Film Review – They Live (1988)

They Live

Title – They Live (1988)

Director – John Carpenter (Halloween)

Cast – Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George Flower

Plot – Drifter Nada (Piper) enters the big city looking for work and hot meals, what he gets is a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for what it is – a world in which aliens have secretly infiltrated and slowly but surely taken over. Purple singlets and ally fights ensue.

“I got news for ’em. There’s gonna be hell to pay. ‘Cause I ain’t Daddy’s little boy no more”

Review by Eddie on 11/02/2014

Hopefully any film fan will agree that there is a true unbridled joy found in the watching of a John Carpenter film from his 1980’s heydays. With The Thing, The Fog, Starman, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China the decade was a productive, unique and enjoyable time for the master of schlock and all his fans. Ending off the decade of greatness was 1988’s They Live and while not in the same league as the previously mentioned films is still a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi yarn that had a lot to say then and even more to say in today’s climate.

Carpenters yarn is a film that operates on many a level whether it be as a comedy, a political/social commentary, a Sci-Fi or merely a low budget action flick and is a tale that has more ideas than a dozen modern day movies. The centralised tale of drifter Nada played by the muscle clad Wrestlemania star Roddy Piper is an excuse for Carpenter to critique the ever growing marketing of the modern world where everything exists to sell or promote to the people. It’s a startling idea realised in a still grand fashion of magic glasses that allow the wearer to see things for what they are – come to the Caribbean is replaced with “Marry and reproduce” marketing signs replaced by the lone and now famous “Obey”. With a low budget Carpenter realised many a great idea even if he made no secret of production hearkening to 50’s Sci-Fi production design.

When praising many elements of They Live it must also be stated that when compared to other works of Carpenters career peaks it pales in comparison, not fit to wear Snake’s eye patch or hold MacReady’s flamethrower, it’s a film that jumps a little too much in tone and the finale is somewhat too haphazard to end the film off on a high. Piper to is too cold in the main role, the wrong side of being too cool for school and the musical score by Carpenter and musical partner Alan Howarth is also a little too frequent and repetitive to not grate by the hour mark. Small criticisms of an enjoyable film yet enough to tarnish it from true classic territory.

They Live is a lively, energetic and unique film that is deserving of a watch by any Carpenter or Sci-Fi fan. Featuring unquestionably one of cinemas greatest fight scenes and ideas/concepts that have now seeped into everyday culture They Live stands as a historic and important part of movies as we know them today.

3 and a half unnaturally long ally fights out of 5

18 responses to “Film Review – They Live (1988)

  1. I actually like this better than a few of the others you had listed – I mean it doesn’t match The Thing in certain aspects but it says more about the world than The Thing. As far as his career after this….I love ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ and the two ‘Masters of Horror’ segments were among the best.

  2. As a film lover and wrestling fan, i’m surprised i haven’t seen this (probably because many wrestling-film related crossovers aren’t great, haha). Will check it out. Great review Eddie!


  3. So many quotable lines and I loved it as a kid because it Roddy in it. I wish we could get a good remake with social commentary involved and they should cast The Rock as the main. I would be down, the remake of the Fog, and the Thing sucked, Assault on Precinct was ok. They Live remake could be good since the source material was not a masterpiece.

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