They Live

They Live (1988)
Screenplay by John Carpenter, based on the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson; directed by John Carpenter

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

In honor of John Carpenter’s birthday today, let’s take a look at one of his movies that was recently shown on TCM Underground.

Professional wrestler Roddy Piper plays a drifter with no name who accidentally finds some sunglasses that allows him to see the real faces of aliens posing as humans. From this synopsis you might expect a badly acted, campy tale, but I was pleasantly surprised at the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no masterpiece, but for a medium budget action flick of the 1980s, it could be a lot worse.

The film’s message is that we are succumbing to the subliminal manipulation by faceless bureaucrats and corporate executives via the inane programming on TV. In many ways Carpenter only began to touch on the reality of what TV has become today.

The highlight of the film is a fist fight that lasts over 5 minutes of screen time between Roddy’s character and his only ally, a man named Frank played by Keith David. I guess when you have a wrestling star, you take advantage of his strengths, so to speak. The fight occurs when Frank refuses to wear the sunglasses, even after he’s beaten to a bloody pulp. I think I would just put on the glasses. And, of course, both characters are injury free a few moments after the fight is over.

The cast is rounded out by Meg Foster who sleepwalks her way through the proceedings.

Filled with action and humor, They Live is a cautionary tale that should not be overlooked.


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