They Live (Review)

They Live



Roddy Piper as Nada
Keith David as Frank
Meg Foster as Holly Thompson
Directed by John Carpenter

A classic tough guy film from John Carpenter, complete with some of the coolest lines (often repeated and ripped off) ever to grace the silver screen. A very thinly disguised commentary on classism in America, luckily for us it’s buried beneath alien invaders and action sequences. I’ll incorporate the messages from the film into the summary, to better the flow of the text. If “Republicans from Space” is too hot for you to handle politically, then this probably isn’t your movie, go pick up a John Wayne movie. Rowdy Roddy Piper is perfect for the tough guy role, and Keith David makes any movie ten times cooler, except maybe the Riddick movies which fail for other reasons.

Piper is a drifter, a down on his luck blue collar Joe Sixpack. He’s just wandered into LA after the jobs in Denver dried up. While searching, he encounters a street preacher speaking against “Masters” and how they’ve made everyone worship greed. Piper gets a construction gig where he meets Frank (Keith David), and after some tough guy interaction, Frank tells him where a shantytown is that feeds those who are down on their luck. After dinner, Piper and Frank talk with some of the other guys about their plight on the bottom of the barrel, and Frank recites the golden rule “He who has the gold makes the rules.” While watching an old TV, the signal keeps being interrupted by some sort of h@><0r, and when he speaks about "dismantling the sleeping middle class", people watching the TV then get headaches (because the truth hurts and you must hide behind the fluffy un-reality). All of the original programming consists of money worship and other extreme capitalism type signals, think Melrose Placex100000. This continues a few days, Piper gets suspicious that the church that runs the shantytown has something to do with it, and sneaks inside, to discover that choir practice is only a tape and the church has only a few people in it. He finds boxes hidden behind a secret panel, and then exits. Frank wants nothing to do with this, he thinks if he is good and keeps quiet, he won’t jeopardize his much needed job (he has a family to take care of). He talks of traveling the middle of the road. Piper counters “White line’s in the middle of the road, that’s the worst place to drive” but to no avail. The cops arrive and raid the church, then proceed to smash up the shantytown as well, beating anyone in their way. Being that the police are the servants of the Upper Class who smash up the masses to keep them scared and docile.

After the raid, Piper reenters the church and grabs one of the boxes from the compartment, which miraculously were still there, to see what was hidden. Great job searching the church, guys. He is disappointed that it is only sunglasses, but puts on a pair, surprised that they turn everything black and white. Wearing them, he goes for a stroll, and suddenly he notices a billboard, instead of the normal advertisement, it just says a simple statement. Magazines and newspapers have the same messages, such as “Stay Asleep”, “No Independent Thought”, and “Obey.” Money even gets into the act saying “This is your God.” All sorts of subliminal mumbo-jumbo. But this pales in comparison to when Piper sees a man who is not a man, but some sort of alien. The guy gets all freaky “What’s your problem?”, but looks like a normal businessman without the glasses. Small transmitters above stop lights transmit “sleep, sleep, sleep,….” repeatedly.

Piper sees more aliens around town, and gets into an argument with one. I get into arguments with aliens on the street all the time. At least I think they are aliens. I usually have to cut them open to be sure. Most of them were, I think. Back to the movie, though. The cops are called, who are also aliens, just like real cops. Piper kills them, grabs their weapons, walks into the bank, and delivers the famous chew bubblegum line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Piper then blows away the alien scum. One alien mysteriously vanishes during the killing melee, but Piper doesn’t have time to contemplate as more police officers arrive. Outside, he sees some sort of hovering probe device tracking him that is invisible to non-sunglassed eyes, and he shoots that also. He carjacks Holly Thompson (Meg Foster) to escape, returning to her place, only for her to smash his head with a bottle and throw him out the window. He manages to avoid the cops outside.

The next day Piper tries to convince Frank of what he saw. Frank wants nothing to do with any of this nonsense, but Piper will not take no for an answer, and thus begins one of the longest and coolest fistfights in any movie! After Frank and Piper knock the living crap out of each other for what seems like days, Piper forces sunglasses on Frank, and the truth is seen! “Life’s a bitch, and she’s back in heat!”

Piper and Frank don’t know what exactly they should do, but run across one of the original church people, and get invited to a resistance meeting. They learn more of what people are doing to fight back, and pick up some contact lenses that let them see like the sunglasses do. The sunglasses also give you a powerful headache, more of the “truth hurts” thing from before.

They’ve discovered there is a transmitter somewhere that is causing everyone to see the false human images and the false advertising messages. Also, they are h@><0ring the TV again "They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere." (OMG global warming is all the aliens' fault!) The group is trying to locate the transmitter, and think it is at a local TV station, but one of the members says that isn't so. Wonder of wonders, that person is Holly! Piper starts making the moves on her, but then the police/aliens attack and start blasting anyone who moves, and anyone who doesn't. Piper and Frank run for cover, and Holly is separated. Piper and Frank get trapped, but use a captured alien watch to escape underground, showing how one alien vanished earlier.

While underground, they get a tour from a human they knew from the shantytown who wrongly assumes they have sold out like he did. We learn about how rich businessmen from outer space exploit Earth as it is their third world. Go go Republican allegory! From their guide they locate the TV station that has the signal, and it turns out to be Holly’s station. Were this made today, Holly would be Sean Hannity and the station Fox News. But the Republican aliens are hot in pursuit, using the EKG meter from Ghostbusters to track them. Piper locates Holly, and they head toward the roof, Piper ascends, but then Holly shoots Frank, and threatens Piper. Piper is inches away from the transmitter, but has Holly and an alien chopper targeting him. He shoots her and the transmitter, only to be gunned down himself. But it is enough, and the transmitter is down. Aliens are exposed as their true selves. The world gets it’s wake up call.

Nice flick, cult status, inspired many low-budget action films and continues to inspire, such as the cripple-fight on South Park that was an almost shot for shot redo of Piper and Keith David’s fight. Plus this seems to be the crib sheet countless internet conspiracy theorists used to base some of their ramblings on. And that makes it all worthwhile.

“Hey, what’s wrong, baby?”

Rated 8/10 (Preacher, alien, cops, sublim, h@><0r, hairdresser alien, Egon, Escaper Alien)

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