Favorite Carpenter Creations: “They Live” (1988) Review

Drifter John Nada blows into an L.A. suburb looking for work, only to discover an underground operation that’s “wise” to what’s really going on in society. Turns out, the rich and powerful of the world are really ugly aliens that are enslaving the working man and keeping the human population “asleep” with consumerism. Mankind’s only hope is to be “waken up” but with the police force, the government, and Roger Ebert on the alien’s side, John has to bring out the ultra-violence.

John Carpenter is a director that I have a very soft spot for. I’ve grown up on many of his classic films – Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing and They Live will always stand out as nostalgic gems for me. But more than just sentiment can be found in Carpenter’s films. Each one is always a unique, gripping, and thoroughly entertaining oddity that promises a kind of genre film that’s above-average. They Live is no exception. The beauty of this film is it’s ability to swing from chilling scenario, to humorous action at the drop of a dime. Carpenter finds a great balance between a creepy sci-fi tale, tinged with social commentary (very Romero in a way), and a blazing action flick with more one-liners than a Bond film.

Perfectly cast as our hero is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, someone who should be no stranger for wrestling fans, even minus his trademark kilt. Piper chews the scenery up with his bombastic, bigger-than-life performance. In one of films funniest scenes he engages in an outrageously extended fight sequence with Keith David (of The Thing fame) that goes on for nearly ten minutes. It’s absurd, but that’s the point, not to mention the fact that it’s tremendously fun. Anyway, the alien effects are suitably wild, riding a line between innovation and creepiness. Some critics have called the alien effects poor, but I find them to be effectively hair-raising. Carpenter lends his usual great synth score to the film and the cinematography is great, really capturing the atmosphere of the L.A. underground. All around, the cast delivers nicely.

Bottom line, They Live is a must for Carpenter fans. It’s a film I’ve come to love more with every viewing (I’ve probably seen it 50 times since my childhood) but it’s also a film that has a comment on society that’s more relevant today than ever. Anyhell-

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum…”

–Alex Dillard