like “Life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat”. What? After the fact, I Googled Roddy Piper and like I suspected he was a wrestler during the 1980s when this movie was made. Hence the unnaturally long choreographed fight scene. I also Googled Frank, due to his very charismatic and familiar voice, and turns out he is played by Keith David, who voiced the villain, Dr. Facilier, in The Princess and the Frog. Just an interesting fun fact, but he sounds exactly the same in 1988 as he does now.
This movie is silly, and it screams cult classic, but Carpenter’s message rings harder than the poor acting quality. We are always being influenced whether wether we are aware of it or not by media and people in power. They might not be aliens, but everyone is always trying to get you to either buy something or conform to the normative values of that society. The second we stop questioning everything, the second they’ve won. Being aware of ulterior motives is key and learning to think for yourself is essential. This movie has a great message wrapped in a cheesy package. Its message may be serious, but this movie really is a lot of fun. Building on Orwellian ideas, this Carpenter classic offers a truly unique and interesting twist.
Amy’s Recommendation: 8/10