Fright Fest 2019: They Live (1988)
Starring: Roddy Piper, Meg Foster, Keith David, Peter Jason, and Larry Franco
Written By: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
Directed By: John Carpenter
Review by: Joshua Macmillan
Synopsis: Nada, a wanderer without any meaning in his life discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world the way it truly is. As he walks the streets of LA, he begins to notice that all media and governments are comprised of aliens intending on keeping all of the population subdued so they can dominate the world.
When I sat down to watch They Live for this review, it was the first time I was actually taking the time to see this film. I of course had heard of it, and had been told numerous times that I needed to check it out. I am a huge John Carpenter fan, mostly due to Halloween, The Thing, and Christine. Those were the films from Carpenter that I grew up on. This one has been on my “to be watched” list for quite a long time and thanks to Machine Mean, I finally forced myself to sit down and watch it. Unfortunately, it really did feel like a chore to sit through this film.
Now, before I start getting a lot of hate I want to start by saying that the film is not bad. I feel like They Live suffers from it’s age. I knew the images of the aliens and the classic OBEY sign from all forms of Pop Culture for years before actually sitting down and taking the time to watch the film. I do like the film, but I don’t think that I can honestly whole-heartedly recommend They Live unless you love gritty, cheesy sci-fi movies from the 80’s. This film reeks of cheese but for me, that’s only good in slices. I was hoping for something a bit darker and by today’s standards- the satire that Carpenter presents comes across as comical and heavy-handed.
I do have some positives to say about the film. The acting in the film, while at times adds to the cheese factor, was quite enjoyable. It’s nice to see Keith David, I love the work this man does. Roddy Piper is also convincing as Nada, a down-on-his luck man who just wants a job. The facial acting he does had me believing how desperate he was for work. The best moments of the film are when it is the two of them on screen together. Especially the epic fight the two of them have over a pair of sunglasses, it was so over-the-top and cheesy that I couldn’t help but smile while this scene played out.
I know that this is going to come across as some sort of blasphemy but I feel like this is a story that could only benefit from being updated. No one will be able to do what Carpenter did for Pop Culture with They Live, but I do think that if it is put in the right hands, a re-adaptation of the original source material may work with present times. My biggest reason for this is the fact that after the big fight scene between Nada and Frank- the film seems to barrel along to quickly toward an ending that just feels out of place and completely disjointed.
There is something that feels off toward the end of the film and it’s mostly with the pacing. Things don’t really make sense. I would love to see them slow down, letting us spend time with the two leads as they form a cohesive plan. We should learn more about the aliens, or Fascinators if you like to call them by their names in the original short story by Ray Nelson. The story as it is originally told is a brief, and slightly stilted story but if you are a fan of this film then I would recommend going and checking it out. It’s only a handful of pages and might take you a mere five minutes to read. I do believe that there is something to this story. This could easily be told over and over for each new generation of people and it could very easily be modernized. However, this review isn’t about what this story could do for the future generations.
At the end of the day, They Live felt too rushed. I would also say the same about Ray Nelson’s original story- “Eight O’Clock in the Morning”. That being said, I feel totally indifferent about it and I cannot recommend a film to mass audiences that I don’t feel any particular way about. They Live is a film for those of us who like cult schlock so by all means, give this film a watch if that is what you like. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, I mentioned above that the second half of the film feels rushed, just go into the film knowing that it is a dated satire on the social system of the 80’s and I think you will enjoy it. I personally enjoy schlock from time to time but this one just didn’t hit that sweet spot for me, I may watch this again but if I do it will probably just be on in the background while I work on my fiction or clean up the house a bit.
My name is Joshua Macmillan, I am an author of horror and dark fiction. My first publication is a short story within the 13:Night Terrors anthology published by Limitless Publishing! I am currently working on my first novel and plan to have as many short stories published as possible while I work on the novel! I look forward to hearing from you guys! You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.