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Murder Slim Review: THEY LIVE

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THEY LIVE will seem like a trashy action/horror/sci-fi to many viewers. It has a wrestler in the lead role ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) complete with a mullet haircut that many idiots will fixate on. The casual viewer will also fixate on the six minute fight scene in the middle of the movie, where Piper busts some wrestling moves (including a nice suplex) on Keith David. It's actually a great fight scene - mixing nice choreography and some great laughs (David says "You dirty motherfu...." as Piper goes to hit him in the balls) - but your average viewer won't concentrate enough on the rest of the film.

THEY LIVE is a great movie. And a truly underrated one. And it's because visually it is very emblematic of the 80s. The way people dress, the special FX, the hairstyles, the locations, even the catchphrases. But all that is surface. THEY LIVE is skilfully directed, insightful in a bunch of timeless ways, and packed full of great moments. It never fails to cheer me up.

The movie starts with Piper walking into town. He's called "Nada" and as a "nobody" by name he's also treated as one. Struggling to get a job as a labourer, Nada has to take up temporary residence in a homeless camp.

During this period, a bunch of the bums are getting headaches when they watch TV. While avoiding the police, Nada stumbles into a church with "THEY LIVE" sprayed on the wall. He comes across a box of sunglasses... which he eventually pops one set on. And what does he see? Aliens walking as normal people. Advertising as brainwashing doctrines like "SLEEP", "NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT", "MARRY AND REPRODUCE".

It turns out that aliens have invaded the world, but are hiding their presence by taking over TV and sending out brainwashing signals. Only the sunglasses - manufactured by rebels who "can see" - can reveal the truth to people.

The movie is packed full of satire of the media and consumerist culture. It's baffling it's not more acknowledged by academics. This stuff is a wet dream for Media and Film teachers. Note how all of the aliens are the ones in charge. From a cop, to a businessman, to the rich guys in the bank, to a guy on TV preaching the need to fit in. "Alien" becomes synonymous with being "upper class". And note how the media is the conduit for all this stuff. Not only is the TV fucking up people's minds, so are the magazines and billboard advertising.

But aside from the social commentary, THEY LIVE is both thrilling and tremendous fun. The story rattles along, featuring some great scenes (the supermarket one), great quotes (many stolen by Duke Nukem, such as "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum) and a truly memorable ending.

Piper is great too. Forget his fucking hair and concentrate on how the guy is charismatic. Along with The Rock, Piper is the best talker in WWF/WWE history. Passionate, funny, smart. It's a disappointment his movie career never took off. His - very quick - patter is hilarious, but the friendship between him and David seems damn genuine. The moment when they lurch to a hotel together after their epic fight is both funny and kinda touching.

And, look, John Carpenter has got one of the greatest hit-rates of good movies. Three, four duffers maybe? The rest are at least good, and often great. Put THEY LIVE up there with HALLOWEEN, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE FOG, DARK STAR, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. He's not a flashy director, but he's a great one. He focuses on pushing the story forward, while generating strong emotional responses in key scenes.

You may not have seen THEY LIVE. Do so now. And if you have seen it before and didn't like it, watch it again. Then buy the DVD and post a great review on imdb.com. Hey, it'll be the most positive use of no independent thought in your life. Get moving.

Review by Steve Hussy