On the surface, John Carpenter’s They Live appears to be your typical 80s action flick. A story about a violent loner, played by a professional wrestler, fighting aliens? Doesn’t sound great. Which is why it may come as a surprise when you discover through the power of magic shades that it’s so much more than that. They Live is in fact a dark satire about how greed and advertising has brainwashed modern society. Naturally, this is all realized through the power of sunglasses.
WWF superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays “Nada” a homeless man drifting through the slums of Los Angeles. Here he finds construction work and befriends Frank Armitage (Keith David) a tough as nails laborer who has also fallen on hard times. Traversing his way through slums and shantytowns, Nada discovers a mysterious box of sunglasses. Who would of thunk that these sunglasses have the ability to reveal the world for what it really is? Signs and advertisements are now revealed saying things like “OBEY” and “THIS IS YOUR GOD”. Nada also discovers skull-like aliens disguised as humans. How can this problem be solved? Killing spree!
Although a majority of They Live may be Roddy Piper kicking ass and running out of bubble gum, the message isn’t lost. If we don’t rebel against the tyranny of corrupt governments and corporations, then we’ll be forced to live as slaves. I never thought I’d describe a movie starring Roddy Piper as “Thought provoking.” You can thank John Carpenter’s well-constructed adaptation of Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning.” Carpenter captures the political edge without sacrificing any of the action. Just look at the film’s legendary fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David. It’s like six minutes long!
Considering Roddy Piper is not an actor he does fine. He’s not great, but somehow oddly memorable. Keith David is Keith David, he’s awesome. I can’t think of anyone else who can swear like him and still be as cold as ice. Actress Meg Foster tags along later, but this is mostly a buddy picture. A buddy picture about two guys taking on an alien conspiracy with magic sunglasses. It’s a tale as old as time.