Monday, May 25, 2015

Carpenter Watch: They Live (1988)

I saw this movie twice in the theater.  Apparently seeing cult John Carpenter movies in the theater without knowing they were John Carpenter movies at the time is one of my claims to fame.

I wasn't a huge pro-wrestling fan growing up or at any other point afterward, but it's not like I didn't know who Roddy Piper was, and seeing he was in a movie with lots of guns and some over the top dialog was, shall we say, a big sell when I was 13.  And then, what do you know?  The movie pushed a lot of my buttons at the time, and so I saw it twice.

It hasn't been in high rotation for me since.  It doesn't quite bear repeat viewings in the manner of many of my other favorite Carpenter movies, but it had been well over a decade since I'd seen the movie, and the El Rey network LOVES a good John Carpenter movie, and so I set the 'ol DVR.

In case you've never seen it, They Live is a pretty straightforward movie in one sense:

Roddy Piper plays a down-on-his-luck guy who is looking for work and stumbles across first a pair of sunglasses that filter out what he realizes are alien signals that hide the fact that aliens not only walk among us, and then stumbles upon their nefarious scheme to manipulate the people of earth so that they can exploit Earth's resources and people for financial and capital gain.

So, he goes around shooting up parts of Los Angeles before joining up with other folks who are onto the aliens' schemes.

I appreciate a good, direct message in my advertising

In another sense, it's a bit of a critique of the hyper capitalism of of the 1980's.  Behind every sign is a message that the aliens want you to follow that coincides with the sexier selling of that same idea such as "reproduce" behind ads with women in bikinis selling suntan lotion.  But it's also the complicity, both active and in the sleep-walking state the populace lives, that's under the critical eye of the movie.  It physically hurts to wear the glasses/ see the real world for too long, and many are happy to take what the aliens will give them if they help their agenda along.  The movie isn't anti-capitalism, but it is asking some questions about who gains and who loses and how do we all participate in the equation.

And, like the best movies, it's all wrapped up in a movie with people in iffy rubber masks with boggly eyes and wigs and some choice dialog such as:

I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum. 
Nada, They Live - 1988

That's right, our everyman in this story of economic disparity and alien invasion is named "Nada".  You can never be too on-the-nose.

The movie also features classic John Carpenter scenes of muscled men with machine guns walking sideways and an inexplicable fight scene that goes on for what must be four minutes for absolutely no reason.   And actress Meg Foster, who I've not seen in much else, but she has crazy spooky eyes.

seriously, just look at those peepers

So, yeah.  While I mostly enjoyed it as a movie starring a pro-wrestler fighting aliens with a gleefully subversive message about uptight jerks bossing you when I was 13, as a 40 year old, I now enjoy it as a movie starring a pro-wrestler fighting aliens with a gleefully subversive message about uptight jerks.  But, you know.  More nuanced and shit.

And in no way has it helped shape my general opinion of anyone insisting we should trust them to boss us.

once again, election season is upon us...


J.S. said...

I agree with your critique of the movie, but would like to fill in some background information for your readers. The League may claim not to have been a big wrestling fan, but how many wrestling matches did you attend at the Erwin Center? I mean, you might not have gotten the chance to sit in the second row like I did, but you were there...

The League said...

Well, one thing I have learned in the ensuing 2.5 decades is what a REAL wrestling fan looks like, and I am not, nor was I, that. I had a passing interest and attending wrestling was cheap. I only ever made it to 2 or three events at the Erwin Center, but I DID see Jake the Snake, the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. Sadly, I did not see Rick The Dragon Steamboat, JYD or some of my other favorites.

J.S. said...

Jake the Snake. I remember that time you climbed into the ring with that guy and took him down with his own signature move, the DDT, executed with a flying leap off the top turnbuckle. And then you went back to your seat and finished your slushee. Classic.