John Carpenter (director)
29 October 2018 (released)
29 October 2018
A rather unusual offering from director John Carpenter, THEY LIVE is a clever little Sci-Fi horror from 1988 though its topics are timeless and not necessarily science fiction!
Professional wrestler Roddy ‘Rowdy’ Piper, who passed away in 2015 aged 61, plays John Nada, an unemployed drifter looking for a job, especially in the field of construction work. Having eventually found a job at a LA construction site, Nada learns that payday is still one week away. Frank Armitage (Keith David), a fellow construction worker, befriends Nada and shows him to an ‘open air’ soup kitchen which is part of a shanty town – home to out-of-work desperados, homeless folk and those too poor to afford rented accommodation. The shanty town consists of tents and ramshackle chairs and sofas found at local skips placed around an open camp fire. Some of the unfortunate men sit around the fire to warm themselves and to watch TV via an illicit cable though the signal is constantly interrupted. Both the TV-program and a street preacher (Raymond St. Jacques) who stands at a nearby corner warn of strange conspiracies against humankind, in fact the words transmitted via the TV seem to match the preacher’s words in precise detail! Curious about the TV transmission and the preacher’s words, Nada discovers a nearby church though it is only used as a front: the building is actually full with scientific equipment! It gets weirder still, for moments later armed forces raid and bulldoze not only the church but the entire shanty town, killing several in the process. In the ensuing chaos Nada finds a box filled with sunglasses and takes one pair while chucking the remaining glasses, including the box, in a dumpster. The real ‘fun’ only starts now because the sunglasses are no ordinary shades, far from it: anyone wearing them is able to see the actual reality, hence advertising posters plastered on billboards etc change into messages which order ordinary citizens to obey, consume, conform and reproduce while more upper crust and elite citizens turn out to be aliens whose faces have a mask-like and grotesque look. Nada can barely believe what he sees but soon it becomes clear to him that the street preacher’s words of a conspiracy have already turned into a sinister and disturbing reality.
After Nada confronts a woman who turns out to be an ‘elite’ alien she alerts other aliens via a communicator embedded in her watch. Seconds later two police officers are on Nada’s case, of course the policemen turn out to be aliens as well - though Nada manages to kill them and after having taken their guns he goes on a shooting spree in a bank to eliminate other aliens (shame he didn’t go on a rampage in the local tax office!). Amidst the chaos Nada takes a hostage, Cable 54 assistant director Holly Thompson (Meg Foster). Trying in vain to explain to her what he saw, literally saw, Holly manages to knock Nada through the window of her hilltop pad. During the fall he breaks his truth glasses. Now a fugitive, Nada retrieves the box with the remaining sunglasses from the dumpster and meets up with ex-colleague Frank Armitage again who, understandably perhaps, also refuses to believe Nada and his wild tale of sensory stimuli and elite aliens. But when Nada – after a seemingly endlessly long punch-up – forces Frank to wear a pair of the glasses himself he suddenly sees the same things as Nada… and the stage is set for an explosive and violent finale. Will humankind remain a race of submissive and brainwashed underdogs or can Nada save the day?
Restored in glorious 4K the print looks crisp and sharp. THEY LIVE did well at the box office upon its original theatrical release and should do equally well with its current one.