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The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The_North_Wind8 September 2001
They Live. Where to begin? Yes, it is goofy. Yes the production value is very low. Yes the action is standard. The guns never empty. The fights are poorly choreographed at times. But that, my friends, is not the point.

This film was an attack on the Regan era. An attack on the rampant consumerism of the 80's. But open your mind. Saying that it's just an attack on the 80's is merely shutting your eyes. Telling yourself that things have gotten better. Sorry to disapoint you, but they haven't.

Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on some sunglasses. The world changes. Billboards now say Obey or Sleep. Or Marry and Reproduce. Magazines no longer have articles or advertisements. They are blank white pages with said phrases upon them. Money now are white pieces of paper that say This is Your God. Boy oh boy are they right.

So watch They Live. Grab some beer and score some corn. Enjoy the cheese. Enjoy the great one-liners. But also pay attention to the lines that sum up the truth. Remember the point of the film. Then go outside. Re-enter the corporate world outside your door.

You won't need special glasses to see the truth.
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Clever and fun, with plenty of Carpenter weirdness
mstomaso14 February 2005
WARNING: The author of this review loves challenging films.

They Live is based on a pulp sci-fi story about aliens who live among us and manipulate us through subliminal advertising, other mind control techniques, and sometimes, guns and bulldozers. Like most Carpenter films, its artistic, fun, intelligent and does not take itself too seriously.

As usual, Carpenter's casting is brilliant. Roddy Piper plays the good-hearted but not very bright construction worker who is both the hero and protagonist of the film. Keith David, whose character is just a little bit brighter, is his unwilling sidekick. Piper's character sees some strange goings-on in a local church, hears some weird paranoid ramblings from a street preacher, and becomes especially curious when the church is raided by 30-40 police officers and the vagrant camp where he lives is bulldozed one night. Soon after, he finds a pair of sunglasses in the now abandoned church, that literally changes his view of the world around him. The fight scene between David and Piper, while straight out of TV wrestling, is one of the most jarring and bizarre scenes in the movie - it goes on for a very long time - which nicely and subtly points out its significance in moving the plot forward. When Piper finally gets the sunglasses on David's face, he is vindicated and the last shred of doubt about his sanity disappears. From that point forward, they are both committed to saving the world from the alien menace. Further description of the plot would approach a spoiler so I won't go any further.

Both of the main characters succeed in dominating the screen, to the point that it is hard to even notice the contributions of the rest of the cast. Both actors are surprisingly good, though understandably typecast (these are, after all, two very big guys) but - who the hell is Keith David? look him up here on and I'm sure you'll be as surprised at I was. He's quite an accomplished character actor.

Raymond St Jacques, for all of his five or so minutes of screen time, makes a lasting impression, and Meg Foster is perfect for her ambiguity. Overall, the character development in this film is quite excellent despite the difficulty of pulling it off in a decidedly B sci-fi genre.

From an artistic and technical point of view, the film must be judged against Carpenter's other works. Carpenter has practically created his own film genre, and each of his films bears his mark very clearly. Carpenter's camera work is remarkable for its unremarkableness. He chooses not to use gimmicks and allows his cameras to tell the story without embellishing it. Like his version of The Thing, this technique fits very well in this film, as it helps the viewer suspend disbelief in what would otherwise seem as ludicrous as an episode of the X-Files.

Carpenter often makes his own soundtracks. Of these, the soundtrack for this film is very good, but terribly repetitive and, after a while, a bit grating. Nevertheless, its goofy redundancy helps to lend a comic edge to the film.

Is there a point?

I would argue that there is. Carpenter is always more interested in fun than poignancy, but he doesn't shy away from recognizing the value of the material he brings to the screen. Of all of his films, They Live is one of the most overtly political - as it carries some very clever messages about capitalism, conformity, poverty and the horror that everyday life can be for some people. This is all done, however, with a good sense of humor and an almost teenage sense of rebelliousness, all very typically Carpenter.

A great film for B-movie fans, intelligent sci-fi fans and those who enjoy film as an art form.
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elite, parasitic subsociety exploits American working class--reflects real American society?
anonreviewer25 June 2004
This movie is not so much about aliens who are hiding among us, but instead it taps into the deeply submerged suspicion held by most of us that we are being manipulated and taken advantage of by the elite of American society, by our leaders, by the rich, etc. Also, we sometimes feel that we are manipulated and programmed (in a subtle way) to respect hierarchical authority ( e.g., the "OBEY" subliminal command from the movie).

Some leftist thinkers might say that human societies are in a way being parasitized by the elite of their societies, and that the elite operate as a parasitic sub-society, living off of the lower classes. America might be said to be operated more in such a fashion (i.e., parasitized by the elite) than are the countries of western Europe. Obvious examples of this parasitic behavior are the "golden handshakes" and backscratching exchanged between corporate CEO's and the Boards of Directors of their companies. But it is far more pervasive than just that.

_They_Live_ uses the invisible alien elite as a proxy for our suspicions about how we are all being exploited by the elite of our real-life society, and how these elite are subtly programming us to accept this exploitation.

So, the major theme of the movie is not, as another poster correctly pointed out, about being manipulated to be good little consumers in a crassly commercial world. No, it is far more profound than that. Instead, it is more about how the working class Americans in _They Live_ are being exploited by the elite upper crust, who, in the movie, happen to be aliens, but who, in the real world, are a subsociety that use their collective power to exploit the rest of us.

Unfortunately, this movie sometimes has an unintentionally comic air to it. Still, the exploration of that theme is so rare in pop culture, and that theme is so profound, and reaches so far into what American society is, was, and is becoming, that this movie is a Must-See for anyone with an interest in politics and sociology.
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Clever sci-fi film with current cultural relevance
ThrownMuse14 December 2004
An unemployed man in the 80s (of the WWF variety, complete with Mel-mullet) shows up in the big city looking for work, American Dream intact. He finds a "Hooverville"-like (perhaps Reaganville!) community that takes him in and finds work in construction. He notices that several of the providers are ostensibly up to no good and hold meetings at the local church. He stumbles upon a secret door and finds a stash of...80s sunglasses! After the community is destroyed by the police, our baffled working-class hero pops on a pair of the glasses, which allows him see the world as it really is, and wake up out of his sleeeepy false consciousness! Was Carpenter reading up on his Marx? Maybe! Either way, this sci-fi/action flick is fantastic, cheesy, and clever. "They Live" was obviously influenced by the excess of the 80s, but doesn't come across as dated and actually seems very relevant to the current cultural climate in the US. There are various flaws (namely, the creepy-in-a-bad-way Meg Foster and her character), but overall this is an excellent, amusing, and entertaining film. My Rating: 9.5/10
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One of the Coolest and Underrated Films of the Late 1980's.
Lucien Lessard2 September 2005
John Nada (Roddy Piper) comes to L.A. to search for a Job. On the same working place, when he finds a job. John meets Frank (Keith David), Frank asks John to come along. Where Frank stays with poor people and a place to rest. Once he gets there, John watches television and sees some subliminal reporting by a scientist. The scientist is trying to get an important message on television by using frequency. John knows, there is something unusual going on at a house nearby. After a small band of cops are beating these poor people trying to find, where does that frequency is coming from. The next day, John goes to the house nearby and he finds one thing an open box. That box was hidden in the wall and when John open that box. He finds nothing but sunglasses. When he takes one of them, John sees a whole different world. A Bizarre look of L.A. in black & white with images full of subliminal advertising messages are visible though special glasses. Then he notice the only purpose of these glasses are the civilians are mixed with aliens population amongst them!

Directed by John Carpenter (Assault on Precient 13, Ghosts of Mars, The Thing-1982) made a extremely well made film mixed with action/sci-fi elements and a refreshing scene of humor. Piper is good here, he has some memorable scenes with some funny dialogue. The film's best line from Piper is "I come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass but i'm all out of bubble gum". There is also an unforgettable scene with Piper and David, when Piper asks David to put the glasses on. When David refuses to put them on. Piper and David get into a very funny fistfight scene that turned into a classic scene. The film might have a few flaws, only depending a matter of personal taste. The Alien Make-Up effects are extremely awful but intentionally funny. The film ends with a great pay-off. The film is hilarious at times and always fun to watch. Since this film like most Carpenter's works become a Cult Classic.

DVD has an sharp anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) transfer and an good-Dolby Surround 2.0 Sound. Too Bad, Universal didn't release a Special Edition of this landmark independent film. The DVD from Europe, Carpenter and Piper recorded an running commentary track for this film in a two disc special edition. When in the U.S. get out Special Edition ? DVD doesn't have no features. This is a amusing satiric sci-fi adventure. Underrated to be sure, the film ages well despite awful alien make-up. Based on a Short Story by Ray Faraday Nelson titled "Three O'Clock in the Morning". Screenwriter "Frank Armitage" is actually director Carpenter. Panavision. (****/*****).
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Classic from my youth
Tim Hayes15 June 2005
I remember first seeing They Live when I was 10 and I totally fell in love with this film. How could a ten year old not? There's wrestlers, aliens and a plot to take over the world. My friends and I quoted this film for weeks on end with the Bubble gum and kicking @$$ line being a favourite among all. The only real complaint that I have about the film is that the aliens when finally revealed are far too human. They basically look like a skeleton with bug eyes. Not a whole lot of energy seemed to go into their design. While They Live will never be remembered as a film that redefined the way films were made, it still to this day holds a place in my heart as one of the films that just defines your youth. It is fun, action packed and has just enough cool storyline to keep you interested from start to finish.
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Highly Underrated
Miss_MiChiMi14 January 2005
I have to say something here. This movie is actually very good. It was a mixture of sci-fi and political and sociological imagery. I thought the fact that the turncoat working with the aliens that were brainwashing the public was employed in the media was a brilliant way of showing how the media moguls consider us to be sheeple and use their power to persuade any way they see fit. This movie was actually quite well down, considering it did not have a blockbuster budget.

I would rather watch this than waste my time on the Matrix, which I think is a complete waste of time. The main plot of the movie was Nada discovering a worldwide conspiracy that used subliminal messages to "herd the sheep". Is this not a metaphor of what we see ever day? The media, commercials, billboards, etc, use subliminal messaging to encourage the actions of the public at large.

John Carpenter did a wonderful job. Roddy Piper's acting abilities were definitely above average, which is a lot more that I will ever to be able to say about anything Keanu Reeves has ever done. As usual, Keith David turned in a great performance. The reason this a cult classic is because it is a very good movie that requires the watcher to think.
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"The world needs a wake-up call, gentlemen. We're gonna phone it in"
ackstasis25 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I know a person who lives his life as though the world is conspiring to oppress him. In fact, I don't think there's a single conspiracy theory to which he doesn't subscribe. It's no surprise that he recommended 'They Live (1988)' as one of his favourites, and, I must admit, it is a rip-roaring film with an intriguing premise. Robust drifter George Nada (pro-wrestler Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveals the world for how it actually is: billboards and magazines sparkle with Orwellian phrases, and many "people" are actually grotesque extraterrestrial beings bent on enslaving humanity. Nada begins to resist the status quo, recruiting a reluctant co-worker (Keith David) into the true nature of reality, but only after a gratuitous but hilariously intense fist-fight that lasts a good five minutes.

'They Live' was apparently a response to the Yuppie subculture that was prevalent throughout the 1980s; that is, young middle-class businessmen obsessed with wealth, status, and materialism. The Yuppies have gotten a raw deal in popular culture: The Narrator in 'Fight Club (1999)' was a disenchanted consumerist seeking to feel human again, and Bret Easton Ellis' novel "American Psycho" (certainly one of the more disturbing books I've ever read) was an altogether unflattering depiction of "stereotypical" yuppie Patrick Bateman (superbly played by Christian Bale in the tamer 2000 film adaptation). 'They Live' subscribes to a working-class fantasy in which all wealthy people are either aliens – here, Carpenter takes an uproarious dig at Siskel and Ebert – or humans who have betrayed their species for the good life.
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An underrated masterpiece.
Alessio Baldoni12 August 2013
This film is a total masterpiece under many points of view. It encompasses a mix between drama, political plot and conspiracy related to control the masses. Is an old film but the contents are evergreen, because the power of the almighty people is still dominating the crowds minds and is greatly clear in the movie with the imperative orders that are everywhere.

Another part that astonished me is that the "Obey" written usually seen in the movie became the "graffiti tag" of one of the most famous and important street graffiti artist that inspired an affirmed fresh clothing brand now famous in the whole world.

This movie is highly recommended for the comic side too, especially the final part. John Carpenter did a real masterpiece here, this film should be in the Top 250 films for sure.
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Extremely Underrated Thriller
chain6724 January 2001
"They Live" is one of the most original and underrated sci-fi action movies i've ever seen. Eventhough the acting isn't spectacular, and by the end turns into a down right urban action movie, "They Live" is one of the most entertaining ever.

The plot is quite simple, Nada(Roddy Piper) a homeless drifter stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses through which you can see the world for what it really is, a communist type environment controlled by aliens, and then joins up with his buddy Frank(Keith David) to stop them. In the middle of all this there a lot of great one liners, a lot of harebrained action and one of the longest, and best, fist fights ever filmed.

The way John Carpenter directs really makes the film work. Everything seems downbeat and realistic. The acting of ex-pro wrestler Roddy Piper is better than expected but not too spectacular and Keith David isn't at all convincing. But none of that matters, the real reason to see this movie is just to be entertained and on that level is suceeds. My Rating is 8/10
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Really good movie; Intelligent, deep, funny, entertaining...
mkw-516 January 2006
... And of course very well made, because it's from Carpenter from his good ole days (actually I haven't seen his recent films, from the nineties or so, so I cannot say how good his "days" are now; They might be good also). The plot is bravely "stupid" (if you look the surface), but also "secretly" intelligent and deep, just the same thing as in very many scifi, horror, and even action movies: You have to look at them with open eyes to get the messages. I think this movie is much more interesting, and much more realistic and intellectual, than let's say some french art movie (Farthenheit 951 or something). This is real art. It's from this world, not from some artificial art movie marshmallow fantasy-world. Of course it's very funny film also. You may see the main actor (he's some pro-wrestler?) as some kind of a walking joke. But actually he is perfect for this role. He is like some mythological hero, just like Schwarzenegger or so. He is a symbol. The movie is filled with really good jokes and one-liners that you'll never forget. For example, when the main character comes to a bank, in his intent to kill some "aliens", he shouts: "I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass! And I'm all outta bubblegum..." And another comment from him, after he has had a ten-minute long fight with somebody: "Ain't love great!" This is a great cult movie. I'm sure there are many people who watch this regularly, with or without friends, and remember all (at least the good) lines. Perfect entertainment. Recommended.
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Good for a night of not-so-serious movies
Smiley09725 February 2005
This film has a commentary as relevant today as in the 80s. Upper class people are actually aliens corrupting America. And the only way to see them is to wear special sunglasses that our hero, Nada, stumbles upon. This film has some cool ideas: the way all magazines and signs have subliminal messages, the paranoia, and the B-movie-on-purpose-so-it-feels-like-a-B-movie feel. It also has some really great cheesy one liners which I don't wish to spoil. Let it be known though, by the end of the movie you might just see a little of Ash from Evil Dead in Nada. The film also has a fight scene around the middle that is particularly funny to watch because it keeps going forever.

Definitely a fun flick to watch if you are light hearted and can enjoy the B-movie vibe it gives off.
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"Put on the glasses!"
Mr-Fusion29 August 2015
This is John Carpenter's epic middle finger to the establishment, an open display of cynical disgust packaged as schlock entertainment. That's the real magic of "They Live"; it's both utterly ridiculous and scathingly on-point. It probably helps in that regard to cast a pro wrestler as your main hero, stop the movie dead in its tracks with an insane back-alley brawl and pepper the movie with one-liners that are just the right flavor of cheese. Indeed, that whole stretch from the discovery of the sunglasses to that alley fight is some B cinema of the highest quality. The whole thing feels like a classic arcade beat 'em up; it's a lot of fun.

Even after Alex Jones co-opted the movie for his own deceitful use, it feels more than relevant today.


R.I.P. Rowdy.
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Realistic to what's really going on on this prison planet!
annaken-125 October 2004
Wake Up! Wake Up! THEY LIVE is the most revealing movie about what's really going on on this planet that was ever made before the original Matrix (the follow-on's were way off track). Open your eyes and look around you! See what they don't want you to see! The gov't leaders and other corrupt individuals "causing" the terror attacks, the filthy rich elite with their evil bloody hands controlling money and power with evil intentions and the billion dollar fraudulant psychiatric industry and the evil brainwashing and destroying minds by drugging everyone with mind-altering, experimental psychiatric drugs from newborn infants to adults (School shootings, child suicides and other irrational and senseless killings).

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The film for the ages.
PhillipMichaelH29 May 2011
Released in November of 1988, director John Carpenter's They Live may be the film of its generation. Well, if it's not then it's pretty close. John Carpenter is mostly known for the box office smash hit Halloween (1978) and as great as that film is (it's my favorite film), They Live is proof that the horror master had more to offer, along with a lot of other gems like Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble In Little China (1986), In The Mouth Of Madness (1995), Escape From L.A. (1996) and Vampires (1998), They Live ranks on the list of his best films. Carpenter's films usually suffer from low production values and above average performances from his actors but when you look past that, his films really are very deep and well made and this film is no exception. What makes Carpenter so unique is that he really understood where Hollywood was heading during the late 70s and most of the 80s and for a short period of time he got his taste of Hollywood. He then realized that it simply only cares about making money and he spent the rest of his career as a true independent, not following any rules and making movies the way that he wanted to.

Carpenter was riding on the success of Halloween, which was in its day the highest grossing independent film ever made. Escape From New York was another hit movie and by this time he was getting major studio offerings. He then directed his first big studio picture The Thing. This film was expected to be a commercial hit but unfortunately, the film was a disaster and was even considered one of the most hated films by critics and audiences alike. Although The Thing has found a cult audience over the years, it was the film that launched a series of commercial failures from the director.

Carpenter was feeling angry and frustrated with the way the studio system was heading so he decided to make a film that expressed this anger which is where They Live comes in. This film may be one of the bravest movies in its day. During the 1980s, we were being told to do nothing but consume. This film is a study of the world being corrupt by the media and how it tells us to simply not care and just make tons of money. The middle class are portrayed as villains in the film and that being rich and successful is the only way to be happy while poor working class people are being treated as useless. We all believe that fame and fortune is what makes us somebody but Carpenter wasn't about to become a sell out and instead he dealt with his anger by making this film and when you look at it now you can't help but think what an honest direction that was to go in.

But this movie isn't just for deep thinkers, it is also a kick ass sci-fi action movie and it's a lot of fun too. Sure, the movie is goofy at times and very B movie material but to me that's a positive aspect, I think that was the perfect way to portray the story. I would put this movie up there with A Clockwork Orange (1971) even, as pretentious as that sounds.
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This is how things really are!
metalrage6664 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I love this movie. I first saw this in the very early 90's, hired on VHS and I've loved this ever since. People always laughed at me when I said that life sucks because of aliens, and with They Live, I'm even more convinced.

"Rowdy" Roddy Piper - God rest his soul, plays a drifter who comes to town looking for work. He makes friends with Keith David who takes him to a shanty town for a meal and a place to stay. Piper then notices some odd activity along with late night choir singing at a nearby church and on investigating he finds boxes of cheap looking sunglasses, with the "choir" being nothing more than a speaker set-up.

The next day he puts on the glasses and notices that everything turns black and white with all visible text revealing hidden messages. It seems that all signs, billboards, magazines and even cash has hidden messages which are only revealed through the sunglasses. The messages are all simple authoritarian commands such as "obey" "marry and reproduce" "this is your god" - referring to money, and so forth. All of this reaches the human mind subliminally in an effort to keep us all subdued and docile, while the aliens take up varying positions of power and control. So while our eyes see a billboard advertising a holiday our brains are actually being told to conform.

Also revealed are the appearance of the aliens living amongst us. Basically most of those in positions of authority or those who are rich are all aliens. They're ugly, with mottled skin, big glassy eyes, no lips and a face full of ugly teeth. When Piper hilariously confronts some of these aliens in a supermarket they realise that "they have one that can see", and set about describing his appearance into their Dick Tracy style watches. He then kills two police officers, who are also aliens, and uses their guns to shoot up a nearby bank.

With Piper now branded a wanted criminal he tracks down his friend and we're then given one of the most memorable fight sequences ever. After beating each other to a pulp and then finally managing to convince his friend to put on the sunglasses to see the real world for himself, they end up becoming part of a small band of resistance fighters who have been struggling to locate the source of the alien transmissions that have blocking their true identities to the rest of humanity.

After a few setbacks and the human resistance almost completely wiped out, we find that some humans are persuaded to join the alien ranks by ratting out anyone who opposes them in lieu of huge bank accounts and a cushy lifestyle. Eventually the transmission device is destroyed and aliens identities suddenly appear on TV, casually sitting among us in bars, or even while enjoying human prostitutes.

While They Live doesn't have great acting or memorable special effects, it works because it's an example of how a simple idea, with minimal budget can still gain a cult following and speak to a multitude of people. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to being constantly overlooked for promotion, or never winning the lottery, never being able to catch a break or always managing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And quite frankly if you're someone who's never experienced any of this, obviously you're an alien. There's just too many things in this movie that make a truckload of sense and have all the pieces of life's puzzle suddenly fall into place.

Luckily this movie can be found almost anywhere like a cheap pair of sunglasses, so grab a copy, watch it several times and believe that "they live".
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Intelligent scifi film following lunkheaded protagonist
Michael A. Martinez12 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Carpenter's Golden Era fizzled out somewhere in the late 80's between PRINCE OF DARKNESS and this movie. This film has some amazing scenes and excellent ideas though not without its share of campy silliness and sloppiness which adds to the fun. Still, I can't help but wonder how much better this film would have been with a few more dollars and a lot more attention put on making sure the script was up to snuff.

Conceptually, this film is great with a plot that nearly writes itself. Unfortunately, it settles into total conventions and the plot never really has any sense of reality or immediacy to it because things are so sloppily set up in the first act.

Right at the start I've always chuckled a bit right when Piper walks into the unemployment office and a guy in a wheelchair scoots by him just unsubtly shaking his head in frustration. Things feel even sillier when it turns out that a blind street preacher Piper sees raving to some crowd of strangers is some central figure in the human resistance. Wouldn't they try to maintain a lower profile? Also, how are they so taken off guard by the police raid but never seem to notice the giant 7- foot blond wrestler in a plaid shirt parked across the street aiming binoculars at them all day and night?

Like everyone else, I love how a heavily armed Piper pulls a reverse- HEAT and escapes a police shootout by entering a bank and shooting the place up. This awesome scene is undone immediately after by Piper just easily exiting the back door (are cops really this stupid?). It could have all been so much better to have the bystanders reacting more realistically (especially to their kin talking into wristwatches and disappearing) but Carpenter can't seem to be bothered by that and just whisks the plot along to a lot of unfortunately repetitive and uninspired action sequences involving dozens of nameless henchmen in ill-fitting army surplus store uniforms.

Piper gives us an earnest performance as a clumsy hobo who suddenly wakes up to reality, but the real star performance belongs to Keith David. As much goofy fun as the 6-minute fight scene is, I'd have much rather seen a fight focus on a point in the film where the stakes were larger or devoted more time to Keith's conversion or setup.

The film makes a lot of right turns when a few lefts might have made for something truly classic. As it is, the film falls just short, though it'll always retain a strong cult following for its pre-MATRIX social commentary mixed with fast-paced action and Carpenter delivery the (unfortunately?) cheesy goods, true to his standard.
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Read your Vance Packard
Eric7 February 2015
Other reviewers have pointed out the metaphor for Reaganism or the hippie thing. But it goes back long before either of those. Anyone who has read Vance Packard from the '50's (The Hidden Persuaders, and other great books)will immediately recognize the art of subliminal advertising which was in full swing long before Reagan or hippies. The big marketing companies have been using staff psychologists and test audiences since the '40's or even sooner, to find out what color to make the logo, what shape the box or bottle, which slogans turn on which age groups, where on the store shelf it should be displayed. That is, how to push our subconscious buttons to bypass any conscious reactions we may have to products. My favorite story is how an appliance manufacturer found sales on its new model refrigerator dropping. When they called in the shrinks, they traced the problem to a magazine and television ad that had the "June Cleaver" type housewife standing at the fridge holding the door open to show off the innards. People liked the look and features of the fridge. But deeper probing showed that people had a negative subconscious reaction to a housewife who was stupid and wasteful enough to stand there holding the door open, letting the cold out. They Live dumbs down the subliminal message just a little bit - "Sleep", "Obey", etc. But the technique is old and getting fine tuned all the time. The Koch Brothers and the other plutocrats love that liberals and conservatives fight over racism or religion in schools or a thousand other issues while they quietly rewrite the tax laws and make money from unnecessary wars. Misdirection, subconscious button pushing, and aiming below the conscious to hit the real decision making part of our brains - that's the lesson of They Live, and it far predates the 60's or the 80's. People respond to political or marketing polls with what they consciously think, then make a different choice when it comes down to it, based on those subconscious buttons that got pushed. I love They Live. I love Carpenter's use, also metaphorical, of the TV transmission, all staticky and spooky, trying to warn of the coming doom. He used the same device in his previous movie, the badly reviewed one with the devil as a tube of whirly green jello in the church basement. When you watch TV, especially the commercials, try to think about what they're trying to get you to do and which of your buttons they're pushing. The only defense against these manipulative ads (besides sheer poverty, can't afford to buy) is to understand the trick - what are they aiming for in you underneath the surface. They Live makes the point in a direct and entertaining way.
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Reptillian Shapeshifters! Oh snap!
nnpietro3 September 2013

I know John Carpenter through his film Halloween (1978) which has become an American Movie Classic. Having heard about Carpenter's other works I had just never found the time to see another until recently.

They Live is a story about a 'nameless' man who becomes aware of the world he lives in through the most unusual circumstances. And this world is much different than what you and I are familiar with. Upon this discovery, he becomes driven to exploit this 'other world' to the rest of the sheep out there. Filled with suspense, action, and quirky humor, this film has put me on a Carpenter binge.


If you're a conspiracy theorist, this film will blow you away. One reason this is true is because how the 'uncovering' is played out. It seems that the enlightenment that our nameless character experiences is much like the creepy terms "sooner than you think…" and "before you know it…" in which the events you just discovered have already tread an almost irreversible path. In addition, there are always a million people who just aren't going to believe a word you're saying. And this aspect is evident during a pretty gnarly fight sequence.

The humor of this film is awesome. Our nameless character is a buff-all- American tough guy who makes parody of the Stallone and Schwarzenegger personas giving a clear idea of the tone Carpenter possesses in regards to those types of action figures. With cheap cliché idioms and catchphrases Carpenter owns this aspect of the film creating a character whose comic appeal turns out being more badass than Stallone or Schwarzenegger.

Many have complained about the special effects of this film giving it a poor review. I might contend that the special effects, although cheap, in fact ADD to the strange and bizarre nature of the world that our nameless character uncovers.

Obey my command and see this film. Do not question it.
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Are we being manipulated? Yes. By whom?
BillK12 August 2013
Based on a very short story, John Carpenter's They Live takes it to a whole new level. The film is sardonic, funny and satirical. Set during the recession of 1986, it posits the source of the Yuppie scourge of the era.

By now, few who may see this review have not seen the film, but for those few, I won't go into spoilers, but suffice it to say that anyone who loves conspiracy theories will recognize all of the elements: the ones at the top of the conspiracy, pulling the strings and all those who go along for convenience or reward or because they 'can't handle the truth.' And most of all, those few who see the truth and must fear for their lives as they try to fight apparently insurmountable odds in a society 'wired against them.' Heck, there's even a black helicopter.

As with a conspiracy theorist's perception of the world, the American (and one presumes other countries') society of They Live is unable to see the strings, let alone the puppet masters. To the everyday worker, everything seems normal. Wealth and social/economic advancement are out of reach and the media give out subliminal messages designed to demotivate, produce calm obedience and distract.

Some would compare They Live to the masterpiece 1984 in the way it predicts top-down manipulation of the working class and lower class by design. They Live adds humor and sci-fi, but the message is there. Some say that in the years since this film was created, some of the trends imagined in it have come to pass. I wouldn't argue with that.
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B-movie thrills, with a political edge
Progressive-Element23 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
They Live is the second of a planned three-picture deal John Carpenter had with production company Alive Films - the first was Prince of Darkness.

This tale of aliens living among us, is on the surface, a neat, somewhat tongue-in-cheek popcorn action flick, with a formidable hero in the form of Roddy Piper, who does a better job than he's often given credit for. We are with him almost throughout the film, seeing and discovering things as he does. Underneath it all is a sharp attack on the 'greed is good' era it was made in, with the rich and powerful corrupted by their greed, while those less fortunate are left to suffer.

When Roddy puts on a special pair of sunglasses, we see the real world that the aliens have set up, and that the humans are sleepwalking through - social apathy being another key point that comes under fire.

Ads blare out, consumer culture and materialism is in our face, but the glasses reveal their sinister true meaning, and it makes one take a second glance at everything when one walks through the nearest town.

And then there's the aliens - right-wing, ultra-capitalist, exploiting the poor for their own ends. 'I figured it would be something like this,' mutters Roddy's character, seeing the President in his real form...

Once the set-up's over, it's time for the action. When the aliens are alerted to Roddy's discovery of their presence, tensions rise dramatically as our hero finds himself on the run from the alien-controlled authorities when he kills some of them in self-defence, and then out of anger takes out a few more when he winds up in a bank, ''all out of bubble-gum''.

When he finally manages to convince his friend Frank - Keith David - after a gratuitous but amusing fight, they meet up with a human resistance group, and it's here the film goes downhill somewhat, as it meanders it's way to it's bittersweet climax, though the ending provides plenty of amusement.

Not a perfect film, and the alien make-up isn't too great, but it works as both a B-movie thrill ride, and an angry protest.
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a brilliantly over-the-top science-fiction/action/satire hybrid; one of the best of 1988
MisterWhiplash8 August 2006
There's a part of me that, while watching They Live for the first time, thinks 'this is just B-sci fi trash that only attempts shallowly for social and political satire, not to be taken seriously'. But there's another part that outweighs that, which finds this and other John Carpenter films to not meant be taken TOO seriously anyway, all in the (accepted) disbelief that must be taken to really enjoy and admire his work. But as far as being a sort of B-movie goes- and They Live, despite having a bigger budget and more special effects than most, has that spirit in its bones like an old comic book from the 50s- this is probably one of the best I've seen from the past twenty years. Like Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China, it doesn't kid itself what it is for its audience- a hilarious take on subject matter that is not taken for granted. It's an intelligent, hilarious, and extremely entertaining movie, where the subject matter is not very nuanced and (as in Dawn of the Dead) in your face and right up there without question. It's like a 1950s sci-fi piece about invaders from other planets seeking us out for domination, only shifted in the 1980s (and still relevant for today more than ever) and given both realistic grounding and just a pure hard-boiled action film. It has the danger of being cheesy, dismissible material, but somehow it all works much better than expected.

For a film like this as well you need a star, who in this case was a WWF superstar, who has much more on-screen machismo and a strong enough presence with some good acting skills. Roddy Piper fits so well into this role it shows the potential that unfortunately hasn't been tapped by most filmmakers. Carpenter sets up the story perfectly well with its ambiguity- it's all from Nada's point of view. (His name is never given, but hey for this story who needs it anyway?) He's a drifter who gets construction work, but by the slums he lives in he sees a church doing strange things, and after an out-of-the-blue incredibly violent police raid, Nada soon finds a pair of sunglasses left behind. He puts it on and his world goes completely awry; many people are aliens, subliminal messages saying terms like 'Obey', and if you're spotted SWAT teams fly in. He draws in the help of his reluctant-to-the-point-of-fighting friend Frank (Keith David, always good but very impressive in his typical tough-guy way) to seek out the source of all of these 'signals' given off by the visitors.

Again, this could all be pretty hokey in the wrong hands. But Carpenter trusts the material to the point where he takes it seriously on one side and not on the other. There's a kind of attitude about the film, as with others in his work, that reflect of course cynicism and outrage at the system, but all in the guise of something much more sinister at work. As the best sci-fi gets at criticism of society as it is, the underlying current in They Live does get some very good jabs in. Perhaps what I mean by this divide in serious and not (and yet both sides working well) is when Piper puts on the glasses the first time and almost bugs out at what is all around him. This is a very funny section of the film- possibly the funniest- but it's filmed unpretentiously and the direction is always very concisely with bits of imagination (those black and white inserts, obvious, but always fun). And at the core of this being a satire on the controls of society and breaking off from it (or just not being on it to start with) is not skimping on what some would expect- loaded with guns, violence, action that isn't compounded by excess weight.

Featuring a fight sequence that ranks as one of the most intense and amusing in recent memory, perfectly chum-like dialog, one of Carpenter's very best musical scores, and an ending that packs it all in, They Live is a great escapist movie with a message that actually hits. It's also an prime example of a talented filmmaker having something to say through a genre; a tale of suppressed and controlled society with originality, cool, and subversive tact. It'd probably make a neat party movie, too.
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My favorite John Carpenter movie!
hnt_dnl1 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
THEY LIVE (1988) is one of those "80s" movies that eluded me as I was growing up. The two adjectives that you hear most about "80s" movies are 'dated' and 'trivial'. But a funny thing has happened to movies in the 00s. Most movies now are really indistinguishable from each other, no matter what the genre. Summer movies are big on special effects, with no story or good characters. Non-summer movies are either boring Indie flicks or dull mainstream bids to win Oscars. And every other movie is now a remake or a reboot! But in the 80s, it seemed like a movie could be about almost ANYTHING and still be entertaining! Even a lot of "bad" ones are getting re-discovered as cult classics! Go figure.

They Live is another 80s movie that has managed to reach the level of cult status, but that's not surprising given the source...John Carpenter! Who is fast moving up my list of favorite directors! I already had been a big fan since the 80s of his no-holds-barred cult action comedy Big Trouble in Little China and have recently gotten around to watching (and loving!) his atmospheric and spooky horror flick The Fog. There's a nonchalance and unassuming quality with which Carpenter directs his flicks that is really inviting. He doesn't overdo it with camera action or music. Rather, he focuses on the characters and dialog allow them to drive the action, rather than the other way around, and sets a tone and mood that permeates throughout his movies.

They Live starts off very methodical and slow, establishing the main character and a couple of minor ones very well while setting an ominous, foreboding tone, and once it gets going, it REALLY gets going! It had been years since I'd seen it until recently, but I remember totally liking this effort and now have come to appreciate for how psychic and clever it really is!

They Live stars 80s wrestling icon Roddy Piper (in a surprisingly persuasive performance) as a "John Doe" style drifter who finds work at an LA construction site. There he meets fellow worker Frank (a solid Keith David) and the 2 live at a local shelter that is run by Gilbert (reliably played by Peter Jason, who later played a role in Carpenter's anthology flick Body Bags). Piper's character finds out that the shelter is a front for a secret organization, that gets raided by the police, but not before Piper finds a box of sunglasses in the group's hideout. After donning a pair of the glasses, he sees the light! The world has been infiltrated by aliens who have worked their way up through societal ranks and hold key positions of power and authority (businessmen, police, newscasters, politicians) and all the signs and media carry subliminal messages that force the general populace to conform, submit, and obey! Then there is this long sequence where Piper discovers the magnitude and scope of the alien threat via the sunglasses that is truly spooky and scary, and he proceeds to go on an alien-killing spree! During his escape, he kidnaps a local yuppie named Holly (played by the beautiful Meg Foster in an all-too-small role) and tries to convince her of the alien threat.

While They Live has several moments of hilarity (most notably in some of Piper's dialog) and has a comic air about it at times, it is mostly a serious film with an important message. Piper's blasé dialog actually complements the horror and action scenes as it's coming from a character that is at a crossroads in his life: he's homeless, with little to no hope of a good future, and is in "last straw" mode, BUT he also has a heart (as illustrated in his connections with both Holly and Frank) and morals and defeating the aliens is his way of saying that he does count and can make a difference.

Yeah, I know it all sounds cheesy and cliché, but the movie never feels like that to me. While the effects are cheap (which is intended since this is a very low budget B movie) and the dialog is purposefully tongue-in-cheek, the message and the way Carpenter tells the story is most certainly NOT cheesy or cornball! They Live is actually one of the more provocative low-budget flicks I've ever seen! The drab black-and-white world that is relayed through the sunglasses is actually pretty scary-looking, relaying a cold and empty feeling. The movie is actually pretty disturbing and violent, with the big alleyway fight scene, as well as the attacks on the shelter and the underground basement, and of course in the climax. The main stars Piper, David, and Foster really do a great job with the serious moments and making the viewer believe in the imminent threat.

The film's ending is simply smashing, simultaneously ambiguous and yet somehow uplifting. They Live is a pleasing blend of horror, satire, comedy, action and is grounded in a lot of truth! My fave from John Carpenter!
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A Great and Original Sci/Fi/Action Film Classic. Carpenter does it again.
jcbutthead8628 June 2012
John Carpenter's They Live is another Carpenter classic that greatly mixes Sci/Fi,Action and Social Commentary. The film has gained a cult following over the years and it is well-deserved.

They Live is the story of an out of work drifter named John Nada(Roddy Piper)who has just arrived in L.A looking for work. When he finally finds a job, he meets up with a co-worker named Frank(Keith David) who becomes Nada's friend. Frank tells Nada that there's a place called Justiceville that takes care of the homeless and unemployed. When Justiceville is raided by the police, Nada looks through the damage and finds a box of sunglasses and when Nada puts on a pair the sunglasses reveal that the rich humans are actually aliens controlling and influencing everyday life and Nada tries to warn and tell people but it's not going to be easy.

One of the reasons They Live is a great film and works so well is because it's just as relevant as it was back in 1988. The themes of people becoming poor,losing their jobs and the economy going bad relates to what's going on now in our society. Carpenter always said that this was a commentary on the Reagan era in the 1980s where the rich were getting richer and the poor were growing poorer. Carpenter sets the tone for the film in the first ten minutes showing people that are homeless and losing their jobs. You'll relate to John Nada when he's trying to look for a job in the harsh and troubling economy. If you take out the Action and Science Fiction the stuff with the economy and homeless would seem like something out of the news or a realistic documentary. It's that accurate. Instead of using humans,Carpenter uses aliens as the villains who are posing as rich human beings taking over society. Carpenter gives us a dark,eerie,paranoid,apocalyptic view as if the world was falling apart and you don't know who trust and who's human. You say that Carpenter was continuing his themes of paranoia and human beings from The Thing where human beings are paranoid and afraid of the aliens and of each other which are great themes and those same themes work here as well. What I also love about the film is the Humor and satire in this film where television and advertisements have subliminal messages underneath and also mocking the rich and the consumer culture when during the 1980s most people were about getting rich,making a lot of money and living good lives,but They Live turns that idea on it's head and offers a funny and biting satire of the era. Carpenter's commentary and jab at the Reagan era is very much dead on. John Nada is another classic Carpenter Anti-Hero we can relate to because he is down to earth and a human being that keeps his head on his shoulders and keeps his cool when he starts to go after the aliens but is also tough and cool individual that doesn't messing around. They Live is a Western in disguise and John Nada like other Carpenter Antiheros is a modern day Western cowboy instead trying to survive in the Wild West is trying to survive against Aliens in a big city The Action sequences in the film are well done with great shootouts and intensity and has one of the finest,longest,greatest fight scenes in film history. The fight scene is brutal,long and funny and at times you feel like it will go on forever,it's one of the most realistic fight scenes I've ever seen because you can feel those punches and kicks almost like you're in the scene yourself. It's Five great minutes of fighting you'll never forget. Great scene. The film also has one of the greatest lines in film history and will be quoted forever thanks to Roddy Piper. A great line. For a film made on a 4 million dollar budget the special effects are outstanding and at times makes the film look like it cost 40 million. Carpenter is a master at making a low budget film look like 70 million dollar film. The ending of the film is classic and funny and is a wonderful cap off to the film and is one of the things that makes They Live a great movie.

Roddy Piper is great as John Nada bringing a cool and calm feel to the role and when Piper gets into the action,Piper says great one liners and kicks ass. No wonder Roddy Piper is one of the best pro wrestlers of all time. The Underrated Keith David is wonderful as Frank,Nada's co-worker and friend,with David bringing the same intensity and depth he brings to a lot of performances. Meg Foster does a fine job as Holly,a person that Nada meets and is trying to tell her what's going on. Carpenter actors George'Buck'Flower(Drifter)and Peter Jason(Gilbert)give great performances as does Raymond St. Jacques(Street Preacher)who is great in his small role.

The direction by John Carpenter is brilliant. Carpenter moves the camera slowly and giving the film a great atmosphere especially during the black and white sequences with the aliens. The action scenes by Carpenter excellent and well-done with tightness and great editing. Great job,John

The score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth is excellent mixing together Western,Blues and Jazz that perfectly matches the tone of the film. It's probably my favorite Carpenter score.

John carpenter's They Live is to put it simply a great and one of Carpenter's best.If you love Sci/Fi,Action and Cult films I suggest you see this film. Highly Recommended. 10/10.
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