It started off with a bit of channel surfing in the early evening and I see ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper in a film, this looks interesting. He was a fun wrestler in his time so I carry on watching. He wears these sunglasses and soon everything isn’t as it seems. Everything is blank with just a word or two.
What’s going on here? Well I recently got my own copy of this mysterious movie and decided to review it. This is a review of the 80’s classic They Live, directed by John Carpenter.
It starts off with Roddy Piper walking into Los Angeles and looking for work, his name is simply Nada. He’s walking past a preacher talking to the people, but he carries on walking. He finds work at a construction site and befriends a man named Frank. After work, Nada has nowhere to go so he follows Frank to a shanty town. People are just sitting out in the sun on sofas, all watching television, but the signal is interrupted. Someone is trying to get a message through, but the message doesn’t last long and it switches to normal programming.
Nada seems to think that it’s coming from the church across the street so he goes to investigate. He looks around, but is grabbed by a blind preacher. Nada freaks out and leaves. While He’s outside he sees a helicopter flying over the shanty town, but two people come out of the church with sunglasses, looking at the helicopter. Nada is using binoculars to spy on the church as Frank joins him. He notices something strange about the movement of people going in and out of the church, but Frank dismisses it and talks about how great it is to have a job. He leaves Nada to carry on.
Night falls as Nada is still watching the church, the helicopter is back and this time, a cop is sitting with the door open, holding a gun. People scramble out of the church as two cars drive off. Two men are helping the blind preacher leave. Cops turn up with a swat team. People in the shanty town watch more cops in riot gear turn up and a construction vehicle drives through the shanty town. Riot police are hurting the people as the shanty town is destroyed. Nada runs off as he sees the three men, the blind preacher and his two aids, they’re surrounded by cops and are being beaten up. Nada walks away, but sees a kid. He helps him escape from the cops into an apartment block.He finds a few survivors and lets the kid join them.
The next day, he sees a wasteland where people once lived and the church is burnt in places. He goes inside and gets a box from a hidden panel. He goes into the city and in an alleyway he opens the box, but just finds sunglasses. He’s confused about this so he keeps a pair of them, but stashes the rest at the bottom of a trash can. He walks down main street and puts on the sunglasses. He sees blank advertising and signs. Things like “obey” and “marry and reproduce” He walks up to a newsstand and flicks through a magazine with glasses on. He stares at a businessman through the glasses and sees an alien in the man’s place.
He’s watching as the alien leaves. He walks off as he starts to see aliens doing everyday things. He goes to a grocery store to watch aliens interact with each other. After an altercation with an alien, he watches as the aliens speak through their watches and hears one say “I got one that can see.” He gets paranoid and leaves as the other aliens look at him. Two cops arrive and they ask him where he got his glasses. After fighting them, he escapes with their weapons and walks into a bank. Nada opens fire on anyone alien looking and keeps the humans safe. He’s about to kill an alien that is describing him into a wristwatch, but the alien teleports away.
Later Nada is in a car park and takes a woman hostage to help him escape the cops. Her name is Holly and she’s played by Evil-Lyn actress from the live action He-Man film. Nada just tells her to drive away from the cops chasing him.They go to her place to hide out for a while. She talks about working at a tv station while Nada figures out that the aliens are sending messages through the tv station. She manages to hit him when he’s not looking and throws him out of her house, through the window. He goes back to the construction site and tries to convince Frank about the aliens. Frank brushes off anything Nada has to say.
Nada goes to the alleyway to find that the trash has been emptied into a garbage truck. He jumps in and finds another pair and slides back out. Frank appears and gives Nada one week’s pay. Nada tells him to put on the glasses, but Frank refuses. What follows is something you’d see Roddy Piper do at WrestleMania, a full on fight. Frank has sunglasses put on him by Nada and sees the world around him in a new light. They walk into a hotel to spend the night.
The next day, Frank wants to make a plan for how to deal with the aliens, but Nada has nothing. An old friend from the shanty town bumps into Frank and a meeting is arranged. They go to the meeting, it’s the resistance against the aliens. A woman gives them contact lenses that work like the sunglasses, but with less interference. The leader is talking as Nada and Frank each grab a gun, then someone gives them a watch that turns out to be a two way radio used by the aliens. Holly turns up to tell them about the signal the aliens are broadcasting. She approaches Nada to apologize, but she’s interrupted by an explosion and riot cops. They’re shooting members of the resistance.
Nada and Frank escape while shooting at the alien cops. The wristwatch malfunctions and gives them an escape away from the cops. They jump in.They’re now in a long corridor under the city and keep their presence unknown from security guards roaming about in the place. They see a banquet hall and watch as an alien takes the stage and talks about their progress on earth.They’re approached by a drunk male guest who shows them around. They see how the aliens are transported from one place to another and they see where the master signal is coming from, the tv station where Holly works. They turn on their drunken guest and shoot the alien guards. Nada grabs the guest, but the guest tries to explain himself. He manages to escape through his own wristwatch.
Nada and Frank walk into the tv station and open fire on anyone who isn’t human. They find Holly and get to the roof to see the main alien satellite. Nada is about to shoot the satellite and asks if Frank and Holly are clear. Holly turns out to be a collaborator with the aliens and threatens to shoot Nada. Two police choppers fly over him, instructing him to drop his weapons and walk away from the satellite. He drops his weapon while looking angry with his decision. Nada pulls out another gun from his sleeve, shoots Holly and then shoots the master signal. He is shot by the cops as he falls back on the ground.
The signal is broken and Nada is barely alive, but he’s alive enough to flip off the aliens. He dies, but the signal is now lost and people see the aliens all around them. Now people will see the world for what it is and that’s the end. There are a lot of themes here that I didn’t discuss because maybe you’ll see it differently.
I don’t mind discussing this further with all of you who have seen it and others who have yet to see it. You can find me on Twitter with the handle @immiebroods if you saw a theme or a narrative that I missed, let’s discuss it.
Thank you for reading this review of the John Carpenter classic, They Live.