They Live Movie Review

They Live

Who are they? And what do they want?
They Live Picture
Roddy Piper stars


Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George 'Buck' Flower

Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, Jason Robards III, John Lawrence, Susan Barnes, Sy Richardson, Wendy Brainard, Lucille Meredith, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden Update Cast

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John Carpenter was the Director, Writer, and Composer.

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They live is the ultimate in paranoia movies -and a sly observation and (unheeded) warning on the perils of "corporate America".

This was the last movie directed in the 1980’s by Horror master John Carpenter, and the first real starring role for former wrestling superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. It will appeal to lovers of sci-fi, drama, and action, because it skillfully blends in all three genre into one movie.

In the opening of the movie, Nada (Roddy Piper) is a wandering homeless construction worker. He wanders into LA looking for work. After being told at the Employment Office that no work is available, he spends the night on the street, and finally lands a job at a construction site.

There he is befriended by Frank (Keith David), who takes him to a homeless encampment on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. That night while watching TV in the camp, a group of pirate broadcasters break into the shows telling people about a conspiracy of a group called only “they”, who is trying to take over through the media.

The TV pirates go on to claim that “they” are responsible for the rising homelessness and joblessness, and that “they” are trying to make everybody into slaves. The strangest result of the broadcasts is that everybody that watched them gets headaches for some reason.

Made suspicious by the activities in the church that run the camp, Nada goes inside, only to realize that it is some kind of front. Instead of a church, it is really some kind of lab which makes sunglasses. And on the wall is spray painted “THEY LIVE – WE SLEEP”.

That night, the police invade the church and destroy the homeless camp, forcing everybody to flee. While leaving, Nada watches the police beating the preachers that run the camp in an alley. The next morning, he and a few others return to the camp, only to find that it is gone, along with what little they owned. About the only thing of substance that remains is a TV set.

Nada goes into the church, finding everything gone, and even the writings on the wall covered up. The only thing he finds is a hidden storage area filled with boxes. He takes one and opens it in an alley, finding only black rimmed sunglasses. He takes a pair and hides the rest.

When he walks back into the street, he discovers that instead of regular sunglasses, these turn everything from color to monochrome. But the most amazing thing is when he looks at billboards and other signs. A billboard for a computer company turns into a large sign with only one word, “OBEY”. A tourism billboard now says “MARRY AND REPRODUCE”.

He wanders down the street, seeing that almost everything has hidden messages. “CONSUME”, “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT”, “WATCH TV” and “SLEEP” are among the most common signs he sees. Even the money is all filled with the message “THIS IS YOUR GOD”.

But the most amazing thing is when he looks at people. When viewed with the glasses, some of the people are shown to really be humanoid aliens. All of the aliens are upper class, “yuppies”. But Nada’s real problems start when some of the aliens realize that he can see them. With communicators built into wristwatches, they call the police in to capture Nada.

With the aid of wrestling moves, Nada overcomes the alien police, and enters a bank. There, he utters one of the most memorable lines from the movie, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” He then proceeds to shoot all of the aliens he sees in the bank. He is about to shoot one of them, when the alien uses his watch to disappear. And after leaving the bank, he sees small surveillance drones which were invisible to the naked eye.

In order to escape, he kidnaps a TV executive named Holly (Meg Foster) and forces her to drive him to her house. He tries to tell her about the aliens, but she believes him to be crazy and simply humors him. This is when Nada discovers that a major side-effect of the glasses is exhaustion and a headache. Because of this Holly is able to hit him over the head with a bottle and toss him out of her house. Nada is on the run again, but he accidentally leaves his glasses with Holly.

After hiding out for a few days, Nada returns to the construction site and tries to get Frank to help him. Frank tells him to get away, so he returns to the alley where he hid the remaining sunglasses. When Frank follows him to give him his pay from the construction job, Nada tries to get him to put on a pair of the glasses. What follows is one of the best fights in movie history.

Full of wrestling moves, the two battle it out for over 5 minutes! Finally Nada wins, forcing Frank to put on the glasses and see what the aliens are doing. The two of them team up to protect each other, and are able to get in contact with the organized resistance movement.

At a meeting of the movement, they are given contact lenses with less side effects to replace the sunglasses. Nada also discovers that Holly has joined the resistance. But the new base is attacked by the police, and only a few people survive. Nada and Frank are able to use one of the watches to open a portal, and escape to an underground base.

While wandering, they discover a reception going on, full of both aliens, and human collaborators. They also discover a galactic transportation hub, which allows travel to the rest of the galaxy. To the aliens, Earth is just another backwater “third world” planet, and they are exploiting it. Their goal is to remove whatever of value they can, and the humans are to be turned into either pets, slaves, or food.

I will not go any further, because it might give away the ending of the movie. But I will say that it will probably not be expected. The movie ending is very similar to the ending of the original book of “The Running Man”, not the movie.

Author: Mike MartinUpdate This Review


I rate this movie fairly high in my collection.

It is fairly original, with a great ending. A classic "sci-fi / horror", with virtually no gore. The story is what makes it great, not violence.

Original plot and great use of special effects. The setting is contemporary, so you can almost believe it is really happening.
The pace may be slow at times, but there is a reason for it.

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The Movie Data

Key Crew

Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Ray Nelson, John Carpenter
Producers: Andre Blay, Larry J. Franco, Shep Gordon, Sandy King
Locations Manager: Ken Lavet

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Release Date: 04 Nov 1988
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Production: Alive Films
Genre: Sci-Fi

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The Movie Trailer
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1988 Universal Pictures
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