They Live (1988) 4/5 (1)
4/51

 

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Rating: The Good – 76
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 93  mins
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster

“Brother, life’s a bitch. And she’s back in heat.” For a director who never played by the rules, thematically or even stylistically speaking, a film about aliens masquerading as humans who occupy society’s ruling class by persuading its human underclass not to question their station but to obey is perhaps Carpenter’s most personal film. It’s certainly one of his best and that’s saying something. Casting a WWF wrestler Roddy Piper as the central character, Carpenter signals from the beginning the unorthodoxy that would to define this film in both execution and story. Piper plays an unemployed drifter who arrives in a new city looking for work only to find himself living on the outskirts of town in a homeless shelter. Things get freaky when he discovers a box full of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as it really is and with it, the true nature of society’s elite.

Piper is surprisingly good and he is well supported by the perennially cool Keith David. In fact, the two make one of the more enjoyable on-screen partnerships as their relationship twists and turns in amusing fashion culminating in the longest fist (foot, knee, head, elbow) fight to ever grace the screen. It’s a terrific piece of action cinema which makes splendid use of their two large frames and even larger personalities. The action in general is handled with ease by the great Carpenter with plenty of original sequences thrown in for good measure. In fact, forget about the fist fight, the bank sequence alone makes They Live worth watching!

They Live is an outrageously funny film that doesn’t just preach rebellion, it is rebellion. Yes, it’s a primal scream at the money culture of the mid-80’s but given that it’s the scream of a man who wouldn’t break a sweat to slay his mortal enemy, there’s a patience running through it which makes it much more reflexive than most anti-establishment movies. This has been a feature of many Carpenter films and one that makes him eminently unpredictable and relatively bulletproof to counter-attack and indeed criticism (which is perhaps why his critics seem to try harder than most). So don’t waste time trying to predict what will happen or even framing this as an outright anti-establishment film. Instead just sit back, switch the sarcasm centre of your brain to “max”, and absorb one immortal line after another….. “I am here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” Legendary.

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4 thoughts on “They Live (1988)”

    1. Yes, I think it’s pretty special. Piper did very well too considering the lack of (non WWF) acting experience and he and Keith David make one of the better double acts.

  1. This is one of the 100’s of movies I posted the day I launched this site. It has been revised, expanded on, and re-posted as a new review.

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