There are some scenes that end up more famous than the film they are originally from. Case in point: the fight scene from They Live. An authentic back-alley brawl between John Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) that goes on and on (five minutes 24 seconds), punctuated with Nada ordering his reluctant buddy to “put the glasses on!”; it is exhilarating, amusing, and very dumb, parodied ingeniously in South Park’s Cripple Fight episode. It certainly, however, is not the only remarkable thing in They Live.

Set in an oppressive Reagan-era Los Angeles, a place in the midst of a financial depression, John Nada is a drifter in search of work. Landing a job on a construction site and a place to stay in a homeless shanty town, Nada stumbles upon an underground group and a pair of magical sunglasses that allow him to see the truth – that aliens are among us and control us through radio waves and subliminal advertising. Looking through the sunglasses, we see a startling depiction a drab grey world filled with creepy looking aliens and embossed with sloganeering (‘Obey’, ‘Conform’, ‘Marry and Reproduce’); visually the sequences are similar to the recent silent movie homage La Antena.

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Naturally, Nada resolves to uncover the truth as only an Eighties action hero can – lots of guns and witty quips (“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum”). With gusto and humour John Carpenter delivers a steady stream of explosive gun fights and brutal action, best exhibited by Nada flying through the plate glass window to a 20ft drop and the fight sequence, of course. Carpenter even finds the time to rebuke his conservative critics, representing them in the form of a conformist alien.

A taut, cult-sci-fi thriller, They Live is a great film from the legendary Carpenter, featuring another of the director’s excellent synth-based soundtracks. The former wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper is likeable in the lead role, carrying the film very well and outshining his more experienced co-actor Keith David, who seems very wooden outside of the fight scene. They Live may have an enjoyably barmy B-movie plot but underneath lies a lot of well-observed satirical comments about a dumbed-down media and consumer culture, still relevant to this day.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2008
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Alien conspiracy to brainwash California is exposed by looking at life through "magic" sunglasses.
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Gator MacReady ***

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: Frank Armitage

Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Peter Jason, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Raymond St Jacques

Year: 1988

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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