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*** This review may contain 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.
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
DON'T SLEEP! DON'T OBEY! QUESTION AUTHORITY! BE CREATIVE! WAKE UP! THEY'RE HERE! THINK FOR YOURSELF!!!
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.
There are two kinds of movies really: Ones that entertain us and ones
that make us think. There is a place for both of these and both are
important. It's always nice to be able to kick back and be entertained
for a couple hours, but sometimes people want a bit more in their movie
experience. Is it possible to make a film that does both? John
Carpenter is known best for his Horror films like 'Halloween' and
'Christine.' But he's also done a handful of Action films, some that
are more than just car chases, gun fights, and things being blown up.
Not that 'Escape From New York' is a really cerebral experience, but it
definitely has more going on than action and more to say than other
movies of the genre. His last movie of the 1980s is by far his most
political and 20+ years later it's still quite relevant and has held up
Pros: A chilling concept. Strong performances. Intelligent script. Carpenter and Howarth compose another memorable score. Exciting pace. Suspenseful and unpredictable. Has a real eerie feel to it. Fantastic make-up effects. Some good and still relevant social commentary. Some good humor in the mix.
Cons: The visual effects look dated. Concept could have been taken further.
Final thoughts: That John Carpenter, he sure knows how to thrill his audience. OK so maybe some of his films in the 90s aren't as fabulous as what he did before, but he hasn't totally lost it and this film is truly one of his greatest. It's both fun to watch and good at giving one the creeps. It's not easy to blend the two, but Carpenter does it beautifully here.
My rating: 5/5
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.
The unemployed construction worker George Nada (Roddy Piper) drifts to
Los Angeles and finds a job. Nada is a man that believes on the
American Dream and expects to have his big chance someday. He befriends
the worker Frank Armitage (Keith David) that is a conformist and
invites Nada to camp in the homeless settlement where he lives. Nada
observes that the television has weird interferences from a pirate
transmission of a man that belongs to an underground movement and notes
a strange movement of people in the church on the other side of the
Nada sneaks around the church and finds a box with pairs of sunglasses. When he wears the glasses, he discovers that the average people is being dominated and subdue by subliminal messages and several persons are aliens indeed. Further, the elites are corroborating with the invaders, receiving financial support in return. Nada forces Frank to wear the sunglasses and together they seek other humans aware of the situation to organize a resistance against the powerful aliens from Andromeda and their associates.
"They Live" is a B-movie by John Carpenter and one of his best films. Years before the red-pill of "Matrix", a simple worker finds the real world wearing a pair of very special sunglasses. Nada learns that the fight of classes in the American society is supported by aliens, in a sharp social and political critic to the neo-liberalism of Ronald Reagan that affected the lower classes.
I do not recall how many times I have watched this film. I am a big fan of John Carpenter and in my opinion, this great director, writer and musician deserves an Oscar for his magnificent filmography. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Eles Vivem" ("They Live")
Note: On 15 July 2013, I saw this movie again on DVD.
On 22 August 2015, I saw this film again.
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
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.
*** This review may contain 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
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!
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.
John Carpenter had said that They Live had been the best film he had
ever made, considering he also made Halloween, Escape From New York,
and The Thing remake (arguably one of the scariest films and one of my
favorite horror movies). To call this movie his best film is really
interesting on my part because I can see where he is coming from with
it. It's bad in the best possible way.
The film stars WWF Wrestling legend Roddy Rowdy Piper as the lead hero who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal to him that the world has in fact been taken over by an imperialist alien race who has turned earth into a capitalist, decadent hell. However, in sociological context, take away the aliens, and earth already looks that way. The film is interesting because it was made around that transition period between the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, so there's some competing trends and ideologies here.
The first time I saw They Live, I remember flipping through the channels and finding it on the Space Channel. It was already half-way into it and I saw Piper wandering around aimlessly on the streets of New York, seeing the aliens all around him through cheesy black and white POV shots, and I kept asking myself, "What the hell is this?" It seemed really surreal, almost like the world around Piper had become a B-movie. Then Piper opens his mouth with a barrage of bad one-lines (the famous "I am hear to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum) and I knew exactly what I was seeing. It was different, though. I had never seen a B-movie with a brain, a social-conscience, and a self-reflexive sense of humor before. Usually you only get one of those things and it's generally not the first two.
The beauty of They Live is that it is a B-movie, but it's a high-budget B-movie paying a loving homaging to the genre. It's one for the fans. It has the premise and the look of a B-movie. (Comparitively speaking to Carpenter's other works, the photography for this film is ugly as hell.) Carpenter is embracing the B-movie status of this film and using his talents/intelligence as a gifted director to make it that much more of a B-movie. Everyone involved in the film seems to know that except Piper, which makes the film even more enjoyable. His heroic crusades in the movie appear more like a madman on a killing spree - a direct jab at the whole 80s action hero trend. As a side note, Carpenter took this idea from the Italian Pablum films of the 50s and 60s, where Hercules went on fantastical and mystical adventures, but everyone in the audience watched him for how much of an idiot he was. There's a point in the film where so hobos are watching the original Hercules film starring Steve Reeves on a junky old television set.
I won't spoil anything for those of you who haven't seen this masterpiece, but there is a fight scene in the film that makes the entire thing worth seeing. It's so absurd and so ridiculously long that it made in the series "Top Ten Movie Fights." If you watch this movie for anything, watch it for that. It is so great.
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