Reviewed by Russell Tharp
Rating: 8 Beans
n my first Bad Movie Night review of a John Carpenter film (Big Trouble in Little China), I began by saying that Carpenter is a gifted director. I take it back. Of Carpenter's 25 films, only three or four qualify as actual good movies, but go ahead and rent the cheerfully bad "Dark Star" or "Gorgo vs. Godzilla" if they float your boat. Or you can rent "They Live" and discover whole new levels of pain.
"They Live" stars professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as John Nada, a man whose personality is true to the Spanish definition of his last name. Nada is an out-of-work drifter (Carpenter's version of "Everyman") who accidentally stumbles on to the biggest secret imaginable: Pro wrestling is fake! No, that's not it. Nada discovers that the entire world is run by iguana-faced aliens who use television transmissions to conceal their identities and to hide the pervasive subliminal messages with which they've surrounded us. Nada makes this earth-shattering discovery by putting on a pair of black Ray-Bans. (Is it just me, or are Ray-Bans the most useful sunglasses ever invented? In this movie they expose aliens; they shield the "Men in Black" from having their memories erased; and they hide the sunken, bloodshot eyes of half the world's movie stars. Gotta love them shades.) Before long Piper meets up with an underground resistance movement, is hunted by aliens masquerading as police, and kidnaps the icy-eyed Meg Foster in an attempt to gain access to the TV studio that serves as the aliens' main broadcast center. The ending suggests that we'll be spared the horror of "They Live II" or "They Live Again" or "They're Still Living" or whatever, so in that sense it was satisfying, even if nothing else was.
Not at all satisfying was the subtext of this movie, which was about as subtle as a car wreck. Carpenter's theories of money, power and class make Joseph Stalin look like Barry Goldwater. You see, all the rich people are aliens. Everyone of power and influence is an alien. Everyone who has made something of themselves and achieved some measure of success is an alien. Rolexes are the alien wristradios/teleporters. Money is in reality just a little white slip of paper reading, "this is your god." Hell, I'm an alien, and unless you're reading this review from a free terminal in the public library, so are you.
I'd be willing to forgive Carpenter this weird foray into Marxist cheerleading if not for the fact that it just plain sucked. Piper isn't quite as bad as I imagined, but frankly that's hardly a compliment. Meg Foster again shows that her main talent lies in looking at us with those weird friggin eyes of hers. I don't think she ever blinks, for fear that someone will notice that she has the screen presence of indoor plumbing whenever her eyes are out of view. And, good lord, whose brilliant idea was it to pad out the middle of this ridiculous movie with a 20 minute long fistfight between Piper and Keith David? It's true that faking a fight is Piper's only true talent, but not even WWF matches generally tend to drag on for as long as this brain-numbing fight scene. I eventually had to fast-forward through the damn thing; I could feel IQ points slipping away with every tick of the clock, and I had already watched it long enough to have to tear up my MENSA application.
I imagine that "They Live" might be kinda fun if you plan to gather a few friends and heckle it as the main feature for your own bad movie night. As movies go, it is eminently heckle-able. But spare yourself the heartache of watching it just to watch it. Unless you've got plenty of IQ points to spare.
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