They Live/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< They Live

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

The legendary dialogue spoken by the late and great "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Some of you maybe familiar, however for the uninitiated this quote comes from “They Live”. Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, etc.) and adapted from the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson.


The plot follows Piper as a character named Nada. He's a drifter walking through Los Angeles in search of a job. On the way he befriends Frank Armitage, another working class man. Multiple harbingers of doom plus strange police raids lead him to discover a pair of sunglasses. Soon enough he sees that the colorful yuppie world hides a black and white dystopia where the humans are slaves to aliens. Can Nada and his crew defeat the Republicans and Democrats from space before it’s too late? Watch and find out…

I say because so much about They Live can be discussed on why it's amazing. The performances from Roddy Piper and Keith David are solid. These guys really sell the viewer on the struggles these characters endure. Especially in the fight scene which a lot of viewers like to comically dissect. However I see it as funny and scary once you see it as a metaphor for discussing politics at the dinner table if you catch my drift. The cinematography is something that shouldn't be missed. Shots of the homeless streets in the rain set to a bluesy Noir soundtrack are haunting to look at. The shantytowns themselves almost kind of bear a resemblance to graveyard mausoleums. Like society is leaving their disabled and lost for dead. Scenes involving cop raids and bulldozers look like the 80s update of the 50s creature features. One peek shows that the martians of today aren't trying to kill us from UFOs, some are simply in police cars.


A last preliminary highlight would lie in the film's writing. Never mind the immortal line of about "chewing bubble gum and kicking ass" which is good. The good news is that Carpenter has packed us with more punch. One particular favorite of mine is in the beginning when Nada observes a TV from afar. A woman on the boob tube waxes poetic about being famous like she's immortalized. It adds a sad and creepy layer of about how fans and fortune is nothing more than a sad plastic bubble straight out of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

In conclusion, They Live manages to be both action-packed, scary and powerful. It takes the lessons from yesteryear's B classics and uses it as a mirror for our society. It's no wonder why that recent billboard in New York was made in the shadow of the film. For aliens are still among us, still conditioning us to be our slaves. One day it'll be like our heads are (to quote Nada), “dipped in cheese dip back in 1957.”

I give it 5 Shepard Fairey “OBEY” shirts out of 5 - check it out!

Reviewed by Ken Hegarty

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