Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Film #56: They Live
Scaremeister John Carpenter called the shots on this massively entertaining (and overlooked) variation on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theme. World Championship Wrestling staple "Rowdy" Roddy Piper stars in They Live as an L.A. drifter who uncovers an alien takeover of earth after stumbling upon a pair of glasses that allows the wearer to see both the aliens and the Big-Brother way they've started to transform Earth. Keith David throws out very memorable support as Piper's disbelieveing associate; their six-minute fight in a deserted alleyway stops this 90 minute movie cold, but in a hilarious fashion. I leave it to you to find that scene. Here's where Rowdy Roddy first discovers what the glasses can do:
Writing under the nom de plume "Frank Armitage," John Carpenter delivers here a film that has genuine affection for the underdog facing an impossible fight (They Live often seems to be dramatizing the way all liberals felt at the end of the Reagan era, when this 1988 film was made). Doom seems to follow wherever Piper goes, and "winning" the
war never seems like a viable option. Throwing a strong follow-up punch is the best he can do (his famous line "I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum...and I'm all out of bubble gum" is one that's supposed to have come from Piper himself, but I think it was stolen from some western; no matter--it works). Piper's no-name character is a steel-willed humanist who can't live with himself if he doesn't do something about this scourge. You really end up rooting for him; it's a fine performance (the best one ever by a former wrestler)! Excellent make-up and art direction plus Carpenter's trademarked widescreen look are some more of the major assets belonging to They Live, a surprisingly important, unfortunately precient, and yet fun science-fiction actioner.
And, hey! Look what I found! I suspected this all along!