(director/writer: John Carpenter; screenwriters: based on the story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson; cinematographer: Gary B. Kibbe; editors: Gib Jaffe/Frank E. Jimenez; music: John Carpenter/Alan Howarth; cast: Roddy Piper (John Nada), Keith David (Frank Armitage), Meg Foster (Holly Thompson), George ‘Buck’ Flower (The Drifter), Peter Jason (Gilbert), Raymond St. Jacques (Street Preacher), Jason Robards III (Family Man), John Lawrence (Bearded Man), Susan Barnes (Brown Haired Woman), Sy Richardson (Black Revolutionary); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Larry Franco; Universal Pictures; 1988)

“A loopy movie that got its messages right.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Carpenter (“Halloween”/”Escape from LA”/”Escape from New York”)directs and writes this subversive paranoid fantasy that suggests the clean-cut Republicans and Yuppies wearing Rollex watches are outer space aliens and not human beings. The satiric 1950s like sci-fi adventure B movie, that tells of the dire consequences of lack of trust that builds when ‘people will do anything to be rich,’ and has an amusingly pleasing premise that states that America is just another Third World country and its power structure and media are controlled secretly by aliens and humans willing to play ball with them to get material advantages. Unfortunately the idea is better than the ensuing story, that derails into a conventional urban action movie after a promising start and descends into your usual Hollywood action-pic of fistfights and gunfights.

They Live is based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson.Pro wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper stars as John Nada, a drifter laborer, who is in the action hero role of savior of the world after he accidentally finds special sunglasses, created by a resistance movement, in a secret passage of a local church. The sunglasses reveal skeletal faces of aliens and subliminal messages turned out by billboards, magazines and TV that induces the average person to obey and conform and never question authority.

The muscular homeless drifter Nada lost his construction job of ten years in Denver because of the banking crisis and lands a low-paying job at an LA construction site, where he gets shelter and food at a shanty town Depression-era like campsite run by members of a liberal Episcopal Church while waiting for his first pay check. When the police and storm troopers raid and destroy the campsite, Nada discovers in a carton the special Ray-Bans they were looking for and when viewing through them he sees for the first time the tremendous alien presence in the country and he becomes so incensed by what he uncovers of their nefarious scheme to control global economics in order to keep the underclass powerless, that he must revise his previous benign world-view. Nada goes on a killing rampage of the aliens and becomes a dangerous wanted man hunted by the law after holding up a bank while heavily armed and saying “I came to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I’m all out of bubblegum.” When, after escaping, Nada’s trapped in a municipal parking lot by the police, but escapes by car jacking Holly Thompson (Meg Foster), an assistant program director for a local TV station, who has a human face. Nada ends up in her flat until she tries getting him arrested as a homicidal psycho on the loose and he’s blasted through her window while escaping.

After a knock-down, drag-out fight that goes on for seven-minutes, Nada finally convinces his fellow hard-pressed burly construction job worker Frank (Keith David) to no longer ignore what’s going down in the country and look through the glasses, and the two team up to join the revolutionary movement with the resistance group at the church led by Gilbert (Peter Jason). From here-on the film becomes too simplistic and filled with standard-action fare to do its rich premise the justice it deserves.

Though the low-budget film is let down by poor production values (the alien makeup is shoddy), the characters lack depth and Carpenter does not give his great premise a great story to go with it, it’s nevertheless a highly entertaining film even if it doesn’t go far enough in its attack on the ruling class. But it holds up remarkably well today with its claims of the purposeful demise of the middle-class by the ruling class, the trance-like masses who are duped into following policies by the rich that keep them oppressed and how perversely cruel the Reagan administration, in power at the time, seemed to be in its war against union workers and in ignoring those needing some help from the government instead of a kick in the pants. There’s some great insights into that time period that hold up well today with a seemingly same Republican party at work destroying the middle-class in favor of the wealthy one per cent who rule the country. It’s a loopy movie that got its messages right of how soulless the population can be and because of that they can’t express any real feelings to show they have become victimized by outside forces of evil.