Director: John Carpenter
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
A homeless roamer comes to Los Angeles looking for work. After the homeless camp he is staying at is raided by police, he stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that open his eyes and free his mind to the truth of what is really going on in the world.
"They Live" is a sci-fi action thriller written and directed by famed director John Carpenter. It is based on the short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson. This lower budget B-movie stars professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper as Nada, a homeless drifter recently laid off from his job in Colorado who has come to Los Angeles looking for work. Joining him is the ever fabulous Keith David, who plays Frank, a man in a similar situation who had to leave his wife and kids back in Detroit to come out west to look for good, honest blue collar work. Nada seems to be the more optimistic of the two and thinks things will work out just fine, whereas Frank sees the world as a place where the odds are stacked in favor of the privileged and wealthy. It isn't until Nada finds a pair of sunglasses that his eyes open to the truth: that we are actually being controlled by capitalist aliens who use subliminal messaging to keep us in a hypnotic state, blind to their existence and are exploiting humans for their financial gain. These aliens move from planet to planet plundering them of their natural resources, not through violence, but through mindless assimilation of the masses. Now, Nada, Frank, and the rest of the alien resistance must try to open up the eyes of the world before the alien capitalist completely take over earth.
In many ways, "They Live" is a cheesy B-style sci-fi movie about an alien invasion and nothing more. In many other ways, however, it's a satirical indictment of Reganomics and the 80's yuppy culture. Oddly enough, the issues explored in this film are just as relevant today, possibly even more so than they were back then. With an ever increasing wage gap and an increasing lack of high paying blue collar jobs, it's as if nothing has changed. Hey, can we get a pair of shades, please? The acting isn't what you'd call "good" (after all, what do you expect from a professional wrestler leading the choir?), and the dialogue is not top notch, but its serviceable and gets the message across just fine. We don't say this to disrespect Roddy Piper, because even though he was not an actor first, he manages to be charismatic and charming in his dry, dopey delivery. Keith David was a little more seasoned at the time, though he tends to stick to the same kind of authoritative badass role in every film.
The premise of "They Live" is sufficiently creepy, as is the display of the subliminal messaging that is enough to make one at least a little paranoid. Hell, we're sure there's a section of the population that really believes pod people or aliens or whoever from above are really controlling us via subliminal messages. You listening, Illuminati? Once a person is wearing their sunglasses, the design of these aliens comes into full effect and is rather brilliant. In many ways, they look like decaying human corpses, a very intentional metaphor according to director John Carpenter. Of course, the climax is loaded with action as humans take on their alien overlords with repeated and frequent close-ups of muzzle fire and plenty of blood squibs to satisfy the audience.
Though it's really sort of silly, overall, "They Live" is a very fun movie, one that remains relevant even today. Rest in peace, 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper.
My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!