Friday, September 18, 2015

MR John Carpenter's THEY LIVE

You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they're people just like you. You're wrong. Dead Wrong...

We Sleep. They Live.

Movie: John Carpenter's THEY LIVE, also known as Invasion Los Angeles in parts of Europe

Directed by John Carpenter
Release date 1988
Genre Satire/Science-fiction Horror/Action/Thriller film
Country USA

Have you ever felt like you lived your whole life ASLEEP? THEY are hiding stuff from us? Who really control our lives?

Who are THEY?

This is perhaps the best film to show to any conspiracy theorists!

They Live is a 1988 science-fiction/horror film written and directed by the great John Carpenter - one of my all-time favorite filmmakers!

It's also a satirical film on commercialization and politics!

They Live marked the return of Carpenter to his low budget roots, after all the trouble he ran with Hollywood studios on both his previous films Big Trouble in Little China and Prince of Darkness.

They Live might sound like a pretty simple alien invasion film on the surface, a tribute to old 1950s serials and more precisely a direct homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but the film is also a political satire. It looks like a fairly straightforward scifi classic film, but also features Carpenter's signature horror traits and even some comedy shows up here and there.

The story was based on a short story. Before "They Live", it was known as a short story called "Eight O'Clock in the Morning", written by Ray Nelson originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in November 1963. This story would be later adapted into comic form in the Alien Encounters comic book anthology series, illustrated by artist Bill Wray under the title Nada.

John Carpenter really liked the pitch of the story, which revolved around this man named "Nada" finally awaken by an hypnotist and realizing the entire human race was in fact under a trance and had long been infiltrated by aliens now controlling mankind. One last attempt to get control of his mind gives Nada until 8 o'clock in the morning to either solve the problem... or die trying.

John Carpenter would acquire the rights to both the story and the comic to make a film version of it. He wrote the screenplay, basing a lot of storyboard scenes on sequences from the comic actually (faithfully bringing some panels to screen).

Ditching mainstream big movie studios to make this film, They Live is possibly one of his most personal films.

The film features wrestler Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster in the lead roles. Carpenter had met Roddy Piper met at WrestleMania III earlier in 1987. He didn't want a regular Hollywood actor for the role, but rather someone coming from a fresh new angle and with a different view on the business. And since he really loved Keith David's performance in The Thing, he wrote the second part for him specifically. Keith David could always hold his own and not end with this character as the simple "sidekick" role. Both actors have a great presence on screen.

The story follows this nameless unemployed drifter (called "John Nada" in the credits), who discovers aliens are in fact ruling and manipulating mankind to accept the "status quo" with subliminal messages hidden in the media...

Nada just found some construction work in Los Angeles. He quickly befriends this other worked, Frank Armitage (yes, a reference to one of Carpenter's favorite authors, H.P.Lovecraft). Later that day Frank brings him to the local shantytown to rest, where Nada notices some strange activities going on in the church nearby. When suddenly the police arrives and starts chasing those folks away. In the camp they keep losing the TV signal, interrupted constantly by this crazy man trying to warn people about who the authorities in charge of the power really are. Nada gets inside the church and finds all these boxes lying around in some kind of lab.

He later opens one of the boxes only to find out several sunglasses in there. After trying a pair, he finally opens his eyes for the very first time! The glasses allow him to see the world for what it truly is. Nothing is what it seems! Through a black and white filter, he discovers all media is actually hiding subliminal commands to make humanity obey and conform. And it turns out most people of wealth and authority actually are aliens in disguise!

He's quickly found out and the police is set after him. Nada kills them, steals their guns and goes on killing spree after as many aliens as possible. His first stop is a nearby bank - which is without a doubt one of the most memorable scenes of all 1980s cinema (just ask Duke!). Nada is followed by a small surveillance drone. He takes an hostage, someone that works at Cable 54, assistant director, Holly Thompson. He tries to tells her the truth, but she doesn't seem to believe him. She kicks him through the window and calls the police. The real problem is that he loses the pair of sunglasses in process.

Nada can't find the box anywhere, but he finally finds one last pair in the garbage truck. Frank Nada is now a wanted man. He talks to Frank, but no surprise there the guy doesn't believe his silly alien story. We get treated to one of the longest (if not the longest) and most satisfying fights in movie history. Nada just wants to force him to put the damn' sunglasses! Frank finally sees the truth.

The two go to a secret meeting of other human rebels. They're given there special contact lenses to replace the sunglasses. They find out there how the aliens now control the entire Earth, which they basically consider their third world where they steal all their resources from. They're the ones responsible for global warning (and keeping the masses in the obscurity). They using broadcasts to sent all their subliminal signals and keep their apparent camouflage, hidden from mankind. Holly also seems to have finally joined the activists since last we saw her.

Our heroes need to deactivate the signal, even if temporary, to awake the entire city and hopefully get the rest of the Earth to learn the true about these aliens in charge of our world! If people could get a chance to see their true form, the status quo would change no doubt. They get their hands on one of the aliens' watches which works as a radio and a means for teleportation. Nada and Frank escape into a portal and find themselves in the aliens' secret hideout. They meed a bunch of human collaborators (the elite: the rich and the powerful, etc.). Through this entire installation they find access to a whole spaceport where they seem to dock their spacecrafts. From their they get back to the city, and the Cable 54 station. They fight their way through the building to deactivate the alien signal.
But on the roof Holy is revealed to be a traitor and she shoots Frank in the back! She was a human collaborator as well! Holly tells Nada to give up and join the rest of humanity. Nada shoots her and destroys signal, but he's killed by an helicopter in the process.
As Nada dies, humans all over the city find out there had been aliens hidden amongst them all along! We get a few funny closing shots (just like in the original comics), an alien invader in a bar and another one having sex with a woman (his wife?)...
The end.

The film starts a bit slow, but it quickly picks up the pacing until the crazy bloody finale!

It's a fantastic unique film. And really faithful to the core of the original short story all things considered.

Carpenter shot the film pretty quickly (just under eight weeks during the summer of 1988), and on a pretty short budget! It really shows John Carpenter's talent to be able to always make do with whatever means he has.

The music was once more signed by John Carpenter, with co-composer Alan Howarth. It's pretty catchy and almost upbeat for this type of film.

Carpenter added a lot of political layers to the story. Adding fro his own experience and personal perception. The man never hide his distrust from politics and the ambient rising popular culture at the time. Particularly the heavy commercialization of the 1980s. With They Live he was clearly taking shots at the policies under the Reagan administration back then. Feeling TV in the 1980s was always out trying to sell us something.

The film also acts as a clever well-written homage to old alien invasion films from the 1950s. The black & white filter from the sunglasses is a direct connection to those classic films and parallels the way the aliens "colorized" our perception of the world. It's a world already taken over by aliens, we missed the actual "invasion story", and now they're really interested in taking over all our businesses.

When making the film one of the executive producers at Universal Pictures (who distributed the film) told him "Where's the threat in that? We all sell out every day."... which Carpenter ended up using as a line in the film! These are not your typical 1950s aliens or the more brutal complex prosthetics-heavy creatures from your typical flashy 1980s film. Instead the aliens here look just like regular corrupted human beings, like "ghouls" if you will.

One of the best highlights of the film is probably the 6+ minute-long alley fight between our two main characters. The longest and perhaps most realistic fight in film history! A sort of direct metaphor how difficult it can be to try changing other people's ideas once they're stuck with their mentality. That took most of the time of the filming actually. It's a really long and brutal fight. And it's also kind of funny, it's kind of shot to remind of old western flicks.

It's a really subversive film, with a clear anti-capitalist political metaphor. Using the layer added by the sunglasses to see the hidden layer of messages behind all the advertisement and media. How mass media tries to control our minds, how the wealthy would really prefer to keep us all asleep.

Naturally, the film didn't please much "big folks" in Hollywood during its release - it makes a lot of political jabs! The message is clear and simply, Carpenter used the film to lash out at the totalitarian tunr of the USA loud and clear, how displeased he was back then. It was the time he returned to independent-financed films after is problem with movie studios.

And just like that, after a slow start, the film began actually quite successful on theater, to generally a lot of positive responses. Some people liked the subversive humor and the satirical take on politics, while other just liked the original blend of scifi and horror in this fun B-movie-style alien invasion film, this great throwback to old 50s alien films. It was inventive, fun and  for all of the reasons above in a way reminiscent of the first original Terminator or RoboCop films.

Our main character dies, doesn't get an happy ending and doesn't get the girl. It's sad, but it gives some weight to story.

And just like that, the film was quickly taken out of theaters despite the success... maybe he pissed off someone with this film... or somethings?

Overall, John Carpenter's They Live is a really good film. It's actually pretty smart one you get down to it, it's funny and entertaining. It's a really well made alien invasion film!

On the first look it might seem to use a pretty simple familiar plot like most of your typical 1950s alien films. But there is a reason for that. It acts as a tribute to the genre. But it's also more intelligent than you would think. It has some elements of science-fiction, horror, action and even comedy.

It's about opening your eyes to see what is really in control of our lives.. Or the lack of control we have in the first place. Casting the late Roddy Piper as our macho hero was a brilliant move, alluding to the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones at the time. He even gets plenty of great one liners.

It's a great cult movie. Highly Recommended classic! Truly one of John Carpenter's best movies. And easily amongst the most underrated flicks of the 80s. It has one of - if not the greatest fight scene on screen. It's really fun.

They Live left a timeless mark on our pop culture, spawning the entire inspiration behind the whole "OBEY" propaganda phenomenon (which most people sporting "OBEY" clothing probably don't even realize), thanks to the great imagery and strong anti-commercialism message how people can easily get manipulated by advertisements.

And this is a true testament how true the message of this film still rings after all these years.

I give it:
3 / 3 UFOs!

1 comment:

  1. Excelent movie... "You know, you look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957" One of all time best lines!