John Carpenter’s ‘THEY LIVE’ Turns Twenty-Five

They Live!John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) doesn’t sound like a classic movie: A drifter wanders into Nowheresville USA — a Los Angeles neighborhood devastated by an economic recession. After witnessing some suspicious activity surrounding a strange church, the man discovers a box of special sunglasses which reveal that the reality he’s come to take for granted is anything but what it seems. Add a starring role for professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and one would assume They Live was potboiler sci-fi with a clever gimmick and a B-list “star.”

The problem with this assessment is that it forgets that this is a movie made by a man who practically created slasher films with Halloween and whose ability to infuse cliche-filled genres with deep, emotional and subversive content made him a legend.

They Live is a conspiracy-laden masterpiece of popcorn paranoia that manages to be as entertaining as it is startling. A class war battering ram of a movie, the flick makes the moneyed into monsters while elevating its blue collar lead to the status of a revolutionary hero.

No spoilers here. If you haven’t seen the flick, do! Whether you have or not, enjoy this take by Carpenter himself, talking about his inspirations for They Live in celebration of the film’s 25th birthday. The LA Times has the skinny:

Carpenter discussed his motivation in making “They Live,” a campy but subversive sci-fi flick that starred professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as the film’s blue-collar hero Nada, who discovers an alien conspiracy to mind-control the people of Earth using invisible messages. Carpenter called “They Live” his most political film and said it was his response to consumerism and class disparity in the 1980s.

“By the end of the ’70s there was a backlash against everything in the ’60s, and that’s what the ’80s were, and Ronald Reagan became president, and Reagonomics came in,” Carpenter told the sold-out theater at the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood. “So a lot of the ideals that I grew up with were under assault, and something called a yuppie came into existence, and they just wanted money. And so by the late ’80s, I’d had enough, and I decided I had to make a statement, as stupid and banal as it is, but I made one, and that’s ‘They Live.’ … I just love that it was giving the finger to Reagan when nobody else would.”

Here’s the trailer:

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Joe Nolan was born under a bad sign on June 13th in Detroit, Michigan in the last Metal Year of the Dog. Polymath, provocateur, inter-media artist, his tell-tale signs have turned up in music, visual art, journalism, poetry, fiction, video and film. A double Gemini, his interests range from the pharmacology of phenomenology to fly fishing; from mysticism to mixed martial arts; from chaos science to chaos magick. Joe Nolan's Insomnia blog republishes to some of the most read counter-culture sites on the web and the Coincidence Control Network podcast which he hosts has been downloaded more than half-a-million times.He is recording his fourth CD in Nashville, Tennessee where he lives to the east of the Cumberland river on a little wooded lot dubbed Bohemian Walnut Grove.

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64 Comments on "John Carpenter’s ‘THEY LIVE’ Turns Twenty-Five"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Sep 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm |

    Awesome movie.

  2. Great movie!

    In terms of old movies that startle me how relevant they remain, They Live and Network tops my list in that regard!

    • Dingbert | Sep 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm |

      I’d tack “Brazil,” “Robocop,” and “The Running Man” on there, too. Heck, even “The People Under the Stairs” has relevant social commentary.

      • All awesome! It’s sad that Robocop seems to be an OPTIMISTIC outlook for Detroit :p hehehe

      • Anarchy Pony | Sep 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

        Love me some Robocop. “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

        • Although it’s lost on some people, Starship Troopers has its tongue boring a whole in its cheek throughout. The DVD commentary on that one is priceless.

          • never listened to the Starship Troopers commentary. will have to give it a listen

          • It’s hilarious! Verhoeven and the writer totally frustrated that viewers didn’t “get” their satire. Really funny and insightful. Check it out and let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy!

      • “Brazil” is one of my all time favorite films, It and “Blade Runner” are the only DVD’s that I own. I’ve seen “They Live” twice – it’s a classic.

  3. Hadrian999 | Sep 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm |

    love that movie, he has made a lot of my favorite movies

  4. A classic, for sure. Loved this film.

  5. Matt Staggs | Sep 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm |

    Anyone read Jonathan Lethem’s book on the film? I’m a big fan of both ‘They Live’ and Lethem, so I snapped it up.

  6. Tchoutoye | Sep 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm |

    Saw it for the first time last week. Simple yet strong concept that even a mullet-wearing wrestler b-actor in the lead role can’t detract from. A very welcome antidote to the style-over-substance fare we get nowadays. And even more relevant today than when it came out.

    Apparently it was leading the box offices but got mysteriously pulled from the theatres after 2 weeks.

    • Glad the flick still plays for newbies. As someone who’s seen it multiple times over the years I’m still shocked and how angry and outrageous some of the criticism is. It reminds me of the first time I heard Bill Hicks and just couldn’t believe the shit that guy was saying and the rage he was saying it with. Thanks for the comment!

      • And the bonus question I always ask people in regards to this movie: “What was the name of the special glasses that revealed the true reality and what do you think this was a wink and a nod to?”

  7. bsackamano | Sep 9, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

    We live in the world of this movie. Who controls the press, hollywood, finance, government, etc etc. Who controls the oil cartel, International bankster cartel, media cartel, entertainment cartel, pharmaceutical cartel, etc etc. We in America have been bred to dismiss as crazy “conspiracy nuts” anything the government and TV doesn’t approve of: we are brainwashed dupes fighting for Israeli Zionists in control of our country. Ever read the actual laws on the books in Israel? AIPAC? ADL? What about the “dual” citizens in almost every position in our government? Especially the Bush ones but just as many in the Obama one. WAKE UP. I expect better from this website unless it’s like Alex Jones, a Bronfman front.
    Obama=Goldman Sachs=Rothschilds=NWO Dictatorship. SLAVERY for non-Zionists(gentiles,
    goyim). We are their cattle.
    USA–>Economic Collapse(Rothschild Plan)AND/OR WW3(Via False flag)—> MARTIAL LAW
    DHS—–>IMF/World Bank NWO Rothschild “Bailout”——>”Austerity”(Slavery, camps, rations,
    etc) for ALL!!!

  8. DeepCough | Sep 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm |

    This link will probably get taken down, and I think you will all know the reason why……

  9. Ethan Celery | Sep 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm |

    The commentary track from John Carpenter and Roddy Piper is very informative, IMO.

  10. Dingbert | Sep 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

    Man, I need to start writing “THIS IS YOUR GOD” on my money again . . .

  11. Eric_D_Read | Sep 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm |

    Hot Rod!

  12. believein1 | Sep 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

    By far one of my favorite movies. Who knew Roddy Piper could pull off such a performance?

    • It’s not the most challenging role in the world, but one that a lesser actor could’ve butchered. He done himself proud in this one.

      • believein1 | Sep 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm |

        I just figured a pro wrestler would be severely lacking in the acting department…but then you think about what pro wrestling entails and…..

        • Totally! Those guys are circus performers. It may sound odd, but I’ve never seen a bad, boring documentary about pro wrestlers. Always fascinating.

  13. elvister crowley | Sep 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm |

    I like how they have to wear their “Hoffman shades” to see things as they really are.

  14. Hadrian999 | Sep 10, 2013 at 12:55 am |

    I swear Kieth David has to be one of the most prolific black actors…..scratch that, one of the most prolific actors period

  15. A couple months ago I ordered a custom “THIS IS YOUR GOD” stamp and some UV-reactive ink, and since then I’ve been stamping this on all my money. 🙂

  16. so many classic moments in this film. very influential.

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