Things are bad in America. Jobs are scarce. Cash is tight. Housing is too expensive. Morale low. Tensions high. Violence is everywhere.
No folks that isn’t a summary of today’s America, that is the backdrop to They Live, a reasonable John Carpenter effort from the 80s starring the recently deceased WWF Wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper.
Strangely enough his character is never named, so I will call him Rowdy, who much like his real life persona is unerringly self confident, cocky and perpetually well mulleted…
Rowdy is down on his luck and heads to Los Angeles to find work, his only friend is Frank (Keith David), a man who he only very recently met on the construction site.
When Rowdy finds some ‘magic’ sunglasses – I can’t describe them any other way, picture the tacky X-ray specs that used to be advertised on the back page of comics, only instead of undies you see the true nature of words and people – he is understandably shocked to find that advertising, literature and many people aren’t what they seem on the surface.
It turns out that these mysterious group practise mind control and societal manipulation through subliminal messages and electronic signals; apparently the same way the Kardashians manage to remain in the spotlight despite having no value and contributing nothing to society.
Rowdy thinks for a minute – but not long, he is a wrestler after all – and decides there is no time for pesky questions. Kill ‘em all. Unfortunately that isn’t easy seeing as how ‘they’ seem to make up half of the population of L.A.
You will likely take away two things from They Live. The first being when Rowdy steps calmly into a crowded bank and announces “I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… And I’m all out of bubblegum”. The second a 5 minute long alley fight between Rowdy and Frank, where every punch and kick sound and look totally realistic, which is strange since the film contained violence in the earlier stages that was laughably not so.
They Live doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, but for those two reasons and the fact that it is so different from anything released lately it is strangely watchable.
I feel the need to address people under say 30 and tell you ‘kids’ that the director John Carpenter wasn’t always terrible. He didn’t just make dross like Ghosts of Mars, Village of the Damned and last year’s The Ward – though he is definitely guilty of all of those. In the 80s Carpenter had a hot streak that created some of the more memorable films of the decade across a few genres. In saying that this isn’t one of them. But it is more watchable than anything he has done since.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. It seems strange to me that Rowdy Roddy Piper was the star in two of the more interesting – though not necessarily good – films of the 80s (the other being Hell comes to Frogtown). But there you go.