I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and review a late 1980’s John Carpenter film, and I’m all out of bubblegum.
They Live really is, in some ways, the quintessential John Carpenter film. It has it all: the cheesy b-movie plot played completely straight, the utter distrust of authority, the satire of the media, an abundance of shots showcasing the main character wandering around set to cool, atmospheric music. It really has it all.
So, plot… Nada (played by pro wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper) is a homeless man who happens across a pair of sunglasses that, when worn, reveal that many of those in positions of power are, in fact, humanoid aliens who have been brainwashing us with subliminal propaganda disguised as advertising.
It had been a while since I’d last watched this movie and, save for the pointlessly shoehorned in wrestling scene, it still really holds up. Like with a lot of Carpenter films, the action is contained within very short bursts and isn’t really the main focal point of the movie. Instead, the movie focuses more on building a feeling of suspense and atmosphere – making us as an audience really feel how outnumbered and outgunned our hero really is.
While They Live’s atmosphere is at no point as rich as Escape from New York (which remains my favourite Carpenter film), I feel it does very well in building a strong, foreboding atmosphere, considering the majority of the film takes place in a densely populated area during broad daylight.
This movie really does serve as an example of what is probably my favourite aspect of John Carpenter as a director, and that is the fact that he will take a story like this – and treat it as being completely serious. There aren’t enough movies that have the confidence to run with a silly premise, without turning it into schlock comedy – but the ones we do get will always be refreshing.
You have probably already guessed, but I’m gonna recommend this one.