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Cult Movie Essentials: They Live (1988)

You see them on the street.  You watch them on TV.  You might even vote for one this fall.  You think they’re people just like you.  You’re wrong.  Dead Wrong

Well, what can I say about this gem of a film.  John Carpenter, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and one of the best one liners ever,  puts this firmly amongst the best sci-fi horrors in that fine ‘Golden Age of Horror’ time from 1980 to 1990.  Now, I watched this thanks to my older brother Simon and cousin Matthew.  But before unleashing this VHS on a young, unsuspecting 11 year old there were other
classics to puzzle through.  ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’ and ‘Flash Gordon’  to name but a few.  But this is They Lives’ moment.  It is based on the short story “Eight o’clock in the morning” by Ray Nelson.  Now for the purpose of this review I read this short story and can’t help thinking Carpenter made, the only cool 80’s decision he could have made, to slightly improve the story for the film.  It’s all about the Aliens working with corrupt greedy humans to take over
the world, reminds me of V the original series when I watched it back in the day.

This film is actually very intelligent and is really quite reminiscent of modern society and the plot could certainly hold up to pretty much any time through the ages.  Especially for an amusing film from 1988.  The feel that the government is hiding something from us.  The idea that the media controls us with consumer products we’ll never need and should never really desire.  The fact that sex sells everything.  The main plot comes in the form of ‘our hero’ being able to see “reality” through a pair of sunglasses.  These ‘super’ shades enable the Hot Rod to see through the bullshit to read ‘obey’ and ‘consume’ in the form of adverts for the next new President candidate or for that new Ferrari.  You see piles of cash in someone’s hand, on go the shades and the cash reads ‘this is your god’.  Make no mistake there are some quite poignant scenes in the film that really do make you think.  They Live is certainly one of those films that
you believe is ahead of its time in that respect.  The fight and plight of the resistance against the Aliens and government forces.  The paranoia and conspiracy theorists stirring the pot, on the brink of revolution, remind you of anything?

Then lastly is the classic lines and comedic tint like most of Carpenter’s films.  Yes I’m going to say it, the part, yes that part.  When the dashing Mr Piper enters the bank with the super shades on and a pump action shotgun and says “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…. And I am all out of bubblegum”.  A work of art and makes me smile every time I say it, which I read the actor actually ad libbed for the scene.  Another great thing I read was that
the communicators that the guards use are the P.K.E. meters from Ghostbusters, wow.  Apart from Rowdy Roddy Pipers very questionable acting, which was always going to be the case let’s face it, it’s another Carpenter classic.  The originality, the once again superb musical score and faultless directing makes this a must watch.

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