They Live! (1988) - John Carpenter

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What do you get when you mix Rowdy Roddy Piper, John Carpenter, Guns, and general badassery? Why you get one of the most iconic movies of the nineteen eighties. In the early nineties every kid on my block knew this movie and loved it.

They Live is Carpenters response to the Reganomics of the era. The movie doesn't hide it's political undertones either. It shoves them right in your face. Delivered by Roddy Piper and Keith David. The film has been cited as inspiration for a number of actors and artists including contemporary street-artist Shepard Fairey who famously used the films Obey theme in his work. 

Roddy Piper plays a down-on-his-luck drifter that gets mixed up in one of the biggest cover-ups of all time. Aliens have infiltrated Earth and have been subconsciously pushing humans to do their will through subliminal messaging. Once Piper finds a pair of glasses that allow him to see through the aliens ruse, all hell breaks loose. 

The film isn't very frightening but has it's terrifying moments. It works really well as a paranoia builder and leaves you asking questions. I qualify horror movies as a film that leaves you with a unsettling feeling in your stomach. This flick does just that. 

The movie starts out really slowly and you might even think about turning it off. However, at the midway point this movie really kicks into high gear. Once Piper finds the alien-finding sunglasses he starts blowing people away left and right. It has some really amazing one-liners and rewards you for hanging on. It's awesome. 

The special effects in the movie are perfect for it's time. Bloody, rough, and brutal. When the Hot Rod starts his long and angry road to exterminating the aliens you get some very minimal sequences that give you a good look at what the aliens are. It isn't until the end of the film that you get to see them in all their glory. Their nasty and ugly glory. 

In short,

They Live

may be one of the greatest Action-Thrillers of all time. Even though it may be short on the horror it still sticks with you and has some really amazing suspense. I reccomend this movie to anyone at anytime. It's just that damn good. 

  • The big fight sequence was designed, rehearsed and choreographed in the back-yard of director John Carpenter's production office. The fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) was only supposed to last twenty seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the five minutes and twenty seconds scene intact.
  • John Carpenter wanted a truly rugged individual to play Nada. He cast wrestler Roddy Piper in the lead role after seeing him in WrestleMania III (1987). Carpenter remembered Keith David's performance in The Thing (1982) and wrote the role of Frank specifically for the actor.
  • The film is partially shot in black-and-white which involved only the scenes and sequences where the aliens were visible to the audience when characters are wearing the sunglasses for most of the film. But this visual aesthetic ceases towards the end of the picture whereupon the aliens become visible in color for the film's final act.