They Live (1988)

Not much changes in the world we live in, except for dated movies apparently.

The film follows a nameless drifter referred to as “Nada” (Roddy Piper), who discovers the ruling class within the moneyed elite are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast, concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media.

It’s funny how spot-on writer/director John Carpenter is with his satire here. All of the comments about the “Reaganomics” of the 80’s, TV, movies, and pop-culture, were all pretty funny and made me think about this a whole lot more than I was even expecting too. But I only wished that he could have kept that going on for longer.

The whole tone and setting that Carpenter started off with was pretty nice. The rich are getting richer, while the poorer are getting poorer and this is an element to this flick that starts this flick off with a bleak beginning but it isn’t as depressing because there is a big-hint of mystery in the air. I liked how Carpenter starts his flicks off, with just the right amount of mystery, setting, and even some character development roaming around as well and this one is no different. However, it was only a matter of time until he started to lose me, and lose me real, real bad.

Everything was going fine with this dark comedy satire idea on 80’s culture, but as soon as Piper puts on his cool shades, then the film goes for a huge action-packed ride. This bothered me because I felt like Carpenter really set himself up big-time with a groovy premise like this that would have everybody laughing at all of its irony, but instead, he just decided to waste his time on bullets and corny one-liners. It’s almost as if he had a good idea in his head and started off with it, and then he just decided to be a little teenager again and get a little crazy with his guns. I don’t know if that’s exactly what was going through Carpenter’s head but it sure as hell seems like it.

But it wasn’t just the fact that the film changed its tone in the first place, what really bothered me was the fact that the action wasn’t as exciting as it could have been to get this story off the ground. Of course, there’s scenes of Piper going around with a shot-gun, shooting off aliens left-and-right (which is always good fun to see) but it just keeps on starting and stopping, almost to the point of where I was utterly and completely bored. I had the same problem with Escape from New York, but it was just so much worse here and instead of keeping me glued in, it just lost me and at one point, even had me nodding off. Also, what the hell was up with that 7-minute fight!?! Made absolutely no sense as to why it went on as excruciatingly long as it did and didn’t really do much for the story, other than to show that Piper is a tough-ass mofo.

Speaking of Roddy Piper, he tries his hardest here as Nada but can’t do nothing else other than seem flat the whole time. I loved Piper as a wrestler, and always found out that he was a funny guy, who could always back it up in the ring with the best of them but he definitely can’t do that as an actor. The casting of Piper was a very smart idea from Carpenter, but Piper’s character is so flat and uninteresting, that’s it almost too hard to believe or even care what the hell this guy is going to do next to all of these bad-ass aliens. Actually, it seemed weird that Piper would start off so squeaky-clean at first, with a guy who almost seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but then changes it up out of nowhere, and is now this wild, crazy, and violent one-liner dropping type of dude that don’t take no shit from nobody. It just seemed very strange to me and no matter how much I love Piper as a wrestler, the guy can’t act. Sorry my kilt-wearing friend.

But hey, at least Keith David was around to keep things going the right way, right?!? That guy better get a damn Oscar one of these days.

Consensus: They Live starts off fresh, smart, and very intriguing with it’s satire-covered premise, but then it switches gears to an action movie, and a not-so fun or entertaining action movie at that with it’s constantly uneven pace.



  1. I really enjoy this film but I wouldn’t argue with your qualms. I just sort of consider this film similar to Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” but with more satire.

    I love some of the lines in this movie! “Put on the glasses!” And the fight is great. Good review!

  2. Great review man. Carpenter has always been one of my favorites (Halloween is my favorite movie), but I agree that the second act doesn’t live up to the set up that it starts out with. Overall a fun watch, but left me wanting more.

  3. I think you’re being a bit hard on this one Dan. I love this film, and while I agree that Piper is a bit flat, for me the story works. I think part of the satire is actually how ludicrous the premise is regarding the insane violence he resorts to, and how out there some of those one-liners are. Definitely meant be winking and not taken so seriously.

    I can definitely see your side of things. I also loved Escape from New York though, so maybe I’m just too much of a Carpenter fanboy. That fight scene really is hilariously out of control. The first time you watch it, you just can’t believe how long it goes on. If you’ve ever seen the fight between Timmy and Jimmy on South Park, it literally emulates the entire scene from They Live blow for blow. Definitely check it out if you’ve never caught it. You’ll get a good laugh.

  4. I’ve seen that fight on South Park and I had no idea that’s the same one! Hahha great stuff and I didn’t hate it all that much, it was just okay to say the least.

  5. I agree with Evan. This movie is satire from beginning to end and i’m honestly amazed how appropriate it still is today. Too expect The Piper to be anything other than what he was it’s asking fire a bit much.

  6. Say it ain’t so, Dan! This is one of my favorite movies. It really doesn’t get much better than freakin’ Roddy Piper running around, spouting off amazing one-liners, and then getting into an epic fight with Keith David. One of the best B-movies out there, in my opinion. I even dressed up as Nada for Halloween last year. 😀 Bummer to hear you didn’t enjoy it as much!

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