They Live - 1988
John Carpenter's They Live brings the perfect blend of B movie action and intelligent (and funny) social commentary. Roddy Piper's mullet stars as the nameless protagonist that shoots, punches and body slams his way through one hour and thirty-seven minutes of pure entertainment. Just like I did for Big Trouble in Little China (and I will probably do this for all the cult movies), let me sell you on this simple plot:
A homeless drifter stumbles upon a box of sunglasses that allow him to see the subliminal messages hidden in all the media we consume (newspapers, magazines, billboards and specially television). Along with the hidden messages, he also uncovers who's been hiding them.... aliens that are living among us as rich powerful members of our society.
Carpenter makes various stylish decisions throughout the movie, the best is utilizing the black/white/grey color palate for our hero's POV, when puts on the sunglasses. This provides a clear distinction between what the world sees, blindly day to day, and what the truth looks like when our hero gets his eyes opened. The hidden messages being normally a one word command like consume, conform and obey, dictating the way we act round them. Along with the hidden messages we get to see the aliens living among the humans. With a creepy and unique design, the aliens pop among the humans. The use of practical effects (trademark of Carpenter) allows the film to age well and make you appreciate the level of detail put into this film.
This movie also embraces the crazy world it has created, not taking itself too seriously and injecting humor when needed. Once Pipper knows the truth he doesn't hesitate to kill every singe one he comes in touch with in an ultra violent montage of killings. Pipper also delivers great one liners, that to this day people quote in movies, TV and at bars across the country (the most famous one being "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass.. and I am all out of bubble gum").
When you employ the services of a wrestling legend for your movie, there is no way that you will not write a fight scene that plays to the strengths of your lead. Carpenter not only wrote a fight scene for Pipper, he decided that it would be one of the longest, if not the longest, fight scene every put to film. This fight scene has everything from punching and kicking to body slams and suplexes, having each character have a moment of triumph within the fight. What makes this fight unique (other than the length) is that Pipper is friends with Frank and is only fighting to save him from the underworld he just uncovered.
They Live's social commentary on consumerism and the social disparity between the lower class and the upper class, is on the nose and sadly is very in tune with our times today. Another way to look at the social commentary this movie is promoting, and hang in here with me (or put on your aluminum caps on), is the Illuminati and how they us the media to control the masses to do whatever they want from them. How ever you wish to look at it, you can't deny this movie is more than your simple B movie.
The end sequence of this movie is by far one of the funniest of the entire movie and is pure edidting genious on Carpenter's part to cut to the credits when he did. This movie allows you to enjoy a simple, unique and fun story, while still making you think and that's why I love movies.
They Live is currently streaming on HBO Go, consume it... OBEY!