They Live (1988)
Director: John Carpenter
George “Buck” Flower/Drifter
A down-on-his-luck drifter dude (Piper) named Nada (he sports a backpack, so yes...he’s a drifter) unwittingly finds out through a pair of high-tech sunglasses, that aliens have taken over the world and are posing as the upper class. Nada isn’t down with that shite one bit and resorts to firearms to free humanity.
"They Live" starts off with more ambition than the usual “bang bang, alien bitch goes down” opus. It slaps a very groovy premise our way while at the same time commenting on the 80’s “Reaganomics” (rich get richer while the poor get poorer). But then something happens and it takes away from the weighty issue which the film was initially addressing. Roddy Piper is a big part of that something. Carpenter has always been a fan of wrestling and slapping the motor-mouth heavyweight in the lead here, lightened the film’s tone and eventually turned it into a no-holds barred campy action fest.
The moment Nada finds out what’s going down via the sunglasses, the message angle flies out the window and Carpenter chooses to indulge himself instead, like a teenager on a hooker spree. Want to see Piper walk in a bank and blow alien scum to smithereens relentlessly? Right here, a-hole. Want to see a whacked out 7-minute wrestling brawl between Piper and Keith David in an alley (what was the point of that scene again…who cares!)? You got it, hombre. The film slaps a thick layer of mayhem our way and even though it snows over the more meaningful levels of the story, it’s a freaking hoot and a half to witness!
The flick also succeeds on a visual standpoint. Having reality shown in black and white gives the film a simple yet kind of spooky look that really works. I also have to give props to Carpenter for managing to create a world controlled by aliens on a limited budget with no big effect set pieces. We get a couple of billboards, some alien makeup and a rarely seen flying object…. that’s it. ven though the film is light on effects, you’ll still buy that space freaks have taken control of everything. Carpenter gives us enough to get us going and our imagination does the rest.
In the end, "They Live" didn’t make me think like I thought it wanted me to, but it satisfied another one of my cravings: entertainment. That’s just as good! This film is 100 percent pure, unadulterated fun. I easily let go of the film’s more obvious fuck ups (you’re trying to tell me the aliens controlled the whole world with one satellite dish…come on!) and just had a freaking blast! Was it supposed to be this campy? Who gives a damn! “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and I’m all out of bubblegum”…YOU GO PIPER, YOU KICK THAT MONEY HUNGRY ALIEN ASS!
Ugly alien mugs and aliens getting blown away. Fun stuff.
Roddy Piper (Nada) starts off very introspective and all puppy-dog eyes. I liked that, but the moment that the film shifted into “action” gear, he became the Piper we all know, spurting one-liners and kicking all kinds of ass. I liked that too. Keith David (Frank) is a solid actor and he plays off Piper perfectly. They had great chemistry together. Meg Foster (Holly) lets her freaky cat-like eyes and her cold demeanor do most of the acting. To be fair, she doesn’t have much of a part. The same can be said about Carpenter regular George “Buck” Flower (Drifter). He does well with what he has to do, but his part is fairly brief.
T & A
The ladies get buff Piper shirtless many times and us dudes, get a nice pair of tits near the end. What a way to end a movie!
Carpenter injects lots of mood into this one, using black 'n white and darkly lit houses to suck us in. But what really impressed me were the fight and the action sequences. The man has learned a lot since "Escape From New York". Here, the action sequences are well shot, tight and exciting. I also really dug the way Carpenter got so much out of his limited budget. Imagination takes you a long way…you go Carp!
Carpenter teams up with Alan Howarth again and gives us yet another groovy score. It actually sounds a lot like the “Escape From New York” score but with harmonica slapped in for good measure.
"They Live" starts off as a satirical look at the Reagan era with a sci-fi twist but quickly shifts into hyper-violence, macho bullcrap and dead aliens mode. It’s not as smart as it should’ve been but it sure is freaking fun! Sometimes that’s all you need. “Mama don’t like tattletales”. Funny shite!
John Carpenter wrote the script under the alias “ Frank Armitage”.
The script was based on Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in The Morning”.
Roddy Piper improvised the famous “bubble gum” line.