They Live

You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they're people just like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong.

Year of Release: 1988
Genre: Science Fiction/Action
Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: John Carpenter


Roddy Piper ... Nada
Keith David ... Frank
Meg Foster ... Holly
Peter Jason ... Gilbert
George 'Buck' Flower ... Drifter
Raymond St. Jacques ... Street Preacher
John Carpenter ... Voice that says 'sleep' (voice) (uncredited)


They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. They Live.


They Live... ya know, were Criswell still around today, we mighta gotten a great prologue along the lines of: "my friends, can your hearts stand the shocking facts about Venture Capitalists from Outer Space?" I dunno about anyone else, but I'm still waitin' for the sequel: "Hedge Fund Managers Conquer the Universe," starrin' Mitt Romney in his big screen debut.

An speakin' of government welfare, I just heard about this new program that'll letcha apply for all kinda surplus military equipment that we paid billions of dollars to ship back from Iraq after we used it to blow up a buncha freedom hatin' jerks who talk funny. Apparently it's designed to help disadvantaged police precincts who couldn't otherwise afford their own Predator drones get the equipment they need to protect us from insurgent environmental cells an rogue homeless encampments. This's gotta be the coolest government program ever, so I decided to fire off a letter to President Trump, an I was hopin' you guys could look it over to make sure it sounds professional enough:

"Dear Trumpster,

I know you're pretty busy makin' America great and yellin' at the TV these days, but I have a humble request I'd like to make on behalf of our local police force (we're a proud people here in Chickawalka County, so there's pretty much no way Sheriff Hardassian'd ever just come right out and ask you himself); I'd like to requisition one (or more if they're just takin' up a lotta space on the White House lawn) M1 Abrams to help spruce up our annual Christmas parade. People're tired of lookin' at the same flatbed trailer covered in itchy kids with hay in their underpants - we need somethin' better, and I think one of your tanks is just the ticket (Do you happen to know if it's possible to fire wads of Tootsie Rolls out the turret by the way? I've got a bet with Cleave Furguson). Also, last year the mayor made my dog pull this ugly fat kid on a sled, which to me seems like a perfect metaphor for the workin' man gettin' held back by food stamp recipients, so if you could please stick that guy in Guantanamo Bay to teach 'im some manners, that'd be great.

Besides the parade, a tank would also be pretty useful for demolishin' all the empty storefronts clutterin' up the joint, and for scarin' off cattle rustlers. In exchange I'd be willin' to overlook your past ties with Reality TV and consider campaignin' for Mike when the pressure of the office eventually causes you to resign in frustration to avoid havin' your hair start fallin' out in clumps. Or just one really big clump if it ain't real (I ain't passin' judgment, us baldin' guys gotta stick together). Oh, and can you please tell Skunky Hernandez that he's not allowed to ride in the tank with me? I'm pretty sure the Geneva Convention forbids the use of chemical and B.O.logical weapons.

Thank you for considering our request.

P.S.: If it'll influence your decision at all, we'll totally make you Grand Marshall and let you drive the fire truck, as you seemed to enjoy that very much the last time you got in one.

P.P.S.: When do I get my tank? And does it come with its own shells, or do we hafta order those separate?"

Well, whaddya think? Too desperate? Just desperate enough? I don't wanna make an ass of myself an get deported to Ghana or anything. First thing I'm gonna do when it shows up is spin cookies in Mark Skidman's lawn, it's gonna be awesome.

I'd better calm down an get my head back in the game, cause as you all know we're comin' up on October, an that means nothin' but great flicks with serious marquee value for the entire month. Well, mostly. I mean, there's a Friday the 13th this month, an as deep as I am into the series at this point that just about guarantees a stinker, but that's why we're startin' a week early with the politically charged John Carpenter space alien crony capitalism classic, They Live, undoubtedly the greatest cinematic accomplishment in the career of the late "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I mean, it's right up there with that time Ric Flair tried to give 'im an atomic drop an Roddy poked 'im right in the eye like Moe Howard. So to honor the memory of His Rodness this Halloween season, let's all observe a moment of silence an check out a few of the things he was able to teach us before headin' to the big Battle Royal in the sky. First, if your cause is just, automatic weapons perform with flawless surgical accuracy. Second, sometimes the suspicion aroused by havin' a shotgun totin' member of ZZ Top guard the entrance to your secret clubhouse outweighs the benefit of his security services. An third, when a woman shoves you out a second story window, it's possible she ain't just playin' hard to get.

But before we move on, I have a rather shocking theory I'd like to put forth, which begins, innocently enough, with Roddy Piper missin' WrestleMania IV to shoot a movie about the dangers of Reaganomics for John Carpenter. Now I know what you're prolly thinkin', but I only had seven cans of Pole Cat beer before this whole thing came to me so hear me out: where did WrestleMania IV take place? Madison Square Garden? Nope. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? Go Fish. The Silverdome? Wrong. It took place in Atlantic City... in TRUMP PLAZA. "So what?", you might say; "Trump wasn't even a Republican back then, what's the connection?" Listen, I ain't tryin' to make some kinda political statement here pee-wee, so getcher identity politics under control an listen up: the SIGNIFICANCE of Roddy Piper boycottin' a WrestleMania gig at Trump Plaza to make a movie about the evils of unfettered capitalism is that it proves Roddy Piper had access to a time machine. He *tried* to warn us without comin' right out an tellin' us *how* he knew, but we didn't get the message. "Yeah, well, that's impossible, because Piper died before Trump even won the election." My point exactly. In fact, that only solidifies what I've been tryin' to tell ya, cause apparently, whatever he saw in whatever year he visited, it was so horrible that he willed himself dead so he wouldn't hafta live to see it again. He already *knew* the outcome an chose to leave this life due to the guilt he likely harbored over failin' to successfully warn us about what was to come. So I hope you're all real proud of yourselves, cause we may've indirectly killed Roddy Piper. I think I'm gonna be sick just thinkin' about it... yup... here come the Pole Cats, back for another round...

The movie begins with Hot Rod saunterin' through areas of southern California that're likely to elicit a "you're not going down THERE are you?!" from the backseat of a yuppy occupied taxi cab, before reachin' the local unemployment office an bein' told there's no work for anybody who once threw a chair at Mr. T durin' a WrestleMania grudge match. So he presses on into the city an stops to listen to a blind street preacher rail against trickle down economics an rant about the Walmart industrial complex conspirin' to sell us so much cheap foreign crap that we'll eventually be too blind to notice our lives're are as shallow an meaningless as an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Fortunately, Rod's able to land a job on a construction crew after regalin' the foreman with stories about stuffin' Vince McMahon's tie in the paper shredder, an when quittin' time finally rolls around this other guy (Frank) offers to take 'im to down to the local hopeless shelter to get some grub an listen to old men talk about how if we can just get the minimum wage down a couple more bucks an hour we'll all have a Ferrari for every day of the week. Roddy though, he still believes in America, so he's pretty sure the CEO of Citibank needed that $10,000,000 severance bonus more'n the preteens wanderin' around camp fightin' over empty Keystone Light cans, an he dismisses Frank's theories about how Richie Rich went an rigged the game while everyone was gettin' high enough to hunt ducks with a rake back in the '60s. But later that evenin', Buck Flower an some of the camp's more handsome occupants're gathered around their illegal cable hookup, when all the sudden the picture gets scrambled an gives way to this guy who looks like he's been locked in a bunker in Minnesota since 1952 tellin' everybody that they've been trapped in a state of "artificially induced sleep" by a diabolical marketing syndicate who transmit a secret microwave signal that turns us all into unfettered capitalists an forces us to try vainly to keep up with the latest Fall fashions until we eventually succumb to the crushing debt an hafta sell off our bungalows just to afford the electricity necessary to thaw out our Swanson frozen dinners. That ain't even the weirdest thing though, cause while all this is goin' on, Roddy can't help but notice the blind street preacher down the block mouthin' the transcript word for word along with the guy on TV, or how quick the enabler who runs the camp (Gilbert) takes off into the church across the street when Sanford and Son eventually overpowers the pirate broadcast. Same thing happens the next mornin', only this time Roddy Peeper follows Gilbert an sees 'im arguin' with the tin foiled news anchor about how best to get their message to the people now that their Twitter accounts've been banned by the Illuminati. Only Rod ends up gettin' caught by the preacherman when he turns to leave, an the guy starts rubbin' his hands all over Roddy's face like he's making sure it don't contain subliminal messages spelled out in blackheads, before offerin' to tell 'im all about L.A. Revolution.

Not much chance of that happenin' though, cause pretty quick a helicopter starts buzzin' the place while Gilbert an his flunkies quickly load boxes into the Ecto-1, an by the time night falls an army of cops raid the place an clear the streets like one of 'em just got acquitted of killin' an unarmed minority, before proceedin' to bulldoze the Occupy Skidrow protesters an beat the tar outta the propaganda minister an the preacherman. Hot Rod is P.O.'d, so he sneaks back into the church the next mornin' an locates one of the boxes stashed behind a hidden compartment like a wall safe fulla Big Macs in Marlon Brando's house an finds a buncha knock-off Oakleys inside. So Rod figures, "well, heck, maybe the copyright lawyers just got a little Disney-esque in the course of protectin' their commodity, that's prolly all this is." Cept when he snags a pair he notices everything's in black an white an all the advertisin' billboards've gotten *really* lazy an say things like "consume" an "obey" like they're pullin' job interview transcripts outta Bill Cosby's brain or somethin', an now an then he'll spot these subtle differences; like people with faces that look like they got fried in an Easy Bake oven for 45 minutes. Little things like that. Course, you know Roddy, an the heel inside 'im just can't let somethin' like this go without a little snark, only when he tells this gal in the grocery store that 'er "head looks like it fell in the cheese dip back in 1957," she starts talkin' to 'er Rolex an tellin' it that she's "got one that can see." Then these two Chernobyl-faced cops show up an try bribin' 'im with a seat on the RNC board of directors if he'll keep his trap shut, only that just makes 'im even madder, an pretty quick he starts throwin' clotheslines an turnin' the thin blue line into a thick red geyser. Rod's pretty well gone full Travis Bickle at this point, so he grabs a shotgun outta the police cruiser an heads into a nearby bank where he expresses his displeasure with their lack of complimentary bubble gum by blowin' away everybody who looks like they fell asleep at Leatherface's slumber party. Unfortunately, one of the guys without a face manages to narc 'im out to Rolex command, but just as Roddy's about to sell 'im some leadbelly futures, he twists a dial on the watch an vanishes like a fart in a jacuzzi. It's possible that the whole bank lobby blitzkrieg thing mighta been a tad rash, so Roddy Sniper decides to lay low awhile an ends up kidnappin' Meg Foster so he can get a ride outta the city an ask 'er why she always looks like she just got home from the store an realized the cashier didn't apply 'er double coupons correctly. She seems to realize that Rod's been havin' a pretty rough go of it since he found out Art Bell's been right about the lizard people all along, so she takes 'im home an listens to 'im tell 'er about the fancy glasses an the pizza-faced aliens an the bubblegum shortage, but she's up to 'er ass in denial.

Then they make small talk until she mentions workin' at a TV studio, an pretty quick Roddy starts gettin' rowdy again an tries tellin' 'er about how they're broadcastin' mind control signals through old Little Rascals reruns, but before he can finish he gets sloppy an she seizes the opportunity to bust a wine bottle over his head an shove 'im out the second story window. That's good though, cause now Rod knows she ain't interested, an besides that, he's got a lotta work to do anyway... like poppin' all his dislocated bones back into joint. So once he's able to stretch his vertebrae back out like a collapsed bendy straw, he returns to the alley where he stashed the rest of the X-Ray-bans, only by now they've been picked up by the sanitation department, an so he hasta go rootin' around inside the garbage truck like a starvin' racoon to find 'em again until it raises up an he spills out onto the street like a jug fulla antifreeze. Then Frank shows up an tosses 'im his pay from the previous week despite bein' on the fence about that whole mass shootin' incident back at the bank, an needless to say he ain't the least bit inclined to wear Rod's sunglasses at night no matter what kinda story lines he's got to weave. Now it seems that we're at a bit of an impasse, an the only logical way for two men to settle this kinda dispute is to kick the livin' crap outta each other for five solid minutes until Roddy finally hits a gutwrench suplex on Frank an forces 'im to take a good look at the disintegratin' face epidemic goin' on all around 'em. Kinda foreshadows the Piper vs. Goldust Hollywood Backlot Brawl from WrestleMania XII when you think about it, cept that Keith David ain't wearin' lingerie underneath... well, actually, just forget I said that. Anyhow, after they work through their eyewear differences, they run into Gilbert who invites 'em to a meetin' of Aliens Anonymous that night where he explains to the crowd that the creeps with the curdled countenances are heatin' up the planet to sell time share packages to their friends on Hoth an that they're bribin' unscrupulous humans to join their ranks in exchange for memberships in their local country clubs cause Earth's basically just a backwater third world shithole that they're likely to ditch when a planet with a better view of the Crab Nebula opens up. They also get their specs upgraded to contact lenses an score one of them gold watches that tears a hole in the fabric of time an space to suit the needs of today's on-the-go extraterrestrial businessman, but about that time Roddy glances over to the entry way an happens to notice Meg wallflowerin' it up an heads over to see about gettin' an apology or at least a little bathroom nookie for his trouble. Unfortunately, the only thing gettin' blown off is the wall when the interstellar S.W.A.T. team shows up an murders durn near everybody til it's down to just Rod an Frank trapped in an alleyway like a coupla quadruple amputee hookers. Which is where we're gonna hafta leave 'em, cause this flick's way too good to risk ruinin' for anybody who hadn't already seen it.

Alrighty, normally I don't care for politics in... well, anything really, but occasionally a movie manages not only to devise a framing device clever enough to prevent annoyance, but to also choose a sentiment most people can get behind. Or, could have, until they found out John Carpenter's social commentary was directed at one of the most popular presidents in American history. Of course, if you were watching this thing on cable in 1989 and didn't know all this, the plot is easily relatable for virtually every blue collar in the country: the ultra wealthy get ultra wealthier off the sweat and blood of the working man while simultaneously offering him less and less for his efforts because they know he can't live without a paycheck. I mean, who *can't* get behind that commentary? And even for those of us who find themselves on the side being vilified, it's easy enough to accept the criticism, and then reassign blame to whomever we'd prefer. "Yeah, it's all true, but it's those other guys causing it," essentially. Matter of fact, for years there were Neo-Nazi groups claiming the "real" allegory in the flick wasn't Reaganomics, rather, it was about Jews and the way they allegedly control the world through a complex system of... being Jewish... or something, I never really understood that part. But that's just another example of a specific group of people assigning their personal beliefs to something that they enjoy, because accepting the truth would ruin the movie for them. Carpenter reiterated this fact earlier in the year, stating: "They Live is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world," but as you can imagine, there are those folks out there who'd prefer to believe that he only said that because he "has to," so ultimately, these theories will never completely die out. Really though, understanding the politics (or even recognizing their presence) behind They Live is purely optional, because the movie would have been just as good if Carpenter had never bothered to declare his motivation for making it. It's actually a lot like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both in tone, subject matter, and for being politically charged (although to be fair, the author of Body Snatchers denied ever using the pod people as an allegory for Communism, but the director said that the references to McCarthy and totalitarianism are inescapable, so who knows?), and it too ranks up there among the greatest accomplishments in the history of the Science Fiction genre. I'm hopeful that, even in these days of unprecedented political polarization, folks who may not necessarily agree with Carpenter's diagnosis about the cause of said financial constipation currently afflicting America's upper class can still watch his film and enjoy it, even if it requires ignoring the social commentary, because at the end of the day it's a damn good science fiction story regardless of your political leanings.

There, how was that? That diplomatic enough for ya? If not, you can all go stuff it. What you stuff and where you stuff it is completely up to you, after all, this is America. In any event - I have come here to chew bubble gum and critique film... and I'm all outta bubble gum. The plot is both very well written and very well presented, and despite all the aforementioned social commentary, it's a movie that can be enjoyed regardless of whether you completely understand the deeper meaning or not, or for that matter, whether or not you agree with the assertion being put forth. On the surface it may not seem all that subtle, but it does have its share of amusing plot devices, like the Rolex watches the aliens use to teleport from place to place, and the signal keeping everyone blind being beamed out from the roof of a TV studio. Any way you slice it, it's the haves vs. the have-nots, and that makes for a story that most everyone can identify with and appreciate. The acting is also top notch, despite any concerns you may have about the lead role belonging to a wrestler (most of them aren't nearly as bad as Hogan, after all). I don't think there's any question that this is the movie role Roddy Piper will always be known for, and although I'm inclined to believe that it *might* have been better had Carpenter followed his original plan and cast Kurt Russell, Piper's still very likeable as the down-on-his-luck man's man trying to make it in a world that's got one foot in the grave. You've also got Keith David who'd worked with Carpenter in the past on The Thing, and he's even better in this, in fact, I'd actually argue that Piper's *slightly* amateurish performance leaves the door open for David to step in and legitimately *star* with Piper as an equal, rather than simply being a sidekick, as is the case in a lot of movies like this one. Of course, it goes without saying that Meg Foster is equally excellent as the frosty TV executive (Meg always looks like she hasn't forgotten that time in 3rd grade when Timmy Matthews slung mud on her new dress), and also helping round out the cast are the great character actors Peter Jason and Buck Flower. Buck's one of my absolute favorite quirky actors, and this is probably the best role he ever did, despite only having around five minutes of screen time. I'd say the acting is the second strongest element, after the plot, because just about everyone in the cast knocks it out of the park, and even the ones who don't never descend below "good." Even though that "I ain't daddy's little boy no more" speech Hot Rod gives is pretty cheesy.

Here's who matters and why (less Roddy Piper, John Carpenter, and Meg Foster, whom most movie fans should be familiar with already): Keith David (Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Spawn 3, The Grave, The Puppet Masters, The Thing 1982), Buck Flower (Back to the Future 1 & 2, Puppet Master II, The Fog, They Are Among Us, The Curse of the Komodo, Moonbase, Wishmaster, Bloodsuckers, Dark Breed, Village of the Damned 1995, Ripper Man, Circuitry Man II, Skeeter, Warlock: The Armageddon, Body Bags, Waxwork II, 976-EVIL II, Camp Fear, Speak of the Devil, Dragonfight, Blood Games, Berserker, Dead Men Don't Die, Spontaneous Combustion, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Death Nurse 2, The American Scream, Mac and Me, Bloody Pom Poms, Pumpkinhead, Maniac Cop, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Bates Motel 1987, Drive-In Massacre, The Night Stalker, Starman, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Time Machine 1978, Killer's Delight, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Criminally Insane), Peter Jason (Planet Raptor, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alien Apocalypse, Raptor Island, 13th Child, Ghost of Mars, Escape from L.A., Congo, Village of the Damned 1995, In the Mouth of Madness, Body Bags, Arachnophobia, Trick or Treats, Alien Nation, Prince of Darkness 1987, Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star, Dreamscape), Raymond St. Jacques (Voodoo Dawn), Jason Robards III (Zenith, The Childhood Friend, Golden Years), John Lawrence (The Asphyx, Seconds), Susan Barnes (Bad Dreams, Stranded, Zombie High), Sy Richardson (The Pain Killers, Dead Man Walking, Nocturna, Bad Dreams), Susan Blanchard (Prince of Darkness), Norman Alden (Back to the Future, Ed Wood, Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force, Cutting Class, Ben), John F. Goff (The Fog, Drive-In Massacre, Azira: Blood from the Sand, The Screaming, Ripper Man, Skeeter, Dragonfight, Grotesque, Alligator, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS), Thelma Lee (Future Shock), Stratton Leopold (Kiss of the Tarantula), Larry J. Franco (The Thing 1982), Robert Grasmere (Prince of Darkness), Jon Paul Jones (Alligator II), Christine Anne Baur (Maximum Overdrive, Meteor 1979), Kerry Rossall (The Crow 2), Cibby Danyla (Ghostbusters II), Jeff Imada (Blade, Escape from L.A., The Crow, Hyper Space), Jeb Stuart Adams (Once Bitten), Al Leong (The Scorpion King, Godzilla 1998, Escape from L.A., After Shock, Dark Angel, Twilight Zone: The Movie), Matt McColm (Iron Man 2, The Island 2005, The Matrix 2, Cyborg), Peter Rodkey (Space Chase). Got a few mainstream credits for the lesser known actors as well, and they are: Lucille Meredith (Judge Irene Sawyer on Matlock), Norman Alden (the voice of Sir Kay in The Sword in the Stone and Kranix in Transformers 1986), Gregory J. Barnett (Jim Barnett on Baywatch), and Matt McColm (Domino on NightMan).

The special effects aren't as elaborate as one might assume, and only in the last five minutes do we get to see the aliens in color (the X-ray specs show the world in black and white). Carpenter's design for the aliens was essentially a dead version of humanity, but uniform in appearance, with their faces giving the appearance of having either rotted or burned off. They're certainly not on the level of, say, Tom Savini zombies, but they're not really supposed to be, and the movie doesn't suffer for it because gore isn't what the flick is about. Beyond the aliens, you've really only got the little probes that fly around watching for disturbances, and the world as seen through the glasses, both of which do an excellent job of depicting a drab and hopeless existence whose ugliness is ironically reserved for an upper class who see, but bear none of its ill effects. The shooting locations might actually be the low point, even though that doesn't in any way suggest that they're mediocre or ineffective. Both the makeshift homeless camp and the railway used in the opening scene perfectly underscore the abject misery of the lower class, and flawlessly set the mood right from the beginning. Additional locations include an employment office, a little church, Meg Foster's residence, the TV studio, and the alien headquarters beneath the city. These are of lesser importance than the first two, except the base beneath the city, which features an outrageously opulent dining hall that succeeds perfectly in depicting the polar opposite of the gritty, filthy areas occupied by the lower classes. The soundtrack is another area that's less impressive than the plot or the acting, primarily due to the fact that one track gets recycled over and over, playing throughout the movie to the point of mild tedium. It's not a *bad* track, but once you're half an hour into the movie you can't help but wonder just how many more times that thing's gonna loop. Said track isn't all that dissimilar from the main theme to The Thing, just not as good and more obtrusive. That said, there is one particularly good track that seems to be little more than a livelier version of the repetitive one I bitched about, but it only plays over the end credits. It's clear that the choices being made with the soundtrack, both the droning, repetitive one, and the much improved lively version, are strategically composed and placed, so I won't say that they're ineffective, but a little more of the second version and a bit less of the first might have helped smooth it out. Overall, They Live is one of the best Science Fiction flicks ever made, even though you're not likely to hear it come up in many discussions about that particular genre. It makes ya think, hardly ever drags, and features some of the greatest one-liners in the history of film, so if you've made it this far in life and somehow missed out on seeing it, remedy that immediately.

Rating: 93%