I’m a reader. I watch very little television and very movies. When I was younger, though, I was a film buff. I saw many classic horror movies, from Fulci’s Zombie to Raimi’s Evil Dead. I prided myself on seeing those movies, the more obscure the better. Some slipped through the cracks, however, and I’ve been slowly seeking them out. Just an hour ago, I finished John Carpenter’s They Live. Released in 1988, it follows a drifter (pro wrestler Roddy Piper) as he discovers that the world is controlled by alien beings.
This is my review.
They Live is a political film. Carpenter was reportedly disenchanted with the rampant consumerism of the 1980s. He said in an interview that every time he turned on the TV someone was trying to sell him something.
Carpenter is fairly liberal, and the 1980s were a liberal’s nightmare. Ronald Reagan was president and political correctness didn’t exist yet. Everyone was all about making money and looking out for themselves. Scary.
Carpenter channeled that into They Live; many of the aliens are wealthy, powerful, or both, while the poor schlubs are human.
The first thing I have to say about They Live is: Overall, I liked it. It was effective and fun.
The acting though…
Look, Roddy Piper was a great wrestler. I’ll shout that from the rooftops. RIP and all that.
But he wasn’t an actor.
His performance was stiff and Shatneresque. His costars weren’t much better. In fact, the best actors in the whole movie were the bit players. I don’t know if they were actually good or if they just got less rope to hang themselves with, but I digress.
Despite the bad acting, the movie works because the premise is so damn scary. Piper uses a pair of special sunglasses to see the monsters in his midst. Everyone else…well, no glasses equals no sight. That, to be, is the most frightening aspect of the film. These aliens are living among us and we don’t know. It would be bad enough if they were hiding and planning to attack at midnight, but that’s not the case. They were interested only in exploiting earth’s resources. Therefore, we never would have known. We would have lived, loved, and pooped and been none the wiser. They controlled the media (billboards of beautiful women on tropical beaches were revealed to be simple messages: OBEY. CONSUME. MARRY AND REPRODUCE), the government, everything. And we didn’t know, wouldn’t have known…until it was too late.
The story moves at a brisk but reasonable pace. I would have liked at least another twenty minutes, though. A little backstory on the aliens would have been nice, but that’s a dangerous proposition: Too much backstory and they lose their mystery. Still, it would have been cool to know a little more. There was also a fair amount of action (Piper walking into a bank with a shotgun and killing aliens. Now that was fun!)
Taking the limitations of filmmaking in 1988 into consideration, the special effects were good. The aliens were genuinely…disquieting. The political undercurrent is a problem for me because I don’t believe every rich person is evil, as They Live seems to imply. However, possible classism is a secondary concern for me; the poor acting ranks number one.
All things considered, I really enjoyed it. Had I seen it as a kid, or even a young teenager, I might have loved it. Being a jaded critic…I’d give it three out of five. Definitely worth the hour forty minutes.