Friday, October 19, 2007

They Live (1988)

It's up to Rowdy Roddy Piper to save the world in John Carpenter's most unheralded classic, They Live. This picture deserves mention alongside other Carpenter classics such as Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China. Piper plays John Nada, a mulletted drifter, who finds himself looking for construction work in 1980s Los Angeles. He befriends super badass Keith David (The Thing) and is introduced to his world of communal living. In other words, he's a bum. Society, it seems, has slowly been taking a turn during these Reagan years, as the destitute far outnumber the comfortable. Piper is an optimist, however, and believes if he puts in his time, good things will happen to him. Boy, he couldn't be more fucking wrong.

His unbridled optimism is squelched when he finds a pair of special sunglasses, which allow him to see the world as it really is. Subliminal messages everywhere! Conform! Consume! Marry and Reproduce! Obey! And, printed on cash: This is your god! If that wasn't enough, it seems one out of every three humans is, in reality, a walking fucking skeleton from outer space! Of course, Piper won't stand for this and at one point get's to utter one of the greatest lines in film history, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.....and I'm all out of bubblegum."

The film is probably most noteworthy for featuring the greatest back alley brawl in the history of back alley brawls,in my opinion, between Piper and David. Lasting nearly seven minutes, it goes on long past any semblance of reason. I even forgot why they were fighting, until Piper tried forcing a pair of shades on a nearly comatose David. It's certainly not a clean fight as we're witness to vicious ball crushing, hand biting, titty twisting, and a couple of back breakers thrown in for good measure. Crank up the volume for this scene, trust me.

This is more of an 80s style sci-fi actioner than horror film, but on that level, it really is magnificent. Although, I have to say, I'm not sure what's creepier. The unmasked aliens or Meg Foster's (Leviathan) impersonation of a human? (see directly below). Scary, isn't it?

There's an unbelievable scene where Foster throws Piper out of a three story home, built on the side of a hill, so we're really talking about a four story fall here, but because he's Piper he comes out ok. Of course, this being an 80s film, we've got a final battle royale with Keith David and Roddy Piper tag teaming those Reagonite aliens. This is probably one of those pictures you'll either love or you'll hate. The message is out there front and center, but dammit, Carpenter and company are so earnest in portraying it. The movie features superb performances from David, who needs more exposure and Raymond Jacques as Street Preacher. As for Rowdy Roddy Piper, well, let's just say he's got a future outside of the ring. He was terrific and blows guys like The Rock and Brian Bozworth (yes, I'm aware he was a football player) away when he says things like "Brother. Life's a bitch, and she's back in heat."

This movies worth a rental, at least, and, if anything, should succeed in bringing back the wearing sunglasses indoors look. Oh, shit, it's 2007? Fuck. Still, I stand by this one. Also, I stand by Piper, even if the last film he shot was called Street Team Massacre with Troma's Lloyd Kaufman. Sadly, he didn't use this film to launch his acting career because immediately following They Live, he played a cowboy in the little heard of Buy & Cell and followed that up with The Love Boat: A Valentine Voyage. It's time for John Carpenter to dust him off and put him in a good movie, but unfortunately, Carpenter, himself, hasn't made a good one since, um, They Live.


Anonymous said...

Great review fOr a classic movie But why no mention of that fantastic last scenE? "What's the matter babY?" Priceless.

Gianni said...

The best movie starring a professional wrestler EVER! Roddy Piper never LOOKED badass, but he is!!!