They Live
Dir: John Carpenter
Star: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1988
Format: DVD R2

The rich get richer and everyone else gets poor. John Nada (Roddy Piper) is one of those poor, a drifter, a nobody (Nada geddit). He just wants to do a fair days work for a fair days pay but the system seems to be designed against him. The reason for this becomes deadly apparent when he comes across a special pair of sun glasses. Putting them on he can see the truth which is the rich are actually a bunch of aliens controlling and brain washing us while they rob the planet of its riches. While we sleep, they live.

A micro budgeted sci-fi thriller starring an ex wrestler would under any normal circumstances equalled a unwatchable straight to video pile of garbage. However in the hands of John Carpenter you suddenly have a minor league classic. Why? Well he is a man who at this time refused to keep to the rules. His brand of work-a-day heroes are likeable and cool, and he delivers a level of quality on a budget direction that few can match.

This film's story is full of nice touches but it does show its roots based as it is on a short story (although the film bares little resemblance to the original story). The problem is it isn't really long enough. It plays like an over long episode of the Twilight Zone. Ok so maybe this was a restraint of the budget limiting the scale of the action scenes and the special effects, so how do you fill the gaps these leave. In Carpenter's case you add one of the finest fight scenes in movie history. Forget martial arts, forget stupid wire work or unbelievable CGI, just get two guys to smack the hell out of each other in a alley for over ten minutes. Add in some wrestling moves and you have one brilliant fight.

Casting an ex wrestler with hardly any acting experience was certainly a risk. Ok so you get the moves for the fight but more often than not they can't act. However Roddy Piper appears to be an exception to this. Here John Carpenter coaxes out of Piper his finest performance ever, and he proves a capable and likeable leading man. This is greatly aided by the stalwart supporting performances from both Keith David ( working with Carpenter again after The Thing) and the B Movie queen Meg Foster.

This is indeed a good quality B movie. It has its moments like the sun glasses scenes revealing the aliens for the first time, and the outstanding fight, but at the end of the day it just doesn't have the budget to do the concept justice. The set pieces need to be bigger and more explosive. This is the films biggest failing. It would be really good to see a sequel to this movie with a fair amount of money spent on it.

They Live is great little film. Fine performances from the cast ( with full credit to Roddy Piper) are coupled with John Carpenter's visual style and his obligatory score. It does have some classic scenes as I have already mentioned, and contains some really cool one-liners. The story is nicely original and contains a good amount of action and some nice comedy. The only real let down is that its a lower budget movie (4 million) and occasionally this shows. However despite this They Live is a triumph. If only John Carpenter made films like this nowadays.


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


Frank: I've walked a white line my entire life, I'm not about to screw that up.
John: White line's in the middle of the road, that's the worst place to walk.

John: Life's a bitch, and she's back in heat!

John: I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Loverly cleaned up picture.
Audio Dolby Stereo Only stereo but good.
Features Initially interesting Commentary from Piper and Carpenter
7 min making of featurrette
Easter Egg (press up on special features menu) 3 short cast interviews
Verdict Great transfer but slightly disappointing sound. Some good extras though.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home