They Live (VHS, 1990)

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"Life's a b*tch and she's back in heat."

Aug 19, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fun dialogue, a cool story, good direction, decent casting

Cons:Much of what we see has been done before


Nada (Roddy Piper: Immortal Combat) is a construction worker just looking to catch a break. Jobs are hard to come by, but luckily, he has just found a new one. He immediately forms an alliance with Frank (Keith David: There’s Something About Mary), another man who’s suffering from the hard times. They live in a homeless shelter down the road from the construction site and talk about their trials and tribulations.

However, they stand on opposite sides of the road in one area: Nada is much more curious than Frank. Frank knows strange things are going on nearby, but he decides it’s best to ignore it. Nada’s curiosity leads him to stumble (literally) upon something huge: the world has been infiltrated by aliens who appear to be like you or I. The only way one can see the
truth is by putting on sunglasses created by a local rebel group out to stop the outsiders and their sinister plans.

You see, signs that appear to say something as simple as “Baby on Board” may subliminally tell us, “Sleep”, “Marry and Reproduce”, or even simply “Obey.” The foreign lifeforms use the local television station to further enter the minds of the humans, whom they think of as their sheep.

Needless to say, Nada is shocked at what he can see through the lenses. When he is backed into a corner by aliens who have discovered that he knows their secret he does the only thing he can think of: he fights back. Unfortunately, these creatures are everywhere and only with his glasses can Nada tell who’s who.

When he abducts a human named Holly (Meg Foster: The Man In the Iron
) to help him hide out he finds out something quite interesting about her. She works at the local television station where the alien signals are being broadcast to permeate their way into human minds.

It doesn’t take long before Nada, Holly, and Frank find themselves in a rebel group that is intent on destroying the aliens’ main message-supplying unit: a satellite at the top of Channel 54 in their city. However, they are few in numbers and the aliens are literally
everywhere. Can Nada and his rebellious friends stop the insanity, stop the extraterrestrials, and bring their city back to a state of peace and happiness? It will take firepower, manpower, and some serious luck. They can only hope that they are up to the task.


By my (admittedly bad) calculations, there were about 51 onscreen kills. That doesn’t include the explosion of a flying saucer, either!

THE NUDITY (A little something for the perverts in the house.)

For the guys (and some of the gals, I guess): In one of the final shots of the film we get a fairly attractive blonde without her top having sex with one of those alien-thingies. “Whassamatta, baby?”

THE GOODS (How well did the movie deliver on its premise?)

What’s really good:

* Sure, you’ve seen the basic script before; but there are plenty of fresh spins on the old story to make the movie worth your time. The jabs at advertising and commercialism make for a fairly interesting social commentary as well. Don’t get me wrong: this movie is more schlock than anything, but it gets an “E” for effort.

* Roddy Piper is an extremely likable actor. He fine-tuned his acting abilities in the ring and on Piper’s Pit, but his charisma is what really makes him shine. I’m actually surprised he hasn’t gotten more major theatrical roles than this. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t the greatest actor in the world or anything...but he’s far better than you will probably expect. Chalk up a few points to Meg Foster for a decent portrayal of Holly and to Keith David for really hamming it up as Frank.

* The memorable quotes in this movie are only surpassed by a few others (such as the Evil Dead trilogy). Who will ever forget, “I’ve come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum...and I’m all out of bubblegum.” Forget about Duke Nukem...Piper’s the real thing.

What’s really bad:

* Some may find the fx to be sub-par. Personally, I found them to fit in rather well with the cinematography. Sure, the aliens look like men who got a little careless while shaving, but they still maintain some of their human characteristics. I would have preferred a little more pus n’ guts, but they are a far cry from some of the junk we’ve seen turned out. I’d
give them a middle-of-the-road rating.

* The ending is rather surprising (this can also be a good thing), but many people are left feeling a little empty and disappointed. I guess my only complaint about it is that it didn’t feel BIG enough. I could have used a little more drama and a few more explosions.

THE PLAY-BY-PLAY (My tribute to CRZ at a
blow-by-blow recap of “the longest fist fight in film history.”)

The stage is a back alley. The opponents? Nada and Frank? The goal? Well, Nada wants Frank to put on some sunglasses. Frank just wants to beat someone up. Please note that there are various pauses in the fight for this basic dialogue to take place:

Nada: “Put the glasses on!”

Frank: “NO!”

The match begins without a bell and without a “blind” ref in sight. Frank lands a punch, Nada lands a punch.

Frank: Punch, punch, punch, punch.

Nada: Punch, punch, punch, punch.

Iblockyourpunchyoudon’tblockmine and Frank goes down. The champ that he is, Frank gets to his feet and hits Nada with 2 stiff forearm shots and a couple more punches.

My, what technical experts!

Nada retaliates with a pair of headbutts. Suddenly, Nada nails a kneelift out of nowhere! What, no moonsaults today, boys? Of course (because Piper is like, the world’s greatest technical wrestler) Nada comes back with four more punches.

Are you yawning yet? I hope not, it gets better!

Frank hits a pair of double axhandles and cinches Nada up in a headlock. Nada won’t have any of that and counters it with a back suplex (on the tar!). Before Nada can climb to his feet Frank resorts to biting (where’s the ref?) and nails a couple of punches.

Nada hits a VERY SLOW legsweep (sort of), but Frank says “uh uh” and hits him with FIVE (!!!!!) hard knees to the groin. Any normal man would stay down for the count, but not Nada. He’s all out of bubblegum, you see. He quickly takes Frank down with a drop toe hold (minus the “drop”). He then proceeds to pick up a two-by-four (hoooooo!) and take several “swinganamisses.” Frank decides to even up the odds with a glass bottle!
ECW! ECW! Nada swings and misses again (the boy needs glasses), breaking the rear window of a nearby car in the process. Disgusted at his own actions, he drops the two-by-four on the ground. Frank, still enraged, tries to break the end of the bottle off to stab Nada, but the whole bottle shatters in his hand. Oops!

As Nada begins to laugh, Frank decides to hit him with a weak spear and two punches.

Nada decides he’s had enough and nails Frank with a punch and hooks on a
chickenwing/choke combination. To counter, Frank stomps on his foot and hits him with a variation of a pump handle slam.

Just as it looks as though Frank will “escape the alley” and emerge as the winner, Nada rises from his prone position and nails him with various blows to the ribs followed by a gut-wrench suplex. It’s all she wrote, folks! He puts the glasses on Frank, shows him the truth, and emerges the winner of their impromptu “back alley brawl.”

Match time (excluding entrances): 5:03

I wonder why Frank didn’t just put the glasses on to shut Nada up? Oh well, it still makes for one of the coolest (and most pointless) fight scenes in film history.

THE THREE COUNT (Three things that stuck out in my mind after watching this film.)

1. 1 fat, shirtless dude on a balcony with a bad perm...wait, make that two fat, shirtless dudes.

2. 1 fight scene that last around 1/18th of the film’s total running time.

3. 1 pair of sunglasses that allows one to see (and hear!) a different side of reality.

TIDBITS (A little inside info. for ya!)

* I would take this with a grain of salt, but the Internet Movie Database says that the fight between Frank and Nada was only supposed to last 20 seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out “for real” and Carpenter was so impressed that he kept the scene intact. Perhaps it is just the wording of the statement, but back suplexes and spears on the
tar by actors don’t tend to please directors. I’m sure they scripted the scene out very carefully. Perhaps Carpenter only planned to keep 20 seconds of the footage in the film, but I can pretty much tell you for a fact that the scene was planned very carefully.

* The “kickass/bubblegum” line was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper.

* Director John Carpenter cameos as writer Frank Armitage.

* The communicators that the guards use are the P.K.E. meters from
Ghostbusters. Whoyagonnacall?

YOU CAN LEARN A LOT FROM A MOVIE (facts to help you deal
with your turbulent life)

1. Marry and Reproduce.

2. If you begin to suspect that your neighbors are aliens don’t ask questions. Just start blastin’!

3. Nada is one fast healer!

4. The golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rule.

5. Obey.

QUOTES FROM A CELEBRITY (What? You actually think these
quotes are real? You’re dumber than you look!)

This film’s quote comes from: That guy from South Park, you know, the
cop...hhhmmm....oh yeah, his name is Officer Barbrady!

“There’s nothing to see here. There are no aliens, just keep on walking. It’s all in your imagination.”

WORTH WATCHING? (Should you slap down the money?)

This is a movie that most people like to some extent. Most sci-fi fans don’t consider it a “classic” by any means, but it is certainly an enjoyable 90 minutes for most viewers. Personally, I felt that the time passed quickly and painlessly.

It’s interesting to note the Apocalyptic overtones created by Carpenter in this film. Anyone who knows Carpenter’s work (I must admit, I haven’t seen a lot of his films - but I think I’m capable of making a generalized statement) will probably tell you that his movies aren’t known for their happy endings. The movie doesn’t have a disastrous ending by any stretch of the imagination, but it may leave some viewers unfulfilled. And do you
know what? I’ll bet that Carpenter knew that, but he didn’t care because he actually had a vision for The Live. I’m sure one could go on all day alluding to similarities between Carpenter’s films, but if you’ve seen his work you know he can create a real sense of dread for the viewer (in a good way).

Fortunately, They Live is a fun movie for almost anyone. It touches upon societal issues without getting too preachy and has enough action to sustain all of the Rambo fans out there. This film isn’t a work to be over-analyzed or put up on a pedestal as a wonderfully imaginative piece, but it has enough action, imagination, and pure machismo to satisfy this movie fan.

Fright Factor (1-10): 3

Funny Factor (1-10): 7

Gore Factor (1-10): 4

”X” Factor: 10 (That one is for all you WWF fans out there!)

What Fans of Sci-Fi/Thriller/Comedies Should Pay: Up to $2.00

What Casual Fans Should Pay: Up to $1.00

(Plugs for other flicks)

Well, if you enjoyed They Live I'd recommend:

* The Arrival
* Invasion of the Body Snatchers
* The Thing
* In The Mouth of Madness

Recommend this product? Yes

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